Monday, September 7, 2015

How To Become A Project Management Expert

In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell states that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to fully master a subject or skill.  Does this mean that a project manager who has been working full time in the profession for more than five years can be considered an expert?  The answer is, “Definitely maybe.”  Experience is beneficial for improving project management skills, but experience will only take you so far.  There is another very important factors.  Let’s start by understanding what Gladwell is saying, and some of his assumptions and constraints.
The 10,000 Hour Rule

Gladwell reached this conclusion by studying the lives of extremely successful people to determine the keys to their success.  He studied concert violinists in Berlin, the Beatles, Bill Gates, and sports figures.  He found that “natural talent” was not the crucial factor.  Rather, it was that the elite in a profession had spent at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to get there. 

Now what does deliberate practice mean?  Deliberate practice, as used in this context, is practice in ways that push or stretch the skill level of the individual.  It is not enough just to be doing activity within the profession or specialty, the individual must be striving to add to or deepen their skill set.  So an athlete needs to be working on improving strength, skills, or endurance; not just playing the game.  A musician is adding techniques and mastering more complex music; not just sitting around the campfire singing songs.  A computer programmer is learning new computer languages and creating more complex functionality in their code; not just playing zap-a-zoids on their computer.

Through deliberate practice, an individual builds the skills and knowledge needed to be able to perform at the highest level in their profession.  Gladwell found that the people who were proficient had at least 4,000 of deliberate practice, but the true experts had gone far beyond that number.

Limitations with the 10,000 Hour Rule

But further research conducted by Princeton has undermined the 10,000 rule.  The Princeton research showed that the deliberate practice was very important for music, sports and games.  In those areas it had nearly a 20% or greater impact on individual performance.   However, it had very little impact in the areas of education and business professions.  In those domains, deliberate practice had less than a 5% effect on performance. 

So what is the cause for the difference?  The Princeton researchers determine that deliberate practice is a big help in professions where there are stable rules and a rigid structure.  The rules of tennis are specific and stable.  The rules of classical music are well understood and accepted.  However, in professions where the rules are dynamic and structures are evolving, deliberate practice beyond the levels needed to achieve proficiency does not lead to an appreciable increase in performance. Something else is required.    

Expertise in Project Management

So where does that leave project management?  There are standards and structures within the domain of project management.  However, there are also changes occurring as new technologies and new structures are being applied.  Ten years ago, if you were part of a “scrum,” you were on a rugby team.  Now it is more likely you are involved in a fast-paced product development project. Twenty years ago, project teams that were not co-located relied heavily on regularly scheduled conference calls.  Now, team members tweet, Skype, and instant message at all hours of the day and night.  Thirty years ago, all project records were paper records stored at one location in file cabinets.  Now, they are instantly available anywhere because they are stored in the cloud.  These are illustrations of how the rules and structures of project management are constantly changing.  I don’t know what will be different ten years from now, but I am sure it will be something that changes how we plan and manage project work.

What then is needed to create expertise in project management? Well, I do agree that it will take 3,000 to 4,000 hours of “deliberate practice” in the profession to become fully adept.  This is consistent with the experience requirement for PMP. By the time an individual has that much experience, he or she has probably been on several projects – or at least on several subprojects within a program.  They have had a chance to experience the full lifecycle of a project.  They have had the opportunity to make some mistakes and have some successes.  They should have the technical skills needed to become an expert project manager.

Crisis Thinking

However, there is one more key skill that cannot be easily learned through deliberate practice.  That is the ability to rapidly diagnose a crisis situation, quickly assess the magnitude and urgency of the risks that the project faces, and begin to take appropriate action.  This is not a skill that is learned by practicing critical path calculations or earned value forecasts.  For lack of a better term, this is the skill of crisis thinking.

This skill is developed through experience and retrospective learning.  Doing lessons learned and after action reviews.  I don’t mean the lessons learned session that is done months after a project is over when everyone has forgotten what happened; I mean a review of the situation the day after the crisis is quelled to understand what happened, what was done, what worked and what didn’t work.  Sports teams do this with game film on the day after the game.  The various branches of the USA military do this immediately after each mission.  This type of regular review, when added to the skills from deliberate practice, will develop project management experts.  However, too often, we just run from one crisis to another and never stop to learn.

So definitely spend the 3,000 to 4,000 hours needed to develop full proficiency in project management.  But also, start a disciplined process of frequent evaluations of what went wrong – or right – as you go from project crisis to crisis.  You won’t be a true project management expert until you have mastered this skill. 


  1. Replies

    1. Tag: PM201A51. Let me share all of you about #5 Tips for Project Management Success,, I hope you enjoy it

      1. Plan your day using time management techniques

      As a project manager, time management skills are essential because you are dealing with a wide range of tasks that demand a quick turnaround time. Planning your day will go a long way in keeping you organized and increasing your productivity. Assist your task planning by using project management software which helps you track the work of you and your team.

      If you are not very tech savvy, a simple to-do list can also be a great organizational tool. Prioritize your most important tasks by putting them at the top of the list and less important ones at the bottom. Having a visual plan of your daily tasks helps to keep you on track and aware of time.

      Related post: Free ebook 104 secrets to become a great project manager

      2. Include stakeholders in important project conversations

      While you will have plenty of responsibilities regarding the project, don’t neglect your clients.

      Good communication is essential is keeping both parties informed of project progression, curtailing scope creep, and apprised of changing requirements. Some clients may have different expectations when it comes to communication, so make sure to establish the frequency and type of communication (like emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations) at the beginning of your project.

      Establishing communication expectations early helps alleviate stakeholder uncertainty about communication frequency and delivery.

      3. Regularly communicate with your team

      Daily team communication helps keep misunderstandings and unclear requirements under control. Keeping your team informed in every step of the project is essential to project management success.

      For example, a study published by Procedia Technology found that good communication skills were the cornerstone of project management. The study examined over 300 “construction project managers, architects, construction managers, engineers and quantity surveyors” and their successes and failures on various construction projects.

      4. Anticipate project setbacks

      Even the best-laid plans often go awry.

      Remember that even with a high amount of planning and attention to detail, your project may still encounter some challenges. Pay attention to complaints from stakeholders or colleagues, and other warning signs, like a missed deadline or cost overrun, that there may be a problem.

      Preventing a crisis will keep your project running smoothly, save you a lot of time, and keep you, your team, and your stakeholders confident in progressing with the project.

      Unfortunately not every complication can be avoided. Crisis management skills are essential for dealing with the unexpected. Project managers need to be flexible and pragmatic. Improvise and make sharp decisions when needed.

      Related post: 92 free project management templates

      5. Stay focused on the details

      A common problem project managers encounter is having the project aims not aligned with the organization’s objectives. A great project manager will strategize a plan for the project to lead back to the overall success of the business.

      Know your project’s scope by heart and avoid wandering outside of the project’s requirements. It’s too easy to get lost in minor details and forget what your focus is, so a well-planned project scope is essential for success.

      And final, you should use KPI to measure effectiveness of the project, here are full list: 76 project management KPIs

  2. Very nice blog. Thanks for the post. Definitely share it to others. Maybe you can do topics bout latest technological news. You have a great way of writing. I am interested in software advancements.I want to know about research project assignment. Thank you very much.