Domain Knowledge for Project Managers

books-155163_640There is a school of thought that domain knowledge is not a necessity for Project Managers (PM) as that should be left to Operations Managers or other Subject Matter Experts. PMs should be able to keep a tight rein on the timeline and make sure that things run according to schedule.

Well, if the PM had no domain knowledge to offer, then he or she better be able to keep the project under close control in terms of timeline and task execution otherwise there is nothing else for that person to offer! In the course of work, we have probably come across such people who can come across as quite pushy and it can be exasperating if they do not understand what is happening in terms of business knowledge but insists on keeping to a deadline anyway.

In my opinion, a PM should also have domain knowledge as part of our Project Management skills arsenal in order to get some credibility with the stakeholders as we will be able to understand what their discussions are about as well as even contribute to the discussions — as opposed to taking minutes and maintaining a task list to distribute to attendees of the meeting.

Working in the financial services industry, I find that domain knowledge not only makes it easier to grasp quickly any new project requirements, it also makes the job much more interesting as you will be able to put the pieces together and relate to the tasks rather than just blindly executing the project.


Planning before Initiating

In the PMI process groups, the Initiating process groups comes before the Planning process group and this is generally considered to be a best practise. However in some organisations, it seems like the Planning is done before Initiating especially when it comes to the budgeting period. Not sure if this is a phenomenon also experienced in other organisations outside of Singapore (do feel free to express yourself in the comments)

What this means is that a lot of high level guesstimates are done in order to decide the amount the amount that should be budgeted for a project — if it really does kickstarted in the first place! Inevitably there will be qute a substantial project buffer due to the lack of preparedness and the need to be have conservative estimates in case the project ends up with insufficient budget. While this may be one way to ensure that the project has sufficient budget and can be executed should it be initiated, it also means that the funds may be inaccessible to other projects that have a much higher chance of being initiated.

This inevitably kicks off a vicious cycle of “budget reservation” where the various stakeholders and potential project sponsors will maintain larger and larger buffers in their proposed projects just to have something in the kitty in the event there is another project that pops up which requires the budget. It does not need to be said that this is not in the best interest of the organisation, but this still happens in many places.

I suppose one way to fix this will be to turn the budgeting process around for these afflicted organisation. Instead of letting the various departments give wild estimates in order to secure a budget, perhaps the head office should assign a budget to the various departments to let them use as necessary. The amount to be budgeted can be based on the cost estimates of previous years. A pool of money should also be kept aside by the head office in the event that some departments really need to utilise funds beyond their alloted budgets. This reserved pool can only be used after the departments present their business case to the head office. I suppose the reserve pool will need to be larger for the first 3 years since this paradigm shift in budgeting may results in some initial cost estimations being off.

Breaking tradition for some IT PM articles

I will be breaking from the tradition of “3p||<” for a few articles that I need to host here.

This is necessary to meet the PDU requirements for the PMP certification, and I don’t think they will be particularly appreciative of me posting articles consisting of a maximum of 3 paragraphs and trying to get credit!