In the race for IT and business success, reaching the finish matters most. So it’s no surprise an important IT career path is project management.
"In American business, growth is associated with the ability to lead other people," says Sid Kemp, author of three books on project management, including Project Management Made Easy. "If you demonstrate an ability to lead teams, you're on your way to being an IT project manager. And good IT project managers can write their own ticket at a lot of companies."
So why does the path to glory run by the Gantt chart? A number of factors make project management important to IT professionals, even for hard-core technical specialists:
- The increasing complexity of IT projects.
- The emphasis placed on teamwork and communication skills.
- A heightened need to meet budgets and deadlines.
- The pressure on top executives to deliver results.
On Time, Under Budget -- or Else
Techies who lack project-management know-how may not be able to complete their work on time, leading to embarrassing snafus if not outright disasters. And in today’s unforgiving business environment, the business and career consequences can be severe.
"We have to demonstrate some basic project/task management ability or someone else will do it for us," says D. Keith Casey Jr., CEO of CaseySoftware. "Currently that could mean outsourcing -- offshore or not -- or it could mean replacement."
Project Management Starts with Self-Management
With the increased attention on IT initiatives, all project members need project-management skills, not just the designated project managers and team leaders. While team members can rely on project managers to keep the overall project on track, each individual must take responsibility for his own work as it relates to the broader project goals.
"It is essential that everyone on a project team have core project-management skills," says Kemp. "The core of project management is self-management, which leads to highly productive work. With these core skills, each person can define deliverables clearly, estimate their own work time and then deliver on time. Then the entire team can build a realistic project schedule and deliver as promised."
Technical Skills Are Not Enough
"Hardly anyone ever says, 'Our software project failed, because our developers were technically incapable -- if only we had smarter developers who knew their technical stuff,'" says Thomas Myer, author of No Nonsense XML Web Development with PHP. "Most of the time, it comes down to eliciting requirements, communicating status, setting expectations, meeting goals and pushing back on clients who want to keep adding more and more features."
Of course, it's one thing to gain project-management skills and quite another to move into project management. Kemp, who holds a PMP certification, suggests following these steps to move into project management:
- Learn to complete your work on time and within budget constraints.
- Gain know-how in formal project-management terms and concepts through organizations like the Project Management Institute.
- Express interest in serving as a team leader in order to demonstrate your abilities in project management.
That's not to say technical skills don't have their place. They do, but alongside project-management skills. "Yes, you can do me and our clients a world of good by being a great coder," says Myer. "But you have a much better shot at greatness by being a great project manager and a good coder, as opposed to a great one, and you'll get a lot more respect and appreciation from the client."