Is project management industry specific? (4/6 PM challenges)

This is the fourth, of six, articles on project management challenges. Article 1 discussed is project management simple, article 2 focused on is project management bureaucratic, and article 3 presented the view on one size fits all in project management environment.

In the last post we discuss the concept that project management cannot be one size fits all. In that post we talked about PMBOK and crossing domains. Today, we build on that challenge but with a shift in focus – the focus today is to advocate the need for industry specific knowledge base.

Can project managers/management cross domains?

Let us use a story to start explaining this point.

Recently we had a prospective client asking for “PMP for construction” for their construction managers. We had to tell him “it does not exist.”

We asked about the objective of the training, he said, “I want them to learn new approaches in order for them to understand project management for construction and significantly improve their project performance. I want them to be able to apply what they learn immediately on their construction projects.”

The answer, “Forget the PMP® at this stage.” We said this to a general manager, who had issued a memorandum to his organization making the PMP® Certification one of the requirements for all future construction managers’ promotions.

Why did we say forget the PMP?

Because PMP® certification’s training is generic and we cannot readily apply it on the job in the construction environment for construction activities; although the learning adds value but it is not enough to meet this company’s objectives.

Further, training with a focus on passing an exam is different from a focus on applying the learning on the job, especially in a specific domain, like construction.

Please note, we are not saying that the PMP® is not valuable or not good — on the contrary, the PMP® certification is valuable. However, all what we are saying, in this case, the PMP certification does not directly align to the organization’s objective. In this case, the objective was applying project management on construction activities in addition to improving the project management organizational system. We further advised, ‘once the employees learn practical and applied project management in your specific domain, then certification would be a good next step but should not be the first step’.

The PMBOK® Guide and many other standards are generic standards, by design and mandate. These standards include the concepts that are common across industries, but do not address the peculiarities of a given industry.

Supplements that are domain specific

The good news is the Project Management Institute (PMI) publishes a number of standards that supplement the PMBOK® Guide. These supplemental standards address industry-specific functions, which the PMBOK® Guide does not cover, in such domains as construction, government, and defense projects. It is our understanding that PMI is interested in developing similar supplemental guides for other industries. However, the bad news is that PMI is not updating these supplemental standards as regularly as their other leading standards and these supplemental standards are still limited to a limited number of domains.

Going through the hurdles on the project life cycleThe project manager can manage any project?

So the PMBOK is not enough and cannot be one size fits all; yet there are many practitioners who thinks that just because someone studied the PMBOK and become PMP then he/she can manage any project. In theory one may consider accepting this argument – but in real life it is another story. There is no easy yes or no answer here since it is a function of the project domain, personal traits, among numerous other factors. Yet – it is amazing how many people would jump and say yes or no with total certainty and authority.

As we regularly say on this blog site and our various articles and posts, project management practices are highly valuables. There are common concepts that cross industries and domains. However, each domain has its unique features and applications. For example, the project life cycle for an industrial project is different from real estate development, pharmaceuticals, marketing, training, technology, software development or other domains. Some projects require only a few resources and short-term, other projects may require hundreds, if not thousands of people and years to complete.


The author view is that we need a focus on industries for project management to thrive in the future. The global business trends, as we see them, are calling for specializations. What exists today in term of generic content would be excellent starting foundation; we just need to build on those foundations!

Appreciate your feedback and comments!


6 thoughts on “Is project management industry specific? (4/6 PM challenges)

  1. Cendrella

    This comment is By Thomas (Ted) Preisser, MS, CSSBB:

    There is nothing wrong with anything Mr. Fawaz has said. In fact, I doubt that it needed to be said at all. If you are a scheduler inside a PMO, then you are tracking data points that have been built into the Project Plan. That is not the same as developing the Project Plan and its WBS. That requires industry-specific knowledge. Personally, I believe it would be a mistake for the PMI to differentiate itself into industry-specific programming. It begs the question of whether the construction requirements for building a refinery are similar enough to those of building and airport or a hospital beyond the site prep stage. The industry lobby or professional association would probably be the right place to create those programs, following on from the basic PMP and their systems approach model.

  2. Cendrella

    This comment is By: Ravishankar Panchangam on LinkedIn: It is not Industry specific, by having Project Management knowledge you can manage any type of project or program whether it is complex or simple

    1. Mounir Ajam Post author

      Dear Ravishankar Panchangam

      Thank you for sharing your opinion, which we respect but as you know from our article we do not agree with it.

      First, can a PM manage across domains? This is a huge topic and surrounded by a great deal of debate. Marketing projects, internal business projects, in-company ICT projects, are usually small projects, require limited resources, require limited effort and time. These projects might be OK with a project manager with limited experience. On the other hand, projects for capital investments (Real Estate, Industrial, Utilities, Petroleum …) require huge resources, great deal of effort, long time, and cannot be managed by one person but require project management team with many members.

      Even PMI recognizes the above and they issue supplements to the PMBOK guide to cover construction projects, government projects, and defense projects.

      Second, a PM can manage “project or program whether it is complex or simple”. Here again we have a different opinion. Just an example to demonstrate this point. IPMA (International Project Management Association) has been around for 50 years. They have 4 levels certifications. The lowest, Level D, is good for a team member. Level C, is good for project manager managing simple projects (or supporting a PM on complex project); Level B is for project managers on complex projects, and Level A is for Project Directors – these would manage large and complex projects or programs.

      Best Regards

  3. Pingback: 6 PM challenges – No 5: professional certifications impact | Redefining Project Management

  4. Cendrella

    This comment is By Albert Mustafin on LinkedIn:
    Hi Mounir,
    You briefly mention that in theory one may consider to agree with the idea of PM being universal. I think there could be organizations that would like to know that “theory”.
    I have no experience in construction industry, but I can imagine that hiring a “pure PM” can still pay out. For example, there is a new contract and we need to deliver:
    How do we start a project? This action has no specifics – handover from sales to project team. Based on this we have project charter and a contract with budget and timeline.
    Initiation/Kick-off? PM knows what it is – we hold a meeting with representatives from all involved teams. SMEs or line managers of SMEs. PM presents the project scope per sales handover.
    Plannig? There are techniques to build a good WBS through brainstorming or following similar project from the past.
    Executing? PM doesn’t build roads or buildings. He keeps track of all the management plans created during planning phase. SMEs are there to provide inputs for risks and changes.
    Closure is again barely industry specific for a PM.

    So in my opinion, your last two topics could have been merged in one, because they speak about the same thing. And customers that approach you with the request to have PMP course for construction industry should not get a response, “Forget about PMP”. If they will send you PMs that already have construction experience, then by teaching them PMI principles you will deliver PMP for construction industry.

    This is all my humble opinion. I have limited experience in training, but from what I saw the above can be valid.

    1. Cendrella

      This comment is By Mounir Ajam on LinkedIn:

      Hi Albert

      great input as usual.

      1) you are right the last two challenges could have been combined into 1 and they were but we split them to split the focus … where is one touch on standards and the concept of size/complexity/other factors whereas the other one is specific to cross industry and the PM role. There is an interesting debate on one of the groups on this topic.

      2) on PMP for construction – notice i did not say we do not need PMI knowledge for the construction people – my point was specific to certification. Let me share with you this for comparison.

      Let us say I lead a 5 days PMP prep course and a 5 days Essentials of PM course, (including method and processes from PMI). The variable here is the course – since we have the same company – same consultant – similar content – etc.

      On a scale of 1 to 10 if we measure learning for improving performance (not passing an exam) the person taking the PMP will gain a 5 (for comparison sake) whereas the person taking the other course might get an 8 … so for improving performance on the job – a course not focused on certification will give the candidate more learning. Why? Because the PMP difficulty is not in PM content – it is the language and the questions that can be confusing.

      Another interesting observation – those with limited PM experience in our classes, especially new graduates, do better on the simulation exams than those with experience. Even a high school student once did better than those with 15 years experience.

      So back to the construction company – the first issue was the GM thinking their is a PMP specific for construction – which is not the case. After a lengthy discussion – we found out that he has limited understanding of the PMP is and what they immediately needed was not the PMP. Also notice in the article we say – start with non-PMP then those who are interested and understand what the PMP is about – can go for it. In the article we summarize the story and did not put the whole discussion.

      Another reason for the above comment – in our region – where English is a second or third language … in when people who take training that are company sponsored – our experience is the following:
      1. Less than 80% of those who take a PMP class have the PMP as an objective
      2. Less than 40% take the exam
      3. Passing rate is about 50%
      4. So bottom line: less than 20% of PMP class participants actually become PMP (if company sponsored – self-sponsored is higher)

      So when we talk with clients we advise them of the above so they can make a choice and understand the situation.

      Sorry for the long answer


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