Opinion: The perilous path to project management

Taking a specialist's ability on trust can be costly

Hiring a project manager to co-ordinate your IT projects, rather than expecting an existing manager to incorporate it into their role, can increase the chance of an IT project succeeding.

Having somebody take control of planning and managing a project can prevent the costs of implementing systems - sometimes running into the millions - from spiralling out of control.

The project manager is responsible for ensuring all resources, including the budget and time spent on the project, do not exceed any agreed tolerances, while ensuring the delivered product meets customers' quality expectations. Other responsibilities include risk and change management, and contingency planning.

Once an organisation follows the procedure of establishing a solid business case and finding a project manager, theoretically the project should hold a higher chance of success. Unfortunately, a positive outcome is not guaranteed.

Trust is a dangerous thing

A lesson we have learned is that a risk organisations often fail to consider, never mind identify, is that the project manager might not actually know what they are meant to be doing, or might simply fail to do what they are paid to do. This is despite creating such a reassuring impression of themselves that you could imagine they had personally created the whole project management concept.

Most IT suppliers provide a project manager to run IT projects at a high daily premium to the end-user, yet the end-user is not invited to participate in the selection process. This practice needs to change, as it is the end-user who is paying for the project manager, and, ultimately, relying on their honesty and proficiency.

The success of a project is hugely dependent on the effectiveness of the project manager, and the skills required to successfully perform the role include leadership, communication, negotiation and planning. 

A high level of integrity is also a helpful, and occasionally essential, attribute. The project manager should not hesitate to communicate to the business any personal risks. For example, the following interjection can prove helpful: "I just started reading about project management last weekend - I might not be the best person to run your £1.8m project."

Do not take a back seat

The cost of a business-critical IT project failure is far too high to leave the entire process of appointing the project manager to the supplier alone.

The end-user has the right to interview supplier-proposed candidates before they are assigned to an IT project, and can request a change if it is deemed necessary.

Failure to take part in the selection process could result in the sponsor having to impart to the business that the sole reason for the project failing was that the high premium paid for the project manager merely procured a driver who steered the £1.8m project down a dead end, though, possibly, they did not know how to drive in the first place.

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Tony Collins' IT projects blog
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