All of the back to school activities that my kids have been involved in reminded me of an elementary school experience I encountered long ago.  I had decided to join the soccer team and discovered that the coach’s strategy for preparing us was to give us a ball and sit on the sidelines while we scrimmaged.  He did instruct us on the game nor did he teach us the basics.  One might observe that this is the way that an “accidental” soccer player might learn the game.

As I reflect on this experience I compare it to the way that many (if not most in the past) project managers join the project management profession.  They excel in a given field and are asked to lead a project, hence becoming an accidental project manager.  I have been wondering for a while now if the time has come to put an end to the accidental project manager concept as a whole.

Consider for instance the fact that while in the past there may not have been enough education and training associated with preparing professionals, this is a problem that no longer exists.  Furthermore, while the profession does encompass a body of knowledge based on common sense, there is a good deal of science that needs to be understood to enable effective practice.

The concept of the accidental practitioner in other recognized professions is not prevalent and in many instances is prohibited.  I can’t imagine going to a doctor seeking advice on a specific medical issue only to discover that this person is an accidental doctor.

There is considerable recognition though that theory without practice and experience is not sufficient for project managers. Much in the same way I would argue that entrance to the profession needs to become more systematic.  This may be counter intuitive since project management is an inclusive profession where all sorts of professionals are welcomed in.  This inclusive nature was was certainly my experience with PMI and through the PMP program.

I’m not suggesting a shift in the inclusiveness to limit the number of practitioners, quite the opposite.  I believe as a profession we need to reach out to hiring managers and human capital departments to better educate them on the specific demands of the profession.  We need to help these important stakeholders understand that systematic education and training, while it is a small part of what a professional needs, is an integral part of the overall on boarding into the profession.

In the end, each organization has to make decisions that are in line with its needs and every hiring manager has unique challenge they are trying to address.  Our job in the profession is to offer the support necessary to achieve consistency and standardization to allow project managers to be better prepared for the profession.