Management Skills All IT Managers Should Have
At some point in your career, you’re going to ask yourself what’s next. Do you continue down the path of increasing your technical skills, learning new technologies, or do you break into management, either as a team leader or in another role?
As you move into other roles, different skills are obviously required. Over the past few months we’ve covered team-building, time management and Management 101. Another important set of skills as you move away from the hard technical side of IT and into the softer side is project management skills.
You don’t necessarily need to be a project manager in order to benefit from acquiring these skills. In fact, project management goes right along with team management and time management, so this month we focus on an IT project management primer for IT managers.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 74 percent of IT projects are over budget, late or never get off the ground. Every year $75 billion is spent on failed projects. When you consider the impact of technology in our businesses these days, you can see that most businesses can’t afford too many projects like this.
Why do projects fail? Because they are poorly managed—and not just by the official project manager.
Project Management Cheat Sheet
Not all organizations have full-time project managers on board. When you work for an organization without a full-time project manager, it becomes even more important for you to have superior project management skills.
Let’s review some project management basics:
- Understand the phases of a project. A project has several distinct phases that include initiating, planning, executing, controlling and closing. You can’t skip any of these phases without risking failure of the project. Each is important, but from my perspective the initiation phase is the most important. If you don’t start off on the right foot with the right project scope, the right resources and the right team, it will be pretty hard to get through the project successfully.
- At any point you can only have one priority. You must choose between time, scope and cost. For example, if you’re running behind schedule, you must either adjust the scope or invest more heavily in additional resources.
- Define when you’ve reached your goal. Most people do a pretty decent job of identifying a need before a project kicks off. (They just screw up a lot of steps in between.) The challenge is in identifying the metrics that will determine when the project is finished. For example, if the project is defined as the creation of a corporate Web site, you must clearly define what the site’s desired functionality will be, or you will run the risk of an indefinite project. By defining the project clearly, you’re able to reallocate those resources and apply maintenance resources as appropriate.
- Manage scope creep by sticking to the original plan. As a tag-along, one of the biggest dangers for every project is scope creep, the inevitable addition of features as the project progresses. Every project has scope creep, but you can minimize the creep by doing a very thorough job up front in the analysis phase. One technique that works well is the use of prototypes and story boards. The more end-users can visualize, the easier it will be for them to identify changes early on.
- Identifying risks is a good thing. You shouldn’t flinch whenever you hear the word “risk.” Whenever you start a new project, one of the ways to keep it real is by identifying all the things that could and will go wrong. These include losing team members, not taking vacations and holidays into account and having to rehire and train new team members. Risks can also include shifts in organizational priorities, contractors going out of business and dependencies on other departments for gathering data and requirements.
- Don’t make business decisions for project sponsors. This is not just a project management violation, but it can also be a career-limiting move. Your role is to identify the issues, ask questions and let others decide on the business requirements. I’ve seen many IT professionals fail once they adopt the attitude of knowing more about the business than the project sponsors.
- Your role is to manage the project, not to do the work. As an IT manager/project manager, you’ve got too much on your plate and must rely on resources throughout the organization. That’s why project managers’ most valuable skill is the ability to influence a disparate group of people who don’t report to them. How do they do it? By clearly identifying everyone’s role on a project and keeping people to their individual commitments.
What Else Does it Take?
There are other characteristics to keep in mind for successful project management. These characteristics also represent what makes a great manager of people. They are:
- Being a team player.
- Having great people skills.
- Having excellent communication skills.
- Being well organized.
- Being a problem-solver.
The last one above all means truly believing that a win-win resolution to issues is possible. It will be the reason why your projects will be repeatedly successful and your role will expand in time.
Growing Your Project Management Skills
The highest-regarded project management credential is the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. It is a stand-alone certification and is quite a bit different from the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certifications. Candidates applying for certification as a PMP must satisfy extensive educational and experiential requirements. The PMP designation symbolizes knowledge and accomplishment and is highly regarded by colleagues and employers.
Training is provided by global training providers (a complete list is available on the PMI Web site), both in the classroom and online. The exam includes 200 multiple-choice questions. Individuals are allotted four hours to complete the exam and must answer 137 questions correctly to pass. The exam is administered at Authorized Prometric Testing Centers. For more information about PMI, visit www.pmi.org.
If you are looking for a more IT-specific focus to your project management skills, you might consider CompTIA’s IT Project+ certification. It is an industry-recognized credential acknowledging competency and professionalism in IT project management, including the necessary business knowledge, interpersonal skills and project management processes required to successfully manage IT projects.
Training that maps back to this certification is available through technical training organizations as well as through e-learning vendors like New Horizons and Element K. For additional information on this certification program, visit www.comptia.org.
If you you’re well-organized, enjoy leading meetings, are a stickler for details, actually like to hold people accountable for their results and can influence workers who don’t report to you, you may want to expand beyond your current role and become a full-time project manager.
Paula Moreira is vice president of e-learning for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company. Paula is also author of “Ace the IT Resume” and “Ace the IT Job Interview” (McGraw Hill).