Thought for the day: What makes a good IT project manager?

Failure has blighted many an IT project, and the cost can run to millions of pounds. So, asks Alan Bray, what can enterprises do...

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Failure has blighted many an IT project, and the cost can run to millions of pounds. So, asks Alan Bray, what can enterprises do to improve their management of IT projects?



Businesses pay lip service to the value of successful IT project management; but finding the right skill set is a difficult matter.

While it is easy to confuse project management with the management of people, it is not some sort of black art. Reduced to its simplest, project management is the craft of managing tasks and leading people. A good project manager must have the ability to lead and motivate a team of individuals.

Ever been a parent? Being a parent is an excellent qualification for a project manager, as you quickly have to learn how to reason with demanding children - and, if you can successfully negotiate with your teenage offspring, then I'm sure you can deal with the complicated dynamics of professional management teams.

Another analogy is with the conductor of an orchestra, whose skill is to bring in each new player at the right time, following the rigour of a score while avoiding disharmony and discord. The truth is that the IT project manager often has to juggle competing demands but on occasion, must have the strength and conviction to say, "No, I believe this is the right way to go."

It's all very well knowing about project methodologies or boasting an impressive CV littered with qualifications.  Without the intrinsic skills to cope with the most important of all resource - humans - in difficult or stressful situations, a project manager will fail to deliver on time and to specification.

Project management methodologies offer no panacea. Methodologies such as Prince (Projects In Controlled Environments), are often similar in concept, and the basic controls they advocate are frankly common sense - deciding what you want to achieve, how you are going to do it, what you need to achieve your objective, what risks may affect the project, how to control the changes in requirement, etc.

However, in practice rather than theory, no one size fits all. When the pyramids or Stonehenge were built, the same key elements applied - how long, how much, how many resources - all without Prince.

Leading and motivating a team is one side of the equation. Before any project starts, it is crucial that its project manager takes the time to ensure that the customer has fully bought into and is committed to the project, and has a complete understanding of what is to be achieved.

The good project manager asks questions from the outset, because posing the really fundamental query is the only way of extracting the vital information necessary to proceed. Project managers must get under the customer's skin and avoid dodging the obvious issues.

They also need the ability to work with the customer's resources and to negotiate around and resolve conflict.

The future of any project that will make a real difference to the customer, belongs not to the faint hearted, but to the brave. Above all project managers have to be passionate about the job they are doing.

Projects are vital to the lifeblood of any organisation and they absolutely depend for their success on the skills and understanding of the project manager.

The best project managers are inspirational people, whose authority derives from a charisma rooted in experience. Indeed, the successful candidates at interview are often those who can prove their skills at conflict resolution by relating them to their own personal lives as well as their work.

The key to being a good project manager comes down to personality.

But if anyone can tell me how I can convince my daughter, by negotiation, she can't borrow my Mercedes, please let me know.

What do you think?

How do you juggle competing tasks? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Alan Bray is managing director of Enterprise Integration Services, part of the CSF Group, an IT services and solutions provider.

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