Feature

Strong personal skills and certification are key to becoming a successful project leader

UK business needs good project managers more than ever before, according to two studies published last month. But what skills can IT staff learn to bolster their CVs and help improve the success rates of IT projects?

Research from Microsoft found that large UK companies are wasting more than £13m a year each by not scrapping failing IT projects (Computer Weekly, 18 May).

Meanwhile, the British Computer Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that the UK is failing to produce IT staff with the necessary skills to handle complex IT projects. Their study found that less than 20% of all IT projects in the UK could be considered truly successful, and failed projects had led to billions of pounds being wasted on IT systems.

One of the most popular standards for project management in both public and private sectors is the Prince2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) methodology.

Prince2 is a structured project management method designed to show up deficiencies in projects at an early stage.

Originally developed for the government to control large IT projects, the Prince2 methodology is available for about £55 from HM Stationery Office.

Prince2 takes a business-based approach to product management. The customer specifies the desired outcome and pays for it, and a supplier provides the skills, resources and deliverables. The customer can be external or within the same organisation.

Prince2 is process-based and defines what activities are to be carried out at each stage and who is responsible for them. End-users are involved throughout. There is an emphasis on progress monitoring and management information.

Although the Prince2 foundation exam has a 99% pass rate - training takes three days and costs about £1,150, or you can get CD-based multimedia training - less than 75% of candidates pass the Prince2 practitioner exam. Courses in Prince2 and other methodologies are run by various training agencies.

As well as Prince2, there are project management certification courses from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the Association for Project Management (APM).

US and international companies often look for PMI certification while UK companies and UK government departments tend to favour the AMP.

Derek Armshaw, PMI UK Chapter director of membership, said, "Our certification offers a project management body of knowledge, with those passing our exams becoming a PMP (project management professional)."

Like all certification in project management, PMI candidates do not need experience in any specific software tools. Armshaw said, "Tools are obviously important, but what is really important is how you manage the projects."

David Roberts, chief executive of user group the Corporate IT Forum, called on the IT industry to emulate the engineering industry, which he described as "the roots of project management". The difficulty for IT though, said Roberts, is that IT evolves much faster than engineering technology.

Roberts said personal skills were just as important as certification for project management.

"Those going into project management have to be strong individuals who can resist pressure from various areas in the enterprise - there will be people telling them to roll out projects when they are not ready and to implement solutions in a way that is not suitable.

"[Project managers] need to be disciplined, good communicators, be able to check project feasibility, define tasks for others, manage delivery, work with all budget holders, and keep all parties informed, from employees to the board."

Despite the concerns raised about the state of project management in the UK, there are some grounds for optimism. Research sponsored by Computer Weekly last year found that management of UK IT projects is improving and is better than previously thought. Readers can download a copy of the report from www.computerweekly.com.


Project management essentials

Closely define requirements

Agree roles and responsibilities

Plan tightly and effectively

Introduce risk management

Use monitoring, reporting and controlling mechanisms

Post-project reviews are essential so that lessons can be learned for future projects.


Source: Project Management Institute


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This was first published in May 2004

 

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