Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Great Divide – Technical Leadership and Project Management

Many organizations have superb technical leadership along with excellent project management. Why then are projects routinely failing to meet commitments? I believe it’s a gap between technical leadership and project management. Project management spans across all the organizational silos, typically without a significant technical depth in any one area. Technical leadership knows the ins and outs of their particular silo, however does not tend to have the project management expertise and skills to properly scope, plan, communicate and assess activities for their particular technical area.

This gap leaves projects with a void of planning expertise that is essential to properly plan the lower level execution details that feed into an organizations overall project plan. The simple truth is that if a project did not complete as planned, something that should have been part of the planning process was left out. What’s being left out of the process? Some of the nuts and bolts details, decisions, deliverable expectations and/or risk management within each of the organizational silos were lacking essential depth. The sub-planning that rolls up into the projects master planning was not as thorough as it needed to be, due to skill gaps between project management and technical leadership.

The expertise disparity between project managers and technical leadership can be addressed in one of two ways. Either the project managers develop the technical skills of each organizational silo (unrealistic) or develop a subset of project management skills within each of the silos. The great divide between technical leadership and project management must be bridged, or organizations will continue down a path of missed commitments while laying blame everywhere but where it belongs. While in reality, fault rests on skill gaps that diminish a team’s ability to fully develop a thorough implementation plan that encompasses the entire organization’s contributions from top to bottom.


  1. "The simple truth is that if a project did not complete as planned, something that should have been part of the planning process was left out."

    Many projects involve discovery and may not complete as planned. I think the real trick is to postpone decisions until they need to be made, so that you have as much information as possible. The stage gate commitment model tends to force decisions about a timetable much earlier than you have any real information to sustain.

    I think engineering is different from manufacturing: while there may be repeatable sub-elements, you are normally attempting something new or at at the least that hasn't been done before by our team/organization.

    If you aren't why would you do it?

  2. Regarding Sean's Comment:
    In the majority of cases the reasons that projects slip has less to do with the unknown invention aspects of a project than with holes in the planning details of a project. A comment such as "You can't plan invention" tends to become a scape goat that allows the technical planning process to continue at a sub-optimal level. It's not that we can be perfect, but that we genuinely believe that we always can get better and are taking actions to do so.