Crossing the Sector Expertise Chasm
Earlier this year, we reviewed a book titled: Bridging the Business-Project Divide by John Brinkworth. In it John discusses the challenges facing the members of a project team trying to engage with the established members of the "Business-as-Usual" (BaU) group. The challenges arise from the differences between the viewpoint and the attitudes of the project team who are trying to get things done and finished, while the BaU are doing their best to keep things going.
Now author Kiron Bondale posts another type of divide crossing challenge, that of project people intent on jumping to another quite different industry sector. Kiron poses the question:
"How do I get a project management role in quite a different industry?"
And Kiron goes on to add:
"First we have those project management purists who believe that subject matter notwithstanding, a project is a project. The same hard and soft competencies that are required to successfully manage a project in one domain apply equally when managing a project in another. This group will bring up tales of uber-project managers who crossed multiple industries, successfully managing projects across all.
In the other corner, however, we have those who believe that in spite of how successful a project manager has been in one sector, their effectiveness decreases when they have to manage a project in a different one. This side will recall the horror stories of project managers they had worked with who had tried to apply their expertise and experience gained in one sector to another different one, only to abjectly fail.
So which is the correct view?"
Kiron then adds:
"IT DOESN'T MATTER. It really depends on a few factors including economic conditions and your own situation."
Here we would be inclined to disagree. We think that the extreme differences described by Kiron do matter; at least to the extent that such differences exist, but they are not necessarily dependent on economic conditions or "your own situation" as we'll try to unravel.
Kiron goes on to explain:
"If you happen to be transitioning domains within your own company, you have a track record of successful delivery in your existing role. You also have an established network of champions within your current department as well as the one you wish to enter. Moreover, the lack of experience in the new domain could be successfully positioned as an area for short-term development rather than a showstopper.
Similarly, if you are fortunate to work in a geographic location where the demand for competent, experienced project managers exceeds the supply of such talent, you could be offered a role in spite of your lack of specific domain expertise.
Unfortunately, neither of these situations might apply to your case.
Few companies are large or broad enough to provide the lateral, domain-switching opportunities which a project manager may wish to pursue. In addition, the explosive growth of the project management profession over the past two decades has resulted in a surplus of qualified talent in many parts of the world. Yes, there are some regions where demand still exceeds supply. But the number of qualified project managers willing to relocate significant distances remains low, and the economic or political conditions within some of those regions might not be acceptable for many professionals.
In some respects, this is similar to the debate as to whether or not one should attain a project management credential. There is no doubt that one can be a successful project manager without getting certified. But if human resources staff or recruiting agencies in your region are using the lack of certification as a low-effort means to weed out candidates, the argument is moot if you have no other means of getting past these gatekeepers.
So what can you do?"
All of these observations are true, but in answer to the last question, Kiron suggests that first you must really want to go through with this. While this is also true, it begs the question: "Do you know what you are getting into?" And here we see a closing of the gap between the two "corners" described by Kiron at the beginning of this Musing.
First, the popular phrase "a project is a project". Well, not exactly. More accurately it is "Project management processes [that] apply globally and across industry groups." But even then, different industries tend to use a different selection of processes that most suite their industry and, even then, use those processed somewhat differently. So one set of experiences are not necessarily immediately transferable, even though the concepts of project management are. Well, for most projects most of the time!
Where the big difference lies, and the potential for "abject failure", as claimed by those in the opposite corner, is that the processes involved in creating the project's outcome, or deliverable (product) are always different from one industry to another. And the PMBOK® Guide specifically excludes these types of processes in its publication.
So, if you want to switch from one industry sector to another, make sure that you have, at least, a working knowledge of the industry, and its working vocabulary in particular, before you make your final decision.
Once you have decided to "jump ship", go and read the rest of Kiron's blog
for a lot of other useful suggestions. You can find it here: Crossing
The Domain Expertise Chasm.
1. This must be true because the PMBOK® Guide, Fifth Edition says so! See PMBOK Guide, Project Management Institute, PA, 2013, p48.
2. Ibid, p48, "product-oriented processes are outside the scope of this document."