The Powerhouse PM – Applying Domain Knowledge

My experience tells me that, all things being equal, a solid Project Manager (PM) can effectively lead a team to build a bicycle or a rocketship. While these “projects” vary significantly in risk and complexity, a key factor is gathering together the subject matter experts into a cohesive team to formulate the plan and execute.

That said, a PM provides increasingly more value with knowledge of, and experience in, the domains s/he is working. Domains may include:

  • A specific industry
  • Process / functional area
  • Technology (hardware, software, infrastructure and/or applications)
  • Business administration

The PM has an advantage when s/he has:

  • Significant depth in a particular niche / domain; or,
  • Reasonable depth across multiple domains; and, most importantly,
  • The wherewithal to leverage their domain knowledge on projects they manage.

If a PM lacks domain knowledge (breadth or depth) or doesn’t apply this experience on their projects they can be “perceived” as a detached participant. They may be seen as present in form but not in spirit. Viewed as a meeting scheduler, planner, status checker and note taker. A project administrator. While this may be all that is needed in certain cases (small/short/narrowly focused projects) those aspiring to be a “Powerhouse PM” must bring so much more to the table.

So, in addition to acquiring the foundational / prerequisite skills necessary for Project Management (outlined in a prior post), aspiring Powerhouse PM’s are encouraged to develop SIGNIFICANT domain knowledge. You pick the domain or domains, and the depth/breadth. This can be accomplished a number of ways:

  • First, and foremost, by performing in a job relative to or within the domain
  • Attending training including night/weekend courses at a local college
  • Reading trade rags and books on the topic
  • Joining trade associations; taking on a volunteer / leadership position

Many of these will qualify as training that an employer will pay for. The alternative, for any that don’t qualify: pay for it “out of pocket.”

Whether the PM has domain knowledge pertinent to the project being managed or not – THEY MUST EXERT THEMSELVES. They must question everything. Asking “why?” a lot! They must make sure they “get it” and that right (business and project) decisions are being made. We must ask ourselves: “If this business problem was mine personally (vs. my company’s or client’s) do I understand the direction / decision? Does it sit well with me? Or, am I being complacent and letting it go for the sake of expediency or for fear of asking a dumb question?

There are NO DUMB QUESTIONS! I’ve found that, more often than not, the question I’ve asked was in the mind of one or more of my teammates (or should have been).

If the PM didn’t previously have the domain knowledge (or the desired depth) this method will certainly help to acquire it. This approach will also add SIGNIFICANT value to the team as others learn in the process (expanding their horizons) while making it even more likely that the project will succeed.

In closing, the advice given here is for those aspiring to be a Powerhouse Project Manager: An indispensable, sought-after resource that a client or company will be hard-pressed to ever “let go.”

More to come. I’m just getting started 🙂

Click here to view the next article in the series.

3 thoughts on “The Powerhouse PM – Applying Domain Knowledge

  1. says:

    good write up, this is why I try to stay in health insurance IT.



  2. […] Click here to view the next article in the series. […]

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