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Project Managing By Sticking One's Nose Outside Our Area Of Expertise“The opportunities for my CIO peers and I to stick our noses into other’s business are growing every day.”  SecretCIO, InformationWeek, June 13, 2011, pg 12.

Oh no, I’ve got a room full of computer experts.  None of them have any formal training in computer management or computer science, but they “know” what needs to be done.  Their experience seems to be limited to using PCs at home and at work.  They’ve never managed or maintained an enterprise wide computer facility that spans multiple countries.  We are doomed.

When PCs started to become ubiquitous, everyone become computer experts.  I watched in horror as these experts managed and expanded their systems.  They were working “intuitively” and it showed. I watched as backups were run during the middle of the day which slowed the system down to an unusable crawl, often for hours.  I’ve seen servers rebooted because someone was “tweaking” the system and everyone threw up their hands in frustration and wandered out into the hallways as the darn system “randomly” stopped working again.

I appreciate the “Secret CIO” putting his or her nose into someone else’s business.  I ended up doing it, when I was a computer programmer, because I came to realize that the problems with the projects were not technical but were management (mis-management) problems.  I started to meddle in management when I was suppose to be coding away on my part of the project.

Unfortunately, as alluded to in If Quality Assurance Is Project Managing Then We Are In Big Trouble, it is too easy for folks to feel they are experts in something that they only have what is a shallow understanding. The problem is we don’t realize our understanding is shallow until we jump in and take our lumps (and drive projects and companies into the ground). Research has shown that we are often most confident in what we know when we know the least.  The further challenge is this often happens in struggling organizations and projects where everyone, seeing things are not going well, figure that their advice can’t be much worse than what ever is being done now.

The insight here is to objectively review what we think we are really doing when we decide to jump in.  I’ve no objection to someone reaching outside their discipline.  In fact, it often provides insights and approaches that have not been considered before.  We just need to look past our own hubris and recognize that we just might not know as much as we need to know.  We need to be open to saying “oops, now I understand why it is done this way” and learn something in the process without damaging the good stuff that is already going on.

What good and bad examples have you seen of people using their insights and expertise outside of their normal discipline?

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