Let's put an end to project mismanagement, say CW360.com readers

The crisis in project management has become a running sore which damages public confidence in the IT industry. Now CW360.com...

The crisis in project management has become a running sore which damages public confidence in the IT industry. Now CW360.com readers have their say in pinpointing the problem and seeking effective solutions.

Read Colin Beveridge's column on project management >>

CW360.com columnist Colin Beveridge certainly raised some sand with his analysis of why so many high-profile, high-cost IT projects go belly up with such monotonous regularity - and they're just the ones we hear about.

Colin's critique focused on the lack of training available to fledgling project managers and the consequences of the lack of value placed on practical experience by companies today. Our mailbag shows that he hit the spot with an awful lot of people who've seen it all for themselves.

At 30 years old and with work on 20 IT projects under his belt, you might think Ian Marples would be justified in considering himself a seasoned veteran of the project management scene. On the subject of the "project manager" handle, he says: "There appears to be an unseemly need for this "fashionable" job title among ill prepared, poorly trained, young professionals in order to achieve this status.

"I have experience of systems analysis, design, programming, testing and implementation. I can operate Microsoft Project, draw a Gantt chart, am capable of doing presentations and attending, even chairing, meetings. I do not consider myself a project manager.

"As my experience grows, the more projects I work on, the more companies I work with, the better I am able to analyse what tasks will need completing, assess any risk, estimate the effort needed to complete a task, and so on.

Skills + experience = success
"This is done on the basis of my experience and that of other experienced professionals I work with. This has to be coupled with project management skills that will be acquired over time, the chief one being application of previous experience on a project.

Stephen Prowse who moved into IT full-time after 10 years in the military where he spent time on a "fair share of projects" believes that having a more experienced person to turn to on the way up is vital.

"I shadowed other project managers and had them available to ask and assist whenever necessary," he says. "I have found that it is all too often pride on the part of the individual who is not willing to show that they do not know something, or not liking to be guided/managed, that tends to be the root cause of failure.

"It is imperative that each individual has a deputy, by name not necessarily by rank, as this can throw up sensitive issues for staff. Strong guidance and leadership is essential."

Life in the hurry-up culture
Peter Ioannou agrees but reckons companies' short-sightedness will be a tough nut to crack. "The world wants things quicker. No one has time to breathe," he says. " Fixed price contracts with penalties if not finished on time. There doesn't seem to be any time to train managers. When things are slow, people are being made redundant. All this rushing around is making companies short-sighted when it comes to training.

"Perhaps now with the slow down in business and where IT has to justify a return on investment, like all other sectors of the business, we will slow down long enough to think about training. Getting people who know what they want and training them appropriately. This may insure that fewer projects tail-spin out of control.

"But then again we are only human and make the same mistakes time and time again."

Project consultant Robin Adamson feels the memo mentality is wreaking havoc in the world of project management. He writes: "Many project managers are not fully trained and the main criteria for being put in charge of a multi-million dollar project is that you have a degree, you call yourself a project manager, you can use MS Project and you know what a methodology is.

The guys in the Teflon suits
"Time and time again I come across project managers with the above placed in charge of delivering projects, but without the true skills to actually make it happen. These PMs tend to know they are unable to deliver should issues arise and generally wear suits made of Teflon so the proverbial does not stick.

"These individuals feel that as long as they sent the e-mail or memo raising a point they are covered when the proverbial hits the fan. This type of attitude is generally responsible for the enormous amount of projects that fail to meet their objectives.

"Project management is a serious business, but to make it work, it needs two key elements. The first is the ability to communicate. This means using more than just e-mails, memos or big group meetings, but one-to-ones, the telephone and proper information flows filtering out informative communication from decision-based communication. The second requirement is the ability to take responsibility for the project and direct management of issues, rather than deferring decisions to higher levels of management or committees."

Start on the right foot
With 15 years experience of leading projects, John Cowell reckons projects which fail do so right from the start. "The problem lies in the initial estimate," he says. "Once into the design phase the estimating tools can work on the number of databases, the number of inputs/outputs but on Day One of a project how big is, for example a billing system?

"In truth the estimate is a guess based globally on earlier major developments. Factors such as return on investment and what the available budget is come into play.

"Such problems are not limited to IT. Look at Wembley Stadium!"

Too old by 40?
A major point Colin Beveridge made was the lack of value placed on experience, while methodologies, however clumsily used, are all the rage. Independent IT consultants Moraig and John Kennedy have learnt this the hard way. "As two old wrinklies with many years of successful and on-budget projects under our belts, without the aid of all the new methodologies, we now find it difficult to obtain project management contracts because so much emphasis is placed on these methodologies while giving no credence to general business acumen and experience.

"I have read many articles recently which suggest that by one's late thirties one is over the hill. Only in IT is there such an attitude and blatant disregard of hands-on experience. Our brains are still perfectly capable of understanding the new technologies and although we may now wear glasses to read, it does not alter our ability to digest.

"Age does indeed mellow one and with experience comes the ability to handle the unexpected (the MD acquiring two new companies which have to be online in two weeks time!) while keeping the project on track.

"It's time the IT industry dropped its ageist (and sometimes sexist) policy and realised there is a lot of talent being put out to pasture that could give a lot better value for money."

A matter of course
Unfortunately the designers of IT training courses also fail to harness the wealth of project management experience that's out there. Wyn Jones recently completed a BSc in Multimedia Computing so knows first-hand how IT is taught. "Not once in all this study was project management even mentioned," he says. "I left employment to study, due to a perception in my own mind that my way of developing solutions was rather haphazard and that there had to be more formalised methods for development. Well, I learnt a lot during all that study but am still in the dark over the best ways to run a development project.

IT management consultant Richard Fox can't see why today's project managers seem to make such a song and dance about things. "Project management is just the same as it was centuries ago," he points out. "We are just building IT solutions, not cathedrals.

"Project management is about people skills and resource management, things which are lacking in IT management - full-stop."

The last word goes to senior consultant Charles Dowie who sees cause for optimism, so long as care is taken in the early stages of a project. "It takes a well prepared and trained team to ensure success," he says. "If you miss any of the stages out then you might get away with it - but choose that bit carefully.

"Get it right up front and the rest should be easy."

Read Colin Beveridge's column on project management >>

Thank you to all who responded - our apologies if your views were not quoted directly. All reader feedback on CW360.com is published only with the specific authorisation of the correspondent.

Read more on IT project management