In light of the downturn in the information technology industry, all IT workers are
having to do more work with less. That includes lower budgets, reduced staff and
less time to handle an increasing work load.
To add fuel to the fire, after going on a
spending spree to gobble up Web-enabling software, companies are now attempting to
gain an actual return on investment (ROI) with these new e-business applications. All this
translates into critical project management efforts that must find ways to do more
What project management skills increase productivity and project success rates in
light of these “do more with less” circumstances? Whether you are an IT executive
looking to increase productivity or a project manager (PM) looking to expand your skills
and enhance your resume, there are various approaches and resources available that
are worthy of research and analysis.
Should project managers spend time honing
their technical skills and, at the same time, try to remain as hands-on as possible?
What about becoming skilled in various project delivery methodologies and best
practice standards? Are soft skills, such as team leadership, more or less important
during difficult times?
One of the first knee-jerk reactions of IT executives who find themselves with smaller
operating budgets is to require project managers to not only plan and execute projects,
but to actively fill technical roles. Many project managers were promoted because
they were the cream of the technical crop, so why not steer them toward what they
do best? This is a move that could save your organization some budget dollars in the
short-term, but also could backfire in the long term.
Delegate, Mentor, Lead
By promoting a team member to PM, the door is now open for others to shine and that raw talent should continue to be groomed. The PM should focus on delegation, mentoring and leadership to bring out the best in their development team. This will reduce the risk of project failure as the PM focuses on time management, issue resolution and resource allocation.
A better use of time for PMs is to improve their ability to plan and track tasks,
deliverables and resources, as well as manage client expectations to avoid scope
creep. There are tools available that can help with the fine art of project management,
such as Microsoft Project or even Web-based ASP project tools such as those offered
by Project.net. I refer to it as an art because, although project tools will allow for
better organization of management tasks, it will also be important to draw on past
experience and gut instincts when creating estimates and resource requirements.
However, it is still important to learn the tools to manage and track all the operations
involved in projects. Management should encourage PMs to take internal or external
classes that teach the intricacies of the tools of choice.
As with most professions, project management has a globally recognized standard for
measuring capabilities via a certification. The Project Management Institute provides a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification
that is becoming more prevalent as a requirement for project managers, especially in
technology organizations. There are stringent qualification standards, such as years
of project experience, number of projects managed and a minimum number of project
management education hours.
If these requirements are met, then the PMP candidate
must pass an examination, agree to a code of conduct and must meet continuing
certification requirements. This certification is best pursued by more seasoned
managers, but could also be an achievement goal set for employees just beginning
their PM careers.
Process improvement is another critical skill for project managers. For many large
organizations, such as Fortune 1000 companies and government agencies, the
Software Engineering Institute‘s (SEI) Capability Maturity Model for Software (SW-
CMM) has become an essential element in building project management best
The five levels that define this maturity process are Initial, Repeatable,
Defined, Managed and Optimized. The Repeatable Level has the most focus on
project management activities, defining such important tasks as requirements
management, software project planning and configuration management. A certified
member of the SEI Appraiser Program can verify a software organization’s maturity
Executives in IT management should consider taking an introduction to CMM-
SW course offered by the SEI to decide if they want their managers to pursue this
goal. To learn more, check the SEI Web site.
In defining best practices related to process improvement, an IT organization should
consider standardizing on a project life-cycle methodology. To ensure the success of
the ongoing implementation of a selected methodology, project managers must
become experts in each phase and should be able to evangelize the importance of the
methodology throughout the IT organization and the business user community.
People Skills Paramount
of the options include purchasing a methodology like Rational Unified Process
(RUP) or using a published one like the Microsoft Solutions Framework (MSF).
These options are better than creating a proprietary methodology because project
managers will be able to draw on the experiences of an established community. Not
to mention it will add another marketable skill set to the PM’s resume, such as the
MSF Practitioner certification.
Finally, the question of project management soft skills is vitally important regardless
of economic circumstances. PMs should put a primary focus on people skills
including leadership, delegation, conflict resolution and negotiation. IT executive
management and Human Resources should develop a framework for feedback on the
organization’s managers so they can learn from their peers and team members.
addition, many universities and consulting firms offer programs that teach these soft
skills. All of the prior skills previously mentioned will be worthless to the
organization unless teams are inspired and led by respected, accountable,
approachable and knowledgeable project managers.
Because times are tough in the IT industry and there is a strong focus on improving
productivity and efficiency, now could be the perfect time to champion an effort to
enhance project management skills and practices.
When the good times start rolling
again, it will be easier to ignore efforts to recognize the importance of project
management issues as IT organizations are once again overwhelmed with the latest
technology fads. Take advantage of these difficult times to beef up your
organization’s project management standards because solid project management will
never be considered a fad and will have a long lasting positive impact on your IT
Eric Spiegel is president of eXpert Technology Solutions, a technology consulting firm based in Baltimore, Md.