Succeeding Where Others Fail

For several years, I had worldwide responsibility for product lines that were integral parts of major IT projects. These projects were quite diverse and included infrastructure management, compliance and web services. I would continually travel around the globe to verify deployments and ensure that requisite feedback loops were in place so that product marketing and management personnel were operating on real customer data.

Key contact points were not just project staffers, but also CIOs and their functional equivalents. Project sizes ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to several million and covered a broad geographic span.

What these efforts revealed was that most of the projects were in disarray.

No Surprises

IT professionals should not find this issue surprising. What was troublesome, though, was the inclination in nearly all cases to blame product issues, which will never go away. Given this, I also found several excellent projects completed on time and within budget with those same exact products. Why? There was a project management process in place.

“But we already have project management” is the response often echoed from project managers whose IT efforts were in trouble, “and we still have problems.”

Project management, like most disciplines, continues to evolve thanks to efforts from groups like the Project Management Institute (PMI) and advanced tools.

But, with all this advancement, shouldn’t things be getting better? Theoretically, yes. But we’ve all heard about (or eaten) lousy food made with great ingredients: much depends on the chef. So, who is cooking in your IT kitchens?

This is where the turf war begins.

For those steeped in project management with a gaggle of certifications and a lingua franca much different from your ERP consultant or your firewall administrator, the answer is always clear: you need one of “us.”

If we revisit our culinary analogy, most of us would love to have a Michelin three-star chef at our local neighborhood restaurant. But isn’t that just costly overkill? The project protagonists will retort that the enterprise is much more complex and the cost of not doing proper PM is a magnitude greater.

Since most CIOs are under both headcount and budget pressure (not to mention struggling to maintain sufficient staffing just to keep operations moving) where does the project manager fit?

With the exception of larger shops, many IT organizations just aren’t searching for project managers. In the instances when they have looked, sticker shock quickly followed. Yes, good people are expensive and PM is not different.

Outsourcing PM is no panacea either and frequently results in both time pressures on the existing staff, as well as the “cultural challenge” of the PM ecosystem. Frequently, there are problems with outsourced projects, even when those external firms appear to have their PM house in order.

Getting Over the Top

Is it possible to overcome these challenges? Absolutely. Historically, many IT solution companies provide product training to their customer and business partners. But often missing in that “task” is an overlying PM methodology or system of controls.

More successful IT project results occurred when product training was combined with explicit project management training. Usually straight PM training is culturally out of the question, but when served together, the staff actually becomes emphatic PM advocates.

In a study I conducted for a large IT solutions provider, PM training results showed impressive gains in project organization and rollout, along with improvements in budget control. Additionally, the sponsoring company also became better integrated with its channel and systems integrators who knew the PM model.

In fact, with many more of their projects under control, several of these partners actually hired PM leaders, often at the insistence of those in their ranks.

These leading companies didn’t turn their partners and customers into PM gurus. Instead, they gave them sufficient project management skills to produce dramatic results. The key is to bring in just enough PM to get this organic process started.

What are the steps you can take to bring this about?

Infuse just enough project management into your IT departments. The certified PM professional spends months, if not longer, on training. We’ve found that several days is often sufficient training to have a positive impact.

Be broad in your fertilization. Don’t limit PM training to specific individuals. Involve as many, if not all of your staff as possible.

Use it as a foundation for reporting. Request information in a project reporting format. It’s amazing what speaking the same language will do. It also shifts the focus from product techno-babble to business terms.

Infuse more where necessary. Look for the signs that the PM culture is starting to take root. Apply more training if integration is occurring.

Provide feedback. Feedback not only facilitates requisite adjustments, but also fuels broader adoption. Teams need to know their efforts are working in order for PM to become inherent in the organizational DNA, rather than some separate entity running on the side.

The world has programmed us to expect dramatic results in minimal time, which often runs counter to the reality of IT operations. Applying unsolicited pressure may produce negative results or undermine even the most productive staff.

My premise is project management is a critical success factor for the effective delivery of IT projects, regardless of ubiquitous and never-ending product issues. Slowly injecting project management techniques thinly and broadly into an IT group will result in organic growth of this discipline, manifesting in higher quality and lower cost solution rollouts, along with positive impact on all team members.

Robert Ciampa is vice president of Marketing and Business Strategy at Trusted Network Technologies.