Article - An Interesting Dilemma: Who Would You Hire?


Since I posted my previous article “A Story of One Interview: What Would You Do?” that went viral on LinkedIn, I have received more than one hundred comments from professionals from all corners of the globe. After reading them I realized that the problem of “should the project manager be a technical expert in his/her domain?” still remains deeply misunderstood by some people. As a result I just wanted to share yet another discussion that I had at one of the project management conferences with a CIO of a North American university followed by a simple survey that would require you to select an appropriate project management candidate.

CIO: … When looking for a PM I definitely value technical knowledge more than project management experience. For example, if I have an SAP project in my portfolio, I will favour someone with SAP experience, preferably in the educational sector.

Me: (after the presentation has ended) You mentioned your preference for technical expertise over the project management one when looking for a PM.

CIO: Yes I did.

Me: I really don't want to argue here about the fact that a project manager should not be a technical expert in her domain and that you should have subject matter experts taking care of that problem. I just have a couple of questions ...

CIO: (tensely) OK.

Me: Well, let us consider the SAP example. SAP is an enterprise resource planning system, correct?

CIO: Yes ...

Me: So, it is very likely that the project would impact areas like, oh I don't know, finance, accounting, human resources, student records and even possibly engineering. By employing your logic we can deduce that the PM should also be an expert in those areas as well, right?

CIO: (smiling) Absolutely! But unfortunately such person does not exist ...

Me: OK, next question then, if you don't mind. Let us say that you hired this "great SAP expert with no project management experience" person. Let us even assume that she successfully delivers the project in question (which I personally doubt). A couple of months go by and you are presented with a new flagship initiative; say, the development of a brand-new university website.

CIO: And?

Me: Who do you have in your PM pool? A very experienced SAP professional with little or no PM skills? How successful do you think the "New University Website" project will be? Or do you intend to fire your “SAP expert” and hire a “web site development expert”?

So here is my million-dollar question for you. Imagine that you are a hiring manager and you are looking for a PM to run your super-duper important, must-do, on-the-radar-of-the-CEO, flagship project. Also, pretend that you have two candidates remaining after several rounds of interviews. The thing is that these two people are absolutely identical (you can pretend for the sake of this experiment that they are twins) save for two little exceptions:

  • Candidate A: possesses ten (10) years of technical background related to the nature of your project, but has only one (1) year of very weak project management experience.
  • Candidate B: possesses only one (1) year of general technical experience related to the nature of your project, but has ten (10) years of strong project management experience and is certified by PMI or any other recognized project management organization.

Who would you choose to run your flagship project? Please comment below by answering “A” or “B”.

About the Author

Jamal Moustafaev, MBA, PMP – president and founder of Thinktank Consulting is an internationally acclaimed expert and speaker in the areas of project/portfolio management, scope definition, process improvement and corporate training. Jamal Moustafaev has done work for private-sector companies and government organizations in Canada, US, Asia, Europe and Middle East.  Read Jamal’s Blog @

Jamal is an author of two very popular books: Delivering Exceptional Project Results: A Practical Guide to Project Selection, Scoping, Estimation and Management and Project Scope Management: A Practical Guide to Requirements for Engineering, Product, Construction, IT and Enterprise Projects.

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