According to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to gain expertise in performance-based fields. We can conservatively assume that a working year is made up of 220 days (the rest is weekends, holiday and other personal and public leave days). We can further conservatively assume that the actual time spend on gaining specific experience is 6 hours per day (with the remaining time spent on non productive or non experience gaining activities). With that in mind, it would take an average person 7 – 8 years to acquire a sufficient level of proficiency in any performance-based area of expertise.
From a Project Management perspective this is important to consider when making recruitment decisions. To understand why, we should examine the meaning and consequences of achieving the 10,000 hours target.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, spending 10,000 hours on any performance-based vocation is required to make the person an expert in that field. If ‘expert’ represents the end of the scale it can be safely assumed that the level of expertise is subject to a periodical growth, either a linear growth in which every 1,000 hours equate to additional growth of 1/10 of the total expertise, or non linear, in which case every subsequent 1,000 hours contributes exponentially more to the overall experience gained. Either way, recruiting a project manager with an experience of less than 7 – 8 years implies recruiting someone with lower capabilities who is not yet fully proficient in the execution of the complete requirements associated with being a project manager. Assuming a linear progression, recruiting a person with 5 years experience would imply 62% of total proficiency, and similarly, recruiting someone with only 4 years experience would imply 50% of total proficiency, etc. If a more exponential behaviour is assumed then the results will be closer to 40% and 30% respectively.
Some job ads look for junior project managers with 4 or 5 years experience. That’s ok, provided that it is clearly understood that the person hired for the position would not have sufficient experience to fully fulfil any of the pre-requisites required for a fully proficient project manager. It should also be recognized that such a person would need to be monitored and mentored in order to ensure they provide the level of service necessary to do his/her job correctly.
Think about it!