Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Expertise of an IT Project Manager

Diagram by John M. Kennedy (c) 2008 by CC by SA 3.0
The Expertise of a Program Manager


The author has just joined the “Program Management Institute” or PMI for short, and now the author is attending the chapter meetings because the opportunities to learn from the cross-industrial experience of other program managers. In the following paragraphs, the author is presenting the research that he has conducted for addressing the topic of the upcoming PMI chapter meeting, i.e., what is the importance for a project manager to be an expert in the subject matter of a project. Furthermore, the author understands this same issue from the vantage point of an Information Technology [IT] professional, as to which kind of specialized knowledge and skills IT project managers must have about the technology used in the projects of their organizations.
Preamble: Definition & Analysis
A project manager [PM] is a professional who is in charge of all aspects in the developing of a project, from start to finish, and for such a PM is held accountable for the successful achievement of the project or otherwise for reporting about its final outcomes. (Stevenson, 2002) A project is a one-time endeavor to achieve a specific goal, service or product within a predetermined schedule, quality and cost. (Woodward, 2007) The main idea of using projects is improving or correcting how things are done or adding new features, whether by testing new solutions for boosting performance or simply by adding a payroll program for example.
Projects are planned to increase the value of products or services either by making or by offering them faster, cheaper and/or better for customers. (Robertson, 2000) Woodward (idem) explained that the success of projects depends of a well balanced integration of three main requirements, which are known as the “Triple Constraint” or the “Iron Triangle”, i.e., [1] quality and scope, [2] schedule, and [3] cost. (p.2) Incidentally, the Project Management Body of Knowledge [PMBOK] builds a solid and indispensable discipline from these mere simple ideas, all of which, since 1984, has been compiled and shared by the PMI, and institution that is recognized by the International Organization for Standardization [ISO] and with more than 200 chapters around the planet. (Woodward, 2007)
The importance of the PMBOK derives from various studies that have provided statistical data over the lack of success of projects. One of the first studies, specifically about IT projects, is known as the “Chaos Study” conducted in 1995 by the Standish group, concluded within other figures that 31.1 % of the projects were canceled before they were completed, and that only the 16.2 % of software projects were delivered on time and on budget; more recent studies have shown similar results. (Woodward, 2007) We can conclude at this point, that projects, without the utilization of a PMBOK and a person who master its application, are most likely to be unsuccessfully.
The Project Manager
Project managers are prepared to deal with all sort of projects, be them small or large. Most PMs have experience in translating business needs into project requirements, these business needs are usually within the domain knowledge of different Subject Matter Experts [SMEs], who would have experience and skills about their specifications and particular facts because their training, exposure, or study, this is also known as expertise. On the other hand, the great variety and nature of projects in today’s economy, and because the rapid change in technology, claim for other type of professional, a generalist or integrator, to manage effectively the demands imposed by the uniqueness and different skills requirements needed all along in the series of stages or life-cycles of projects. (Lauriano, 2000)Building a house is a good analogy; in fact, it is also a project, if we can imagine all the different skills that are needed for its construction, from the masonry, plumbing and carpentry to electricity, insulation, heat, ventilation, and air condition installations. It is unthinkable that one man could build alone a whole house, although it might be feasible and has been done; in reality, usually many people work to achieve that goal. A team work on schedule, under contract and under the supervision of a least one person, the construction manager, who coordinates the many activities that are involved in the construction and selects who is not necessarily an expert in any specific technical area of construction but who might be otherwise and at the same time familiar with all of them. This analogy is almost a template for other disciplines. (Lauriano, 2000, Stevenson, 2002)ConclusionJonathan Gispan, a program management teacher for more than 38 years at Lockheed Martin Corporation, stated: “Projects managers make things happen … and they also manage the people who make it happen.” (Stevenson, 2002, chap. 18, p. 770) Program Managers need to have some technical background but they better be equipped, in addition of supervisory skills, with the human relations and leadership skills to build strong collaborative teams and motivate employees to do their jobs in the best possible way because they want to. This is also known as the “Pygmalion effect” which is denoted by the increase of employees’ performance in correlation of the leader’s high expectations and the confidence poised on them. (Yukl, 2002 p. 265) Therefore, Program Managers are indispensable professionals in today’s complex ecological industrial landscape. (Robertson, 2000) This author concludes that a program manager is a multi-disciplinarian whose artisanship is the art of getting the things done right at the right time by the right cost for the right reason.

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