Ages ago (I have been busy) I wrote my last post on attending the Digital PM workshop run by the most talented Brett Harned.
I got a lot out of that workshop including reading up more on the niche of a Digital PM (DPM) and the validity of that as a specialization in the profession. I’m not sure I buy into the hype of if we need to debate on if it is a specialization or not. I certainly have been to workshops, meet ups where the phrase a “project is a project” has been touted. While I certainly agree there are fundamental PM principles that are applied across a myriad of industries, I know from my own experience that being PM in the healthcare field is different that the skill set of a DPM.
Honestly though, if you work in project management today, you are most likely dealing with digital content. Some project managers come from design or development backgrounds (like myself), and I think just as I learned the skill set in healthcare I needed to get the job done, you have to have a certain skill-set to succeed as digital PM. There is a nuance between a digital PM and a technical PM and I think a good DPM can at least feel comfortable in both arenas.
To me a DPM is simply someone who is typically a PM with experience in managing digital projects and often with hands-on technical skills as a digital content developer. Is this a niche? Possibly. But I see it no differently than a MD who pursues a speciality. But to be sure there are many implications to a trend toward increased demand for PMs with specialized vertical skill sets. A more pressing question, I think is is to look in to the IT space – how will the PM profession keep pace with specializations in emerging technologies? How convoluted or micro-niched will the PM profession actually become? Is that even a healthy trend? If you look at the confusion and debate things like agile and lean have in the project management space, you will understand what I mean. When you add more niche’s like DPM and industry specialization to the mix, it’s easy to see how limiting that can be for finding qualified professionals to fit that role.
However you weigh in on the debate, I think its fair to say the trend toward PM specialization is growing, which is of course led by employer demand. What makes it different from other professions is that employers want combinations of specializations that reach far beyond traditional project management roles. And here I think is the real danger. At the core, there is actually some validity to saying a project is a project. A good developer does not always make a good Technical Project Manager. And I think this can be evidenced by the overwhelming facts and figures that continue to come in through professional boards and articles on the disturbing news that the rate of project successes isn’t improving all that much if at all, leaving one to wonder if this trend will make any positive impact to delivering value to organizations.
Ultimately though, at its core DPM in title or not, a PM is required to possess certain skills to reach the organizational goals and be efficient and effective at the same time. The major quality required for a project manager is leadership. Leaders can go a long way and get the best out of people by setting an example of walking the talk. Ultimately however, it is a skill that comes from someone who thinks like a PM first, specializations second. The most important skills for any project manager are managing your team and managing your stakeholder(s). In my opinion, understanding your team and facilitating them to perform with excellence is an art that is not taught in books or courses, no matter what title you hold. To me a Technical PM, a DPM or just the title of PM needs to put one thing first, above all others – that of servant leader.
To quote directly from the Center for Servant Leadership:
“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
Master that, a skill not taught in any book or in any line of code, and you are 90% there. Anything else, no matter your title, can be learned.