Project Practitioners > The War on Experience

The War on Experience

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Who cares how long you have worked? There, I said it.


There are people at your organization who have worked the same job for decades without learning a new task or gaining any responsibility. They sit at their desk and collect a check. When someone comes to them with a new idea on how to perform their job, it is immediately dismissed, and their day continues as normal.


Yet, when their decades of experience is brought up, it is held in high regard because they have been around for so long and shown their dedication to the organization. In reality, they are working there because it is easy and does not challenge them. Those are passive years of experience.


The emphasis here is quality over quantity. Below is a breakdown of project management outcomes that require quality over quantity making years of experience less weighted or irrelevant:


  1. Product

Contractors are a great example of quality over quantity. One contractor may get 20 catch basin adjustments done in a day while the other gets only 12. That is a major difference. The catch (pun intended) is the contractor that gets 20 completed per day needs an extra 15 minutes of rework per structure when the paving crew starts. The contractor who does 12 per day gets each one within an acceptable amount for the paving crew to keep working.


The quality of the work is more important than the quantity. The product outweighs the production. Obviously a balance exists. If the paving crew stops because you are trying to be perfect with each one, people will not be happy. However, if you are way ahead of them yet they continue to stop because of poor workmanship, they are just as unsatisfied.


In construction, rework is costly. Sending union workers to go back on overtime to finish a job they started and did not complete eats profits for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


  1. Service

Businesses can survive for decades by delivering a subpar service. Take a cleaning service for example. A crew comes in, vacuums, dusts, wipes, and leaves. The place is better than it was before and people do not want to clean it themselves, so this process continues. ‘Good enough’ becomes the attitude.

Compare this to a startup company who over-delivers to keep people coming back for more. The years of experience do not indicate the level of service. Sometimes, it can have an inverse effect. The decades-long company becomes complacent using the same technology year after year while the startup uses the latest technology delivering a better service quicker. This complacency is similar to the worker who never improves or continues to learn. Stuck in a rut of their own making.


  1. Customer Experience

Have you ever come across the old business owner who sharply asks ‘What do you want?’ He or she has been doing this same thing for way too long yet is the only game in town so you have to use their service. They do not use email or text making communication difficult. You only know when the work gets done when they send an invoice. You are treated as an inconvenience.


Meanwhile, someone who just opened shop answers emails immediately and follows up with a phone call to ensure the message is clear. When they send a quote, they follow up with a phone call to make sure you received it and if there is anything else you need.


The customer experience is enhanced through the newer avenues of communication. Twenty years ago, sending an invoice without updating the schedule or letting the project manager know a completion date may have worked. Nowadays, there should be overcommunication if anything. Everyone has a cell phone meaning you are always available. Shape up or ship out.



Not all experience is the same. Decades worth of work does not equal all decades of work. Some people work a lifetime in a few short years while others kick back in the same position their entire careers.


Of course, experience matters. The argument is the quality of those years. Some people go to the gym for hours on end yet never seem to get in better shape. Meanwhile, others go in their basements for 15 minutes and stay ripped. The quality of those minutes/hours is what makes the difference, not just the time itself.


Therefore, the war on experience needs to happen. Too many requirements exist for years of experience as a filter for talent. Whether it is an individual or a vendor, experience tells very little about their talent. Accomplishments and credentials may be a better indicator.


Sports deliver classic examples of career backup quarterbacks putting in a decade’s worth of time meanwhile rarely throwing a pass in an official game. Compare that experience to a rookie who starts his first game.


Which means more to you, the decade of backup quarterbacking or the one game experience for the rookie? I will take the real-life scenario over the hypothetical all day. You can have your years of theory. I will take the game of reality.

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