Blog Article

IT Organization and Job Design Issues: Project Management

Posted by Vincent Milich

Vincent Milich

Every company has an Information Technology (IT) function, and one would think that the structure and roles within IT would have been “standardized” by now.   But nothing is further from the truth.   Because of the needs of different companies and industries, changes in technology, as well as history and tradition, there are a number of key options and decision points to be addressed in the design of an IT organization.    This post addresses one of those areas:  Project Management.

A Maturing Discipline

Project management has evolved to be a recognized discipline – within and outside of IT.  With the existence of the Project Management Institute, formal coursework and certification in project management, and a host of tools and methodologies project management has all the indications of being an established profession.   So what kind of challenges could exist when trying to implement a Project Manager role in an IT organization?

What’s a project?  And when do you need a Project Manager?

In a service model, anything that begins and ends is a project.   But so much work in IT is project-oriented.  Is troubleshooting an outage or moving a system into production a project since they have clear end points?   Of course not.   How about rolling out a new desktop to thousands of users, or launching a new data center?   Now things get tricky.

The classic “project” in IT is the applications development project, but there are lots of projects that would benefit from the discipline of project management.   Even in applications development, organizations spend a lot of time and effort trying to define when an effort is big and complex enough to be classified as a “project”.

Of course, what they are really doing is not classifying something as a “project” as much as they are determining when the effort warrants the assignment of a Project Manager – a subtle but significant difference.  All of the project-oriented work in IT can benefit from the application of a project management mindset, but we can’t always afford to assign a project manager.    Organizations would be well advised to train as many people as possible on a project management approach, and make it clear that the discipline of project management adds value even when we don’t officially call something a project.

How to deploy Project Managers

The most typical approach in larger IT organizations is to house the Project Managers in a Project Management Office (PMO) and deploy them as appropriate to a project, matrixing in resources as needed.  However, some organizations still align the Project Managers in the applications development group to a customer area or business function.   This keeps the Project Managers closer to their customers and enhances their knowledge of a specific area of the business, but it does limit your flexibility in deploying them.   With the PMO approach it is typical to strive for the best of both worlds – maintain the flexibility to deploy Project Managers where there is the best ROI, but have individual Project Managers “major” in different areas of the business so they can have shorter learning curve once assigned to a project.   This requires good resource management to ensure that certain areas of the business don’t always get the same Project Managers, limiting the development of your Project Management team.

Competencies for successful Project Managers

Project Managers can fall in love with methodology and strict adherence to project standards.   And organizations can fall in love with Project Managers who have credentials and who preach strict adherence to project management methodologies.

But the things that make Project Managers successful are the “softer” skills and competencies.   Things like keeping all stakeholders up to date and engaged in the project, being able to “sell” an 80% solution, conveying the business value of an effort in non-technical terms, being able to navigate the organization in order to effectively influence on key stakeholders.

As important as interfacing with the business is working effectively with IT colleagues to get the work done.   Especially within a PMO structure, and the emphasis on project management certification, there is a risk that your Project Managers start to see themselves as “special”, an elevated cadre of professionals.   Being approachable, collegial, and a good mentor can be as important as being task oriented and holding people accountable when getting the project team to deliver.

Organizations must consider these competencies as much as if not more than, project management credentials in hiring, developing and promoting Project Managers.

What about the Project Managers in the business?  

Finally, one of the trends that IT Project Managers are starting to need to address is the emergence of Project Managers and PMOs in the business whose scope overlaps with the IT Project Manager. Organizations are getting on the project management and wagon – recognizing its value in major change initiatives.  But if those initiatives have a technology component, how does that impact the relative scope and decision making authority of the “business” Project Manager and the IT Project Manager.  This should be defined for each organization – and potentially each project – so roles and decision rights are clear.

Obviously, identifying when to us Project Managers, determining how they should be deployed in the organization, how they interface with other key roles, and getting Project Managers with the right competencies will be key issues to be addressed in the design of an effective IT organization.


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