Article - A Tough Project Predicament: Which Course of Action Would You Select?


Several months ago I published an article titled "Why Do Clients Prefer to Live in Denial?" that described a particular project situation yours truly found himself in certain number of years ago. Today I just wanted to revisit this case study from a slightly different perspective: rather than concentrating on what went wrong in that particular scenario, I would like to focus on the possible remedial action that could have been taken. At the end of the article I am going to provide you with several potential answers to my question and ask you to propose the best possible course of action.

So, without further ado here is the situation:

  • You are a CEO of a smaller company A that signed a major deal with larger retail company B to supply them with a new trading platform
  • The technical sales team assessed the situation at company B and came up with an approximate estimate of US1.5 million for the entire project
  • The management of company B dismissed the estimate produced by the sales team and forced company A to accept a US$750,000 target
  • Since your organization (company A) has been experiencing certain financial issues at the time, you yielded to that demand, but added an article to the contract stating that:
    • Since the budget is smaller than expected, company B will assign a team of their employees to work full time on the deployment of the system together with a team of specialists from your organization
    • Once the money (i.e. the $750K) runs out, company B will accept all the responsibilities remaining for fine-tuning the platform

Several months later once the project manager received a complete and accurate requirements document, he was able to produce a schedule and the resource requirements estimate. The final, detailed estimate turned out to be:

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.