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The New Role of IT Project Managers

Jun 18, 2014   |   Information Technology, Project Management
The New Role of IT Project Managers

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When the site was launched in 2013, problems occurred as hundreds of thousands of Americans went online to enroll in the newly mandated health insurance. The project is estimated to have cost the U.S. government roughly $600 million, but it had a rocky start as glitches caused applications to go astray, leaving many frustrated and without proper health insurance.

A recent McKinsey & Company study suggests that half of all information technology (IT) projects with budgets higher than $15 million exceed budget projections. Worse, 7 percent of IT projects are delivered late, providing 56 percent less value than expected. Given those facts, it's not surprising that the implementation met challenges.

These dismal figures beg the question: Where is the IT project manager role in all this?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, careers in IT are expected to grow faster than average, at a rate of 15% between now and 2022, with the median salary projected to be over $100,000. Clearly the demand for project managers in the IT industry is high, so is the IT industry suffering from a shortage of project managers with the right skills to do the job?

"Many IT professionals fall into a project manager role," says William Chadwick, adjunct faculty at Colorado Technical University (CTU), "They are developers first, with an expertise in coding and software engineering, but don't necessarily have the management skills to successfully lead a large-scale IT project." There are also professionals who choose to become project managers, but lack the technical knowledge to successfully navigate the complex nature of multi-million dollar IT projects.

The Evolution of the IT Project Management Career

Good project management follows the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge, also known as the PMBOK®. The guide defines the core, foundational elements of project management including five processes – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, closing – and also ten knowledge areas:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope Management
  3. Project Time Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Human Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management
  10. Project Stakeholders Management

"The fundamental principles of project management are the same across all industries," explains Chadwick. The challenge for IT professionals is how to effectively apply those principles in a high-stress, rapidly changing environment where scope, cost and resources are moving targets. Add to this the dual role of an IT project manager who is responsible for managing other people's efforts, but is often asked to step in to provide technical expertise when it's needed. The lines are blurred, leaving IT project managers straddling the fence between managing people and participating in development.

The Key to Successful IT Project Management

Audit and tax advisory firm KPMG offers a simple three-step framework for successfully managing mega-projects similar to what most IT professionals will encounter:

  • Plan and organize: It's important to set the stage for project success. This involves developing realistic estimates of time, cost and resources, and also preparing for potential risks or derailments. A properly planned project will have stakeholder buy-in and be executed by a carefully assembled team with specific roles and responsibilities.
  • Communication and control: Preparing a communication plan that sets the tone for the project's political, social, historical and technological context helps bridge the gap between various participants and stakeholders. In this phase, it's also important to prepare budget and cost variables.
  • Continuous improvement: According to CTU Alum Emad Rahim, D.M., PMP, managers are increasingly realizing the importance of "tribal knowledge" to foster sharing and learning within the organization. Whether an IT project succeeds or fails, gathering intelligence from prior experiences is critical for the future IT projects.

Preparing for a Career in IT Project Management

Whether you choose to enter the IT project management field consciously or by accident, Chadwick recommends following PMI guidelines. "There are a number of people in project management jobs who don't have any formal education in the field," Chadwick says, "and this means organizations risk introducing poor or dated habits into IT projects. That could be costly." In addition to foundational project management knowledge, IT project management also demands a comprehensive understanding of technical needs and business needs. Professionals who have strategic vision, the ability to apply technical knowledge with ease and the skill to communicate and lead others will find the most success in the field. Seeking a degree that is verified and supported by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is important to following PMI guidelines – especially as PMI sets the industry standard for the field.

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