Projects Get More Troublesome

As IT moves from maintenance to more complex projects, expect bigger headaches.

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"Now it's a matter of saying, 'Here are the tools, here are the platforms; go make it happen,'" Siegel says. "We have stopped managing our vendors at a project level. We have started certifying them at a vendor level, saying, 'We are going to audit you, but we are not signing statements of work that say, for example, that over the next six weeks you are going to deliver the following three things.' "

Managing IT projects has never been easy, but a company has an advantage when rigorous project management principles already pervade its operating units, as is the case at PCL Constructors Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta. The basics of budgeting, planning, scheduling, workflow tracking and cost control are ingrained in the work practices of the people constructing bridges, buildings and airports at PCL, says Brian Ranger, the company's general manager for systems and technologies.

PCL didn't always have strong IT project management, Ranger says, but the rest of the company came to demand it. "Our business [managers] used to be frustrated that they couldn't hold us accountable to schedule and budget," he says. "But over the past two years, IT has gotten the project management religion and now works with users on terms they understand. We are trying to operate like the business."

To help develop better project managers, Ranger dispatched "key lieutenants" to the Project Management Institute (PMI) to take courses that would lead to Project Management Professional certification, a step that costs about $6,000 per person. "It's expensive, but well worth it," he says.

But all IT staffers get some PMI training - at least enough to introduce project management concepts, which apply to both construction projects and IT projects, Ranger says. "I want everyone to understand these principles and how they work so they can be part of them," he explains.

But IT consultant Glen cautions against assuming that project management techniques that work in largely mechanical arenas, such as construction and manufacturing, can be readily applied to IT. "IT project management is part science and part art," he says. "But we, as engineers, have the bias that we can engineer solutions to fundamentally human problems."

Glen offers this advice to project managers: "Look for flexible minds, and beware of people who believe they know the answer."

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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