Technical skills are just the building blocks of successful IT, putting them together correctly requires the art of project management.
Project management comprises a set of skills including planning; risk, resources and people management; quality control; and communications. These basic disciplines are applicable to IT projects of all kinds. According to the Association of Project Managers (APM), project management provides the "single point of integrative responsibility" needed to ensure the successful delivery of a project.
Where did it originate?
Modern computerised project management began with the US Navy's development of the Polaris missile system, which led to the Programme Evaluation and Review Technique (Pert).
Project management tools began on mainframes about 20 years ago, but they took off with the arrival of the Apple II and the IBM PC. They have evolved from standalone packages to distributed, team-based products that use web technology.
What is it for?
According to the APM, the project lifecycle follows a common sequence: opportunity; design and development; implementation; hand-over; and post-project evaluation.
Effectively managing the lifecycle ensures that issues will not be overlooked, time and money will not be wasted and that resources will be effectively deployed.
There are evaluation and approval points between phases, known as "gates". Project teams may be virtual and made up of contractors, outsourced service providers and partners. Project managers need to combine traditional skills with new and emerging technologies and techniques.
The simplest software tools support task scheduling and resource management. Others are integrated into full software lifecycle development suites. The most sophisticated tools handle multiple projects over multiple sites across the enterprise.
What makes it special?
It can represent the difference between success or failure, as a series of disastrous public sector IT projects have demonstrated.
Against a background of falling demand for IT skills, the SSL/Computer Weekly survey found the requirement for project managers is going up
How difficult is it to master?
There is a lot to learn: resource-based planning, estimating techniques, work distribution modelling and critical path analysis.
According to the APM, certain personality traits are important, such as an open "can do" attitude, common sense, open-mindedness, adaptability, inventiveness and a willingness and ability to identify and understand risks.
Where is it used?
In IT, construction, engineering, manufacturing, utilities, commerce, financial and governmental organisations.
What systems does it run on?
Project management tools are available for all kinds of IT platform.
Not many people know that...
In formal project management terminology, there are hard gates and soft gates, depending on how rigidly they need to be adhered to.
What is coming up?
Closer integration between project management systems and the tools used in service delivery, enabling better management of resources and more timely and accurate costing and billing.
The Association of Project Management website carries a list of accredited suppliers of training for its certified project manager and practitioner qualifications. See also the International Project Management Association's site. The BCSProject Management Specialist Group offers evening presentations, lectures, training workshops and forums, some of which are open to non-members.
Rates of pay
Pay ranges from £30,000 to more than £40,000 for large ERP or datawarehousing projects. Contract project managers can look for £250 to £400 a day.