Reclining in the IT driving seat

Project management is the driving force behind today's successful businesses, writes Nick Langley

Project management is the driving force behind today's successful businesses, writes Nick Langley

What is it?

a) A set of skills including planning, resource and people management, quality control, risk management and communications.

b) Use of tools such as Microsoft Project or Micro Planner X-Pert. Being able to find your way round one of these does not make you a project manager.

Where did it originate?

a) Project management skills have developed over decades.

b) Project management tools began on mainframes around 20 years ago, but took off with the arrival of the Apple II and the IBM PC. They've grown from standalone packages to distributed, team-based products which use Web technology.

What's it for?

a) Development timescales are much shorter now, because of the demands of e-commerce. Project managers find themselves working with a variety of technologies - Web, client/server, legacy systems, packages, objects and components. Project teams may be "virtual", involving permanent employees, contractors, outsourced service providers and partners. Project managers need to combine traditional skills with new and emerging technologies and techniques.

b) The simplest tools support task scheduling and resource management. Others are integrated into full software life-cycle development suites, or are linked to the ERP suites. The most sophisticated handle multiple projects over multiple sites.

What makes it special?

In the sense that most organisations now depend on rapid and efficient development of new products, effective project management is the driving force behind successful businesses.

How difficult is it to master?

There's a lot to learn: resource-based planning, estimating techniques, work distribution modelling, critical path analysis. Successful project management needs character that can't be taught: paying meticulous attention to the details while not losing sight of the big picture; remaining cool under pressure; inspiring loyalty; winning over senior management.

Where is it used?

In IT, construction, engineering, manufacturing, utilities, commerce, financial and governmental organisations.

Don't confuse

holding progress meetings with making progress.

What does it run on?

Project management tools are available for all kinds of IT platforms.

Did you know that

The word project has a murky history. In the 18th century, projectors were people who raised finance from the greedy and gullible for get-rich-quick schemes, then did a bunk with the money. It wouldn't happen now.

What's coming up?

Closer integration between project management systems and the tools used in service delivery, enabling better management of human resources, and more timely and accurate costing and billing of projects.

Rates of pay and training

The Association of Project Management web site lists accredited training sites for its Certified Project Manager and Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) qualifications. See also the International Project Management Association and the Project Management Institute and the Project Management Specialist Group of the British Computer Society. Rates start at around £30,000 to £35,000; they can be twice as high for high-profile e-commerce projects, and higher still for specialist skills such as Oracle Human Resources.

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