According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), 74 percent of all projects fail, come in over budget or run past the original deadline every year, resulting in approximately $75 billion spent on failed projects. Why? The main reason is because organizations have historically failed to realize the importance of having a highly skilled and experienced project manager on staff. However, the perception regarding project management is quickly changing. Companies now recognize that successfully managed projects increase productivity, yield a greater return on investment, increase profits and improve customer service. In fact, in a study conducted by Meta Group Inc., more than 75 percent of the 219 IT executives interviewed indicated that a lack of in-house project management skills is a major workforce issue for their organization. This realization is driving the demand for IT project managers. But before you decide that project management is the career for you, you must ask yourself if you have the right skills to be successful in the role.
Do You Have the Essential Skills?
When most people hear the title “IT project manager,” they think of someone with technical skills, and they should. Technical skills are extremely important when you are managing technical people. You need to speak the language of the IT staff working on the project and understand their tasks and their role in completing the project. However, technical aptitude is not the key to a project manager’s success. An IT project will not succeed unless it is managed by a professional who has the following business skills:
- Communication Skills: As a project manager, you are the main liaison between the technical staff working on the project and the stakeholders that have business needs associated with the project. You will be required to sit in a room with various departments, many personalities and multiple levels of management and then communicate at the level of each individual in the room. This means you must have the ability to adjust your method of communication depending on your audience.
Poor communication is a major reason so many IT projects fail. It is not uncommon for a project to be halted near its completion because one of the stakeholders announces that the end product does not meet their needs. Many times, the result is a project that cost millions of dollars but is never completed. This happens due to miscommunication in setting the project vision and end goals. It is essential to gather input from all stakeholders and develop a clear strategic business imperative for the project before it begins. A good project manager will speak to each stakeholder directly, get their expectations up front and manage those expectations throughout the project so these types of costly problems don’t occur.
- Organization Skills: Project managers organize projects like a filing cabinet—they organize every part of the project from beginning to end in a way that makes sense. Success in this aspect is measured by the ability to reach into a “file” and understand what has been done, how the project has been organized and prioritized and why it has been done that way.
A project manager must also help organize the other people involved in the project by providing a lot of direction and help prioritizing their tasks. To get things done, these groups need someone to coordinate their involvement and their duties associated with the project so they know how, when and where their tasks need to be completed.
- Teamwork Skills: One rule to follow in project management is to give ownership to the participants in the project. A project manager can’t do everything on his own. In order to get the essential help and support you need from different levels of staff, you must be able to listen to their opinions and input. Assigning leads or business experts for different tasks or topics brings expertise and control and helps facilitate success in all areas. A good project manager always remembers that “it is not my project; it is our project and the company’s project.”
- Problem-Solving Skills: A good problem solver has the ability to judge whether the solution or work-around will ultimately move the team, or the project, past the immediate hurdle without jeopardizing the desired outcome of the project. You need to be able to identify a problem before it even occurs or, at least, identify the problem very quickly once it does occur. The bottom line is that to be a good project manager you must have the skill to make the right decision in a timely manner to ultimately overcome the issues.
Developing Project Management Skills
Before you embark on a career in project management, you must seriously ask yourself if you are an organized person, have the natural ability to communicate well and solve problems and are comfortable working in a team environment. If you answer “no” to any of these, a career in project management is probably not for you. If you answer “yes” but your skills are basic and undeveloped, the good news is that you can build upon them over time. As you start your career with smaller projects, make a conscious effort to develop your skills. Managing a small group of people on a small assignment is completely different from managing a large multimillion-dollar project. Your team-building skills will evolve as your teams expand. The teams you work with will also change from project to project. This will provide an opportunity to work on adjusting how you communicate to each audience you come across.
If you are just embarking on your IT career and haven’t had the opportunity to work on projects yet, you can still start developing your skills now. Let’s say you are working as a technical help-desk analyst. This is a great chance to learn how to obtain a customer’s expectations. As you are listening to your customers to understand their needs, you are developing the essential customer-service skills needed to be a good project manager. This is very important because even if you are working with someone on a project who is from your own organization, if they are giving you their requirements, they are your customer.
Basically, if you decide you want a career in project management, you should go into it with smaller goals and focus on a project in which you are interested. This could have a technology focus, a marketing focus or could be any other type of project. Then, manage one piece of the overall project. Learn from that experience and then move on to bigger pieces and, eventually, take on the role of managing an entire project.
The most essential skills cannot be learned through formal training and certification, you must have an inherent ability to communicate well and solve problems. However, training and certifications will help you increase your level of competency in those areas and will definitely help you in the job market. The course instructors have many years of experience managing projects, and you can benefit from that experience. For example, training will help you relate your experiences on the job to situations you learned about in class, helping you react more effectively to the problem. Certification will also validate that you have the knowledge to lead projects and, therefore, will help you get your foot in the door. The questions in most project management certification tests are scenario-based—a situation is described that asks what you would do if “this” happens.
“The answer measures the ability of that individual to handle situations common for a project manager,” said Eva Chen, senior certification program manager for CompTIA. “Certification validates mastery of best practices. We believe that certification is an accurate predictor of a person’s performance as a project management professional and is a point of career dis