The debate about whether or not a project manager needs to possess hands-on knowledge within the business domain of their projects started years ago and will likely rage on for many more.
In an earlier article, I had provided some support for both sides of the debate, but a new one came to mind when looking at projects through the lens of organization change management.
A fundamental component of successful and sustainable change implementation is being able to appreciate the impacts of a change to those who will be affected by it.
To help the team better understand these impacts, it is often recommended to engage representatives from each stakeholder group which will be impacted as part of the project team.
Change sponsors usually operate at a more senior level than those who are likely to be impacted the most by implemented changes, and without involvement of front-line stakeholders, decisions made by the project team run a greater risk of causing unnecessary change churn.
Having representation from those groups affected by a change on the team helps as does having dedicated change management experts. However without having had some personal experience with what impacted staff face on a daily basis it can be difficult for any project manager who does not possess a high degree of empathy and EQ to truly appreciate the magnitude of change impacts as they would only have an academic understanding of the business domain.
The team is certainly expected to provide such knowledge, but the risk of a project manager supporting the “wrong” decision (from a change perspective) or marginalizing the impacts of a gap in change readiness or transition activities increases if they only possess an academic understanding of the domain.
It is not essential to project success, but there are many benefits to a project manager being able to state confidently “Been there, done that”!