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Project Managers Can Help IT Move up Value Chain

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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 CIO.com 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.

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