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On domain knowledge and epistemics

On LinkedIn, in the IPMA group, there was a question posted: “Project managers can not be effective in their role unless they have specific technical expertise in the given field that the project is within – what do you think?”.

Here is my 5 cents on this topic.

Projects are all about acquiring relevant knowledge that is lacking when the project starts. Requirements add knowledge, specs add more detail to the requirements, technical design adds yet another layer of detail, as does the activity of building the product. As we all should know, testing will add A LOT of knowledge… So the short and the long of it is: no project manager can succeed unless s/he knows at least how to effectively acquire and disseminate the proper knowledge for THIS type of product and for its use in THIS specific business area.
As for me, I cannot imagine that I would have this meta-knowledge (at the epistemic level) on a business area that I am totally unfamiliar with. At least conceptually, I need to know the basic nuts and bolts of the field – if only so as to be able to communicate efficiently with the technical experts on the team. If I don’t understand the basics of their particular lingo, I cannot even begin to manage the knowledge acquisition and dissemination processes that are the heart of any project, and I would have no clue at all of the ambiguities and assumptions and misunderstandings that would be going on and that I would need to detect and correct.

(if you’re interested in some more background on this stance, read “The laws of software process” by Philip G. Armour – although it is about the business of software development, I think the main argument is valid for any field where projects are done)