After spending most of your adult life and working career in the technology industry, it can be easy to forget that there are other industries out there from which we can learn to benefit our own projects and companies. While IT operations of varying scales are typical within companies, there is also a lot that can be gleaned from those companies’ larger business processes.

Project managers need to be even more creative these days in developing solutions to deliver their projects by looking outside the company for methods that other industries use to manage projects and resolve project-related issues.

Study other industries’ project management methods
Looking outside one’s own industry and into the best practices of other fields can stimulate your own project management practices. It can also inspire change in your own project development processes. Some ways to look outside the technology industry include:

  • Maintain a circle of contacts that is not a who’s who list of technology occupations.
  • Read widely. Newspaper business sections, general business publications, and Web sites have coverage of other industries and the business issues they encounter.
  • Learn about your client’s business. Understanding your customer’s business beyond its information technology activities can illustrate how its business is managed.

It’s all about keeping your eyes wide open to how other industries manage their projects and operations.

Choose another industry to study
Information technology management issues are not as insular as we might think. Also—and I’m sorry to break it to you—the IT industry may not have all the answers. Some issues that cross industry boundaries include:

  • Documentation
  • Information management
  • Knowledge management
  • Business processes
  • Customer relationships

Often, the parallels between your industry and others may not be readily apparent. Here are some guidelines for choosing an industry:

  • Keep your mind open. Manufacturing, healthcare, engineering, and civil planning are just a few of the industries rife with solutions you can adapt and apply to your own managerial tasks.
  • Don’t look at the task as some business school research exercise. Rather, you should look at the execution of the solution for the problem.

Look for common ground and common solutions
Seeking management solutions from outside the industry is not just about researching and talking to people in those industries. You need to be able realize that some business and technical issues transcend industry boundaries. Here are some tips on how to do just that:

  • Look for commonalities between your management issue and what managers in other industries encounter. Personnel management, information management, knowledge management, and infrastructure are just some examples of where you can find commonalities.
  • Gain insight from working with your clients.

Apply the best of the best practices
Looking outside the technology industry for management solutions requires some adaptability and creativity because you aren’t going to be able to apply someone else’s solution right “out of the box.”

Take the best of their best practices. Just because the management solution belongs to some industry standard or other proprietary methodology doesn’t mean you can’t adapt an element of the solution to meet your needs.

Looking outside your industry can offer a cross pollination of ideas to improve your own project management and delivery processes. Information technology as a profession won’t always have all the answers you need.