Is Project Management a skill or a technique?

Shim Marom wrote a nice piece titled Project Management – Technique or Discipline? where he asks a question that’s been gnawing at me for some time.

That question: is project management a skill or a technique?

Before continuing, let’s take a few minutes to look at the definition of skill & technique to better understand the distinction between these often mis-used words:

  • Skill is defined as: an ability that has been acquired by training
  • Technique is defined as a practical method or art applied to some particular task.

Are project managers using abilities that they’ve learned from training and/or experience or are they applying procedures & methods to tasks?

I’m pretty sure that the folks at the Project Management Institute and PRINCE2 would argue that Project Management is a skill learned through training and years of experience.

I know a few people who think project management is nothing more than applying best practices to specific tasks to get something done with very little thought to the skill behind that application.

My opinion?

Project management is a discipline that requires real skill, abilities and experience. Sure…you can use project management techniques to get things done, but project management as a whole, is a discipline with a real honest-to-goodness skill set.

What’s your thoughts….is Project Management a skill…or just a set of techniques? Or as Shim wrote…Technique or Discipline?

Specialization within Project Management

Over the last few years I’ve started noticing a trend toward specialization within the field of project management. These specializations seem to break down into the following areas:

  • Administrators – people specializing in the reporting, tracking, budgeting and other administrative aspects of Project Management.
  • Specialists – people who have specialized in industries or specific aspects of project management. Examples can be people who are experts in Risk Analysis, Earned Value Management experts, Portfolio Management, etc.
  • Leaders – those folks who have found that project leadership is their calling. These are the folks who gladly step in and take responsibility for a project and make sure things get done.
  • Technologists – focused almost solely on helping organizations implement and use technology in project management.

Most project managers can immediately place themselves into one of the three categories above (and many would actually fit into more than one…if not all three). Am I missing any specialization?

I’ve found that my particular area of interest and specialization is within the “Leadership” role of projects. A good project manager who has the administration of projects down pat can run circles around me in that regard….but I’ve found that many really good PM’s who are good at project administration tasks aren’t great at project leadership…and vice versa.

I’ve been talking with a few Project Managers that I know and they agree that they are seeing more specialization within the PM world. For more thoughts on this topic, take a look at the book titled “The Strategic Project Leader” by Jack Ferraro….I’m about four chapters into it and he seems to be saying similar things.

Which category do you fit into?

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