What Professionalism Means in Project Management?

What Professionalism Means in Project Management? Well, this is a broad question. I think there are (at least) two perspectives one could use to perceive professionalism in project management: one is very high-level opinion what is professionalism in general and another is very subjective and personal approach to the subject with all specifics of fulfilled role, work environment, surrounding organization and, finally, own character.

If we try to define what professionalism is in general we’ll probably end up with something like doing what you’re told and expected to do and doing it well. Thinking about project management it would be following your methodology (whichever it is), performing tasks assigned to your role etc. All the boring stuff.

You may ask what about reacting for unexpected situations or improving the way you and people in your team work? My guess is they suit the definition I gave. In every project management approach I’ve seen, a project manager is one of the most important persons (if not the most important one) who reacts whenever things don’t go as planned. In every project management approach there is a part which you might call constant improvement, no matter if it is defined as lessons learned, post mortem, retrospective or something else.

If you still think it’s a bit too boring to call it professionalism, fine. After all project management isn’t about changing the world – it is about getting things done.

There’s another perspective however – the personal one. And from that perspective being professional is, in short, feeling good about things you do. It’s like having this warm feeling of accomplishment when your spouse loves the meal you’ve prepared. If you aren’t completely out of luck in your professional career you had to feel that a number of times. Finishing painful projects or solving difficult problems may be a couple of rather typical examples here. It doesn’t really matter if someone spotted your good job and praised it; you just felt you did the right thing.

Isn’t that about doing what you’re expected to do? Well, sort of. If you follow a crappy methodology, which is more of an obstacle than help, you still can be considered as a good performer and professional by your superiors, even though you’d personally feel something different. You’d feel that there’s some problem with the way you work. Now, if your actions are limited to spreading complaints among colleagues and friends, that’s not professional at all. And the same would be refraining from doing anything at all. This is the point when you should do something more than what your superiors expect from you, whatever it might be.

Why do you need both perspectives though? Doesn’t the latter work well? The problem can be different than described. You can personally feel you’re making the right thing while breaking all the rules around. In vast majority of cases that’s not OK. And I’m not sure if there’s any case when you could call it professional. Anarchistic yes, but not very professional.

Of course it is possible you may find yourself in the place where you can’t reconcile one with another, no matter how hard you try. Then it may be a good time to think a bit about planning your career and consider changing a job.

Pawel Brodzinski is a seasoned manager working in software industry. He is passionate about leading great teams, fixing broken projects and creating high-quality software and these are topics covered by his blog Software Project Management. You can also follow Pawel on Twitter.

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