10000 hour rule of success – Does it apply to project managers?

In Outliers: The story of success, Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success using examples from Canadian ice hockey players to Bill Gates and the Beatles. Throughout this book, he claims that the key to success in any field, is to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10000 hours.
There is enough debate already on the authenticity of this claim with viewpoints ranging from people who says its rubbish to those who vouch for it. Let us look at it in the context of project managers if it makes sense. What does it take to be a “expert” project manager?
PMI eligibility criteria for PMP is 4500 hours of project management experience – which could be gained in roughly 3-5 years depending on the kind of project management role you have. So if we will assume that the 10000 hour rule is right, what we have by now is a semi-expert project manager. PMI certification helps to bring additional knowledge but does not really count as work experience.  If we will go with Gladwell’s theory, the project manager needs to put another 4-5 years in the profession before he is considered as an expert. So for a project manager to become an expert its somewhere between 8-10 years.
This is in line with Gladwell’s theory. That would be in my opinion as well, a general time frame to have a relatively experienced project manager who would be considered expert in his profession. There will always be exceptions – on either side of the spectrum – the stars who don’t need that much time to become expert and the below average ones who might take much longer to become that expert.
Of course this is not to say that just putting in the hours is all. Success depends on a host of other factors which influence – your passion, commitment, learning ability, adaptability, perseverance and so on.  Also the 10000 hours have to be really made productive and not just passage of time.
The definition of expert itself is subjective but we will take a simplistic view of things here and consider expert as someone who is able to carry on the role independently with experienced guidance and can mentor others in the field.
Still if we will take a simplistic view of things, I see logic in Gladwell’s theory and the 10000 hour rule of success. The time frame of 10000 hours to become an expert project manager  seems reasonable and practical.
And finally even if the exact amount of hours would be debatable, still it helps to convey an important point – you need to put in the hours to succeed, there’s no alternative to it.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..