Project Managers Can Help IT Move up Value Chain

Ann All

With IT jobs clearly now among those at risk due to broad economic troubles, tech pros want to know what they can do to improve their odds of remaining employed. One possibility: Play up project management experience, or volunteer for projects where such skills can be learned.


In May 2007, I wrote about a Robert Half Technology survey that showed CIOs would like to see stronger project management skills on their staffs. This desire may be rooted in IT's poor track record of completing projects on time and within budget. (While there is far from a consensus on just how bad that record is, most folks agree IT's performance needs to improve.)


Based on recent research from Computer Economics, the desire for project management skills remains. Computer Economics President Frank Scavo told me in a recent interview that his company has seen a 10 percent increase in IT project managers over the past three years. He thinks it reflects the steadily growing demand for IT pros with more sophisticated skills. While the stock of positions such as business analyst, systems analyst and project manager is rising, there is less growth in positions that can be more easily automated or outsourced. Says Scavo:

You can't automate project management. So that's what I think is behind it, it's the long-term strategic migration of skills up the value chain.

One of the most interesting takeaways from my interview with Scavo involved his take on the efficiencies gained by companies with formal project management offices. Though project manager staffing levels were similar for organizations whether or not they had PMOs, those with PMOs tended to have fewer IT managers. He says:

What that tells us is that having a PMO allows managers to focus on management and not be dragged into project management. So having a PMO in place can make your IT managers more efficient. The benefit is not in PM staff, it's in IT management.

Another value of PMOs: They help companies create metrics around the success of projects. Companies without such metrics often don't learn from their past experiences, says Scavo. A PMO also provides a formal home for PM best practices and lessons learned, which makes it easier for companies to retain this important knowledge if and when PMs leave the company.


If you're a CIO, what skills should you look for in a project manager? Organization is tops, says Jim Lanzalotto, VP of strategy and marketing at Yoh, in a recent article. Other folks quoted in the article recommend a degree in an IT or business-related field, background in applications development, experience managing complex projects, strong communication skills and ability to multitask. Many of the skills seem to overlap with those of business analysts, another increasingly hot job I wrote about in November. A good question for PM candidates, says Lanzalotto, is how they've dealt with projects that went off track.


Another good bit of advice, culled from my June interview with Nigel Hughes of Compass Management Consulting: Make sure IT project managers keep broader business objectives in mind and focus on benefit management rather than task management. He explains:

For example, how often do you hear, "Our ERP implementation has gone live?" Well, so what? How does "going live" benefit the business? That benefit is what you need to keep sight of throughout the process. The way to do that is to define the potential benefit up front, and establish metrics to track and quantify the benefits.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jan 30, 2009 11:16 AM John Nisbet John Nisbet  says:

I think it is not possible to overstate the importance of the last comment quoted in the original post from Nighel Hughes.

Time and again IT organizations and sponsors embark on projects by defining "requirements" (which is a serious topic all by itself).  But, the place to start is with the value to be delivered to the business: what value is the business looking for as a result of the new investment?  Yes, this sounds like old fashioned return on investment but it is astonishing how infrequently this is actually done.

In my consulting work my comments to current and prospective clients to the effect that "You should not undertake this project if you cannot identify the beneft that you will derive from it" more often than not are greeted with quizzical, if not suspicious looks.  Or, "Well - we do know the benefit: customer service will be able to handle 5 times as many calls per hour as they can now".

I submit that this is where all projects need to start: with relentless pushing on the subject of the return that the project will deliver.  Initial answers need to be challenged, dissected and put back together again.

Once the true expected return is identified the business requirements are clear.  These in turn will determine the system requirements and subsequent phases of the project.  Project Managers then have a true context for managing the success of the project.

Feb 15, 2009 8:01 AM Robin Goldsmith Robin Goldsmith  says: in response to John Nisbet

Yes, identifying and quantifying value to be received is essential for achieving value; but the value is not the business requirements.  Rather, the REAL business requirements are the deliverable whats that when delivered (or met) by a product/system/software how indeed achieve the value objectives.  See more in my book, Discovering REAL Business Requirements for Software Project Success.

Jul 10, 2009 2:24 AM Andrea Receveur Andrea Receveur  says:

Good article Ann. Enjoyed reading it.

Sep 22, 2009 9:28 AM Jerry B Jerry B  says:

It isn't just CIOs and other senior I.T. execs who would like to see stronger project management skills in their staff.  This desire is spreading throughout the entire executive suite to the CFO, COO, director of HR, EVPs and SVPs and other senior execs supporting the entire business. It's happening slowly but it is, indeed, happening.

I agree with you that the I.T. sector is in particular need of good project managers, not to mention functional managers who understand and appreciate the value of project management, team members who provide the labor and create the deliverables on projects, and senior executives who seem baffled at I.T.'s poor record of delivering projects on time, on schedule, in scope and, very importantly, aligned with the greater organization's business objectives. An understanding on the part of these stakeholders that project management is not just common sense along with understanding the project management issues that are unique to I.T. projects will go a long way to improving communications between project stakeholders and project managers, particularly when it comes to communicating the value of sound and proven project management and program management practices.

Jerry Bucknoff, PMP

PM Best Practices, Metro NY City


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