Grads must grasp need for non-technical know-how

Recent computer graduates enter the workforce with credentials which attest to their technical knowledge. Graduates of one- and two-year programs will have detailed knowledge of one or more specific technologies. University graduates will have a more thorough theoretical foundation, but may not have the same knowledge of specific technologies.

The new employee’s technical knowledge may be enough to win a first job, but it’s not enough to be productive on that job. At a minimum, the new employee must learn how things are to be done in the organization. What written, and unwritten, rules must be followed? The new employees must augment their technical knowledge with basic process knowledge.

Technical and process knowledge are two of the three kinds of knowledge which the IT professional must acquire. They will also need domain knowledge — what’s the nature of the business and what are the rules imposed on the organization. As the IT professional develops and advances, the mix of the three kinds of knowledge — technical, process and domain — changes.

By mid-career, most IT professionals will have acquired knowledge of one or more processes important to their work. Knowledge and understanding of project management is one of the more valued and valuable kinds of process knowledge. There are best practice standards to cover project management, and a variety of other process areas, such as quality, security, procurement and risk assessment.

In North America, the Project Management Institute’s PMBOK (project management body of knowledge) has been widely accepted as a best practice guide to project management (see The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers ( has accepted the PMBOK as its best practice standard for project management.

The Project Management Institute awards the “Project Management Professional” designation to individuals who have demonstrated its required project management knowledge. Those who hold the PMP designation are not guaranteed to be good project managers, but they are guaranteed to have a demonstrated understanding of the PMBOK. Often, holding a PMP is the edge the IT professional needs in order to win a coveted project management assignment.

IT professionals were only a small fraction of the initial membership in the Project Management Institute. Today, those responsible for “corporate projects,” typically IT projects, are a solid majority. But the PMBOK is not the only game in town. PRINCE (Projects in a Controlled Environment) was introduced in 1989 by the UK government (see PRINCE focused specifically on IT project management. PRICE2, introduced in 1996, provides a more general project management methodology.

There are interesting differences between these two approaches. PMBOK is really a collection of project management best practices. It is applicable in a wide range of settings. PRINCE2 is a much more specific way of managing projects; it’s one particular best practice methodology. PRINCE2 would typically be adopted by an organization. And in such an organization, PRINCE2 certification can be important.

The danger with any best practice standard is that the process can become more important than the results. PMBOK and PRINCE2, in their different ways, help the project manager identify required processes. Following the correct process can become the primary project objective. One common danger is that project managers will automatically reject an incremental or evolutionary approach. That’s unfortunate because that is often the best way to approach IT projects.

The IT professional needs to understand the process knowledge that will be important to her or his career. It’s never advisable to slavishly follow any rigid practice standards, but it is important for project managers to be able to selectively apply the knowledge they find in the PMBOK or PRINCE2. Demonstrated process knowledge will be important for career advancement…plan your self-development with that in mind.

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— Fabian is a senior management and systems consultant in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected]

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