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Technical leaders in our projects are competing with project managers.

Or in more general aspect, is it a problem if someone with greater domain specific knowledge tends to dominate in project or become an informal PM?

If a person with technical knowledge, tries to become the informal PM and fight with (sometimes feckless) project manager, how would you resolve this situation?

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Hi Pixel, I really like your question. I will suggest to break some of the sub-question in separate question posts. For example How to solve the conflict or mitigation for your specific situation might be a good question to post. –  Geo Feb 9 '11 at 18:09
    
This question is similar to pm.stackexchange.com/questions/212/… –  jmort253 Mar 6 '11 at 20:11
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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Project management is its own unique skill, more related to general management than any particular specialty.

A great example is how well the new, professional management has done at Ford and GM compared to the car-guy specialists who ran the companies several years ago. Neither the CEO of Ford or the CEO who took over GM from bankruptcy were specialists. They were successful, professional managers who knew how to get results.

The same should be the case with a good project manager.

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Agreed!!! In a big project you will have a DBA Lead, Dev Lead, QA Lead, etc, but that does not mean that you have to cohesively work with them as a team. –  Geo Feb 9 '11 at 18:08
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Both roles are leadership roles, and the skill-sets required for one often overlap with the skill-sets required for the other. This means that, even in ideal situations where the roles are clearly defined and responsibilities are divided neatly, there can and there often will be conflict.

In the ideal situation, the manager/leader is in charge of a team of people who are specialized at their work, and are each much more talented at their own work than at the management role, and vice versa. A good manager will be in charge of managing people who are much smarter than he is.

In case of conflict, the best solution is to redirect the conflict into a mentor-student arrangement. If, for example, you find yourself in a PM role, and have more technical skills than one or more of your team-mates, rather than doing their work for them, or becoming a technical resource, try to become a mentor and leader. If you absolutely must spend time dedicated to helping one or more of the team-members out, put very strong boundaries on it. For example, maybe dedicate one or two hours a week to a pre-scheduled help/Q&A session, maybe describing it as a one-on-one. Remember that, if they are to learn, you should allow them the freedom to make mistakes, and then correct the mistakes themselves.

Vice-versa, when you find that one of your technical resources is trying to take on some of the PM work, possibly by force, treat the situation as a chance for you to increase your own skill-set. Accept that, most likely, the team-member is seeing something which is not working properly, and believes that s/he can compensate or improve the situation by taking on more work. Take time to look at what they are trying to do, and to learn which problem they are trying to solve, and attempt to form a mentor-student type relationship where they are advising you on the work you are trying to do, but are not themselves doing it. Make sure to make it clear that this is an advisory position - where you will take extra time to listen and learn from their advice, and then decide which course of action to take based on your own skills and merits. If necessary, point out that you have more information on the situation, most likely, than they do, and that you'll need the freedom to make and correct your own mistakes.

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If the roles aren't clearly defined in the Project Charter, it's possible that there could be conflict. Project Managers who have a background in technical areas may feel the need to get too involved in the technical aspects of the project and less involved in communication.

I have a technical background myself. In the past, I've solved this problem by referring technical team members to other personnel who are also technical. This helped me take a step back and let the team make the detailed decisions. As long as my team members are collaborating and there are multiple pairs of eyes on the project, I'm happy to leave details to the team.

Having plenty to do is also helpful. As does having trust in the team's ability to produce results. I find that the busier I am in coordinating with other departments where my skills aren't as strong, like marketing, the less likely we are to have issues.

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but what you would do if some members of technical team specifically asked for your help (about technical aspect)? –  Hoàng Long Feb 9 '11 at 10:03
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@Hoang - I'd definitely get involved if asked. But sometimes a neutral third party is best if both parties become too set on their solution instead of the right solution. It's a judgement call, and it would also depend on how much of an expert I'd be on the specific topic. –  jmort253 Feb 10 '11 at 4:36
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They shouldn't compete. Before I go any further, let me endorse @MarkPhillips answer as probably the best. But when I read his answer, then re-read your question, my attention is drawn to the phrase

. . . someone with greater domain specific knowledge tends to dominate in project or become informal an informal PM. . .

That leaves me with the lingering suspicion that there is more going on, that there are other conflicts being played out through the roles of technical lead/project lead. As others have said, in theory (and in my experience described below), the two roles need not conflict, and don't naturally conflict. If one of the individuals is being a micromanager/control freak, that would lead to conflict, but that needs to be solved through another approach. Or it could be that there is a problem with stakeholder management - different groups of stakeholders playing politics with the technical lead/ project lead as pawns on the board.

My colleagues on my current team have vastly more domain specific knowledge, but it doesn't cause competition. Quite the contrary; I defer to them for domain specific questions, answering only when I'm 100% sure that I'm correct and that doing so will save them time. My contributions are in the realm of planning, monitoring and controlling, stakeholder management, etc. By recognizing our relative strengths, we build a stronger team. I'm not trying to glorify my team, I'm just providing context for my speculation above.

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