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An Ideal Project Manager

Aspiring or active IT professionals who work as project managers under the IT umbrella can benefit from an improved understanding of what current and prospective employers want from those interested in such work. In particular they need to understand how to keep projects running on time, at or under budget, and to meet expectations and delivery requirements. In this article, you’ll take a look at relevant certifications, technical skills and knowledge, higher education, and subject matter expertise of greatest interest to employers.
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An Ideal Project Manager

Project management is an exciting, and relatively new, career path within the world of IT. Project managers are skilled professionals charged with ensuring that any project is not only an overall success but that it comes in on time, on or under budget, and that final deliverables actually meet project specifications. Nothing is worse than delivering a product that you think is the greatest thing since sliced bread only to discover that the customer wanted—and in fact ordered—toast with jam instead! Project managers’ skills are multi-faceted and range from subject matter expertise, budget and cost control, resource (both people and materials) planning and management, and much, much more.

The role a project manager plays is like the captain on a ship. The captain may not be in the engine room changing the oil or hoisting the sails, but he knows how to do each and every job required (and has done it many times in the past), understands every nuance of the ship’s movement, and possesses a deep understanding of other things that might affect a ship’s ability to reach its destination, including winds, currents, and weather. Captains also understand their crews’ skills and abilities, and how they’ll react under pressure. If there’s a weak link on a voyage (and there is always a sail that will rip, a storm that will blow, or a boat that will leak), the captain knows about it well before the crew and may even be able to prevent such weak links from snapping. Such is the life of a project manager as well.

Successful project management requires a breadth of skills, some of which belong to the general discipline of project management (and could apply to any project) while others are specific to the IT environment. Because project management can be a great transition role between development or operations and management or even executive roles, it’s important to understand what’s makes a good project manager. The most successful project managers have the following qualities:

  • Understand Project Management Methodology: It would be nice to say that project management required no special skills, and that anyone with sufficient subject matter expertise in a particular field can be a successful project manager. That would be nice, but it’s simply untrue. Project managers must deliver projects on time, on budget, and according to specifications.
  • In addition to managing the triple constraints of time, scope, and budget, project managers also need in-depth knowledge of the five project management processes: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring, and Controlling. Project managers also need a thorough understanding of these nine project management knowledge areas: Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Procurement, Human Resources, Communication, and Risk Management. As you can see, project management methodology includes a wide variety of skills that cover a broad range of knowledge. Understanding and mastering these processes and knowledge areas is key to success in the project management field, whether a project is in IT, health care, construction, or any other field. The mantra for the project manager is “Plan the work and work the plan!”
  • Subject Matter Expertise: There are some who believe that simply applying project management methodology to any project will ensure its success. Unfortunately, when reality meets theory, managing a project where you have little experience or subject matter knowledge can leave you with an ulcer and unwanted grey hairs, and put the project in jeopardy. Consider the following: would you allow a general practitioner who hasn’t seen the inside of an operating room since medical school to perform delicate and risky heart surgery? Of course not! Why? Because while they may have some knowledge of the workings of the heart, and even how (in theory) to perform the surgery, they lack the skill and experience to ensure a successful outcome for the patient. Even though both general practitioners and cardiac surgeons are licensed to practice medicine, their skill sets, expertise, and knowledge vary greatly. The same is true for project management. Employers want (and need) project managers who understand the IT environment. Successful IT project managers have the skills, expertise, and subject matter knowledge necessary to understand the scope of the project.
  • Communication Skills: Of all the personal skills necessary for success project management, perhaps the most important is an ability to communicate effectively. Project managers must possess superior communication skills, in both verbal and written forms. Project managers are frequently called upon (and expected) to present reports on project status to multiple stakeholders, customers, and C-level executives. In addition, project managers often provide the interface between stakeholders and those who actually perform the work. Project managers must be able to clearly and effectively communicate the goals, objectives, scope, expectations, and so forth to the project team. While it may sound simple, the way we communicate and conduct business has changed dramatically in recent years. IT project managers should be well-versed and comfortable with communication methods for virtual teams that operate at different sites and locations, span multiple time zones, possess different language abilities, and who may come from diverse ethnicities, nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds. Remember: in project management, the project manager must ensure that all communication is not only received but also understood.
  • PMP Certification: A simple Google search produces many project management certifications and degree programs available to those seeking a career in project management. However, the most globally recognized (and sought after) credential is the Project Management Professional (PMP), issued by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Not only is the PMP credential recognized globally, it commands respect among employers and that respect is translated into money. According to PMI Project Management Salary Survey—Sixth Edition, certified PMPs earn an average of $10,000 a year more than their non-PMP counterparts. A PMP credential indicates that its holder meets industry standards for training, education, experience, and excellence. Many employers look for and seek out project managers with PMP certification.
  • Other Certifications: In addition to project management certifications, many employers also seek PMPs who hold certifications in other areas specifically related to their IT projects. Some commonly requested certifications include Six Sigma, Agile, and ITIL. In addition, some employers look for project managers with MBAs, especially for organizations that might use the project manager role as a springboard into future management or executive positions.
  • General Management and Human Resource Skills: When it comes to HR matters and general management, a project manager must be a jack-of-all-trades. Project managers must have excellent leadership skills coupled with superior team building skills. Great organizational skills, close attention to detail, and strong negotiation skills are also vital to successful project management.

Cool and collected even under pressure (and believe us, most projects are fraught with the stuff), the project manager is the glue that holds a project together. To become a successful project manager, start with an assessment of your understanding of project management methodology. Multiple education avenues are available to assist you on your journey. However, we can’t stress enough that if you’re serious about project management as a career, the PMP credential is the Holy Grail that you should aspire to earn. It’s not an easy path, but considering that there are currently more than a half million certified PMPs globally, it’s certainly attainable.

In addition to recognition and respect, obtaining the coveted PMP credential also affords other benefits, namely financial. The Project Management Institute (PMI) recently reported that many project managers actually earn more today than they did two years ago. In addition to salary considerations, it’s also worth noting that CNN ranked IT project managers at number five in their 2009 List of Best Jobs in America.

If you’re looking for a new challenge to take your IT skills to the next level, project management could be a good move for you. It could also easily serve as a springboard into careers in management or executive programs, depending on the IT path you follow. While not necessarily easy, project management is an exciting and rewarding field.

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