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Project Management Keeps IT From Being A Victim Of Success

Top IT shops made themselves approachable, and now everyone wants a piece. Project portfolio management can help hold off the hordes while keeping your hard-won reputation intact.

IT departments are either the darlings or the despised of corporate America, and some practitioners would debate which extreme causes the most pain. Let's face it, nowadays the reward for doing a great job is more work. Once an IT group earns the trust of business units, it must then survive the onslaught of new projects.

Good organizations, like good bosses, don't want you to suck in more than you can handle and collapse in the process--our research shows high-performing businesses want IT to take control of their project portfolios. And make no mistake: Controls are needed. In our recent survey of 968 business technology professionals, 75% said the IT workload was either heavy or downright crushing.

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Smart organizations have a grip on project portfolio management (PPM) and are willing to prioritize and, when needed, end projects when they turn bad. Like risk management, PPM is nothing new for mature disciplines (see "Risk Management: Do It Now, Do It Right," March 31). "We've picked up where construction and engineers have been for years," says John Nahm, an IT project manager for the state of Virginia.

chart: Take A Guess -- How do you determine what capacity IT has to perform projects in a given time period?
In its simplest and most useful form, PPM involves setting parameters around, classifying, and prioritizing all projects. When you get right down to it, apart from certifications and expensive software, PPM is something we do every day when we decide to go to work rather than head out fishing.

The highest performers in the IT world, as defined in a recent study by the IT Process Institute, are those most likely to cancel projects--at a rate double that of their lower-performing counterparts, in fact.

"It's counterintuitive until you think about it," says Kurt Milne, managing director of the institute. The business world is accustomed to trying new initiatives but being willing to move on if they don't work. But, as Milne points out, in IT there's value in stability, so we're hesitant to pull the trigger. "I don't know that that's a skill that IT folks think they need to have, but logically, it makes sense to shoot your bad projects and move on."

Line-of-business executives understand capacity planning and prioritization, Milne says, but they expect these choices to be presented in business language. What they don't understand is when IT overpromises then underdelivers, failing to meet deadlines or not completing a project. Unless IT becomes skilled at PPM, we'll never close this credibility gap.

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