Don’t PMs get that they’re “business” people yet?

I saw a somewhat depressing article in this month’s PM Network about the need for project managers to get business-savvy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with what Gary Heerkens writes (the article itself is here).  What saddens me is what this article implies about the mindset of project managers:

  1. Too many project managers don’t see “business understanding” as part of their job.
  2. This expectation isn’t explicit enough in PM job descriptions or how PM performance is managed.
  3. PMs seem to want the title, but not the responsibility. 

IMO, a project manager who can’t participate in business discussions can’t meet the substantive requirements of whole swaths of the PMBOK Guide.  How can a project manager participate in charter, scope, and change control discussions without knowing the business?  Otherwise, aren’t they really project coordinators, assistants, etc.?  As Gary notes (and understates):

Basing choices solely upon technical or functional considerations means all of the critical inputs required to make the best possible decision aren’t being considered.  Project managers who do not understand the business aspects of their projects are destined to make subpar decisions from time to time.


9 Responses

  1. A lot of Project Managers out there are accidental Project Managers, and got promoted from a technical background. So IMO, yes, quite a few Project Managers don’t have the necessary business skills and they learn them by trial and error, which is costly. This probably opens the discussion on whether it’s better to promote a Project Manager from a technical background, or to hire someone with the necessary business skills, but with no technical background.

    • I hear you… but I’m less concerned about the lack of skills and more concerned about the lack of awareness (that this “lack” is an issue). No matter the background, if a project manager isn’t interesting in filling out his/her skills and competency dance card, then they won’t be very successful.

  2. I agree,

    it’s the lack of awareness what is unacceptable in some of the cases.

    In our company we have not commercial stuff, we have operational people face to face with the client.

    If these guys do not know the customer business, their problems, their needs, how they make business, it’s difficult for us to detect opportunities there.

    In other cases, the PM cannot reach new business, however, the knowledge of the customer is sometimes necessary to have a good relationship with them.


  3. I find this quite shocking in this day and age. I am an interim IT Programme and Senior Project Manager. I am expected to be technical but also business savvy.

    In fact bluntly speaking if you aren’t business aware not only can you not really achieve successful project management but you will have difficulty in being able to manage multiple projects.

    The simply reason is that office politics are a key part project management. If you don’t understand how the business works then how on earth can you determine what motivates the business who after all are often your project sponsor.

    Either Project Manager’s sharpen up and learn about the business side or they will rapidly find themselves unemployable.


    Susan de Sousa
    Site Editor

  4. […] Don’t PMs get that they’re “business” people yet? […]

  5. If a project manager doesn’t understand the business and what it needs then they’re going to make poor day to day decisions. Even worse, when that project manager encounters problems requiring escalation, then they’re going to produce poor proposals on how to proceed to their superiors. Not good!

    If you suffering from this problem then start asking yourself how each decision you make benefits the business you’re working for. Also, if you’re lacking business visibility then speak to your boss. If he/she is reasonable they will realise that giving you some exposure to the business will lead to better decision making on your part. You’re decisions will have more likelihood of being aligned to what the business actually wants.


  6. Paul – I quite agree that the implications are sad. Actually, more than sad, the implications are tragic. In these amazingly trying times one important lesson can be that it is important that everyone be engaged at the business level of any organization. The ability of any organization to survive and thrive (or not) will, I suspect, be easily traced to the strength of that involvement and commitment.

  7. This is often a problem when the system is sub-optimized. Instead of managing to the system as a whole we too often tell people to take care of their small area. It is simpler to do things that way. The problem is people then think not about the aim of the system but instead about there little area. And it results in people (PMs, IT people, customer service, sales…) maximizing their local area but not maximizing the organizational benefit. IF you are looking at overall system success one of the things that requires is for people to understand the impact on the business.

  8. One of the biggest challenges I find when hiring Project Managers for large organisations in the UK is that this skill set is a prerequisite. Unfortunately, most Project Managers CV’s/resumes only state technical capability and do not focus on accomplishments and what they mean to the bottom line of the business.

    I actually touched upon this in my most recent article regarding the state of the European Market for Project Managers.

    I think the major issue here is that not only do most Project Managers not align themselves to the business, but in matter of fact they genuinely believe they do!

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