In the world of project management (PM), universal traits such as communication, organization and negotiation skills are absolute requirements to be successful. However, if a PM focuses on the area of information technology, sometimes it takes a bit more to truly be great.
Today, we'll cover seven skills that IT project managers should be striving for to achieve the highest level of success for technical projects in the enterprise.
The question of whether project managers need to possess certain technical skills has been discussed at great length over the years. It's been my personal experience that not only is it beneficial that PM's working on IT projects have a base level of technical proficiency, it's becoming more important all the time. The primary reason for this is twofold. First, technology projects are becoming more complex in at a time when everything is becoming virtualized, distributed, and abstract. This is making projects far more difficult to conceptualize. Yet, with even a rudimentary level of modern infrastructure IT skills, an IT project manager can understand big picture concepts and better anticipate potential roadblocks from a technical viewpoint.
Second, because of the business shift to digitization, companies are relying on technology more and more to create competitive advantages. Therefore, the success rate of IT-focused projects must increase for a company to survive. PM's with a better understanding of the technical milestones of a project are more likely to succeed because they have a clearer picture. This not only benefits the organization utilizing the combined skills, it creates a higher demand for those that possess both traditional project management and technical skills.
One somewhat valid concern regarding project managers that possess technical skills, is that they might end up attempting to fill two roles. One of the project manager, and the other as a technical resource. It's possible, then, that the project veers off course when the PM is too focused on the project's technical aspects. While this can happen, the problem really presents an exercise in discipline for the PM to know when to stop contributing to the technical challenges and instead focus on the bigger picture of keeping the project on course and on/under budget. If the technical project manager can’t do that, then they’re not the right fit for the PM role.
Please join us as we look at some of the unique skills we think make for a great IT project manager. After reviewing our list, we'd love to hear your opinion on skills you find valuable to IT project managers -- or if you have stories of projects that have successful/unsuccessful due to a PM's skillset.
Understand IT architecture
Because IT now operates in an environment that spans multiple private and public data centers. It’s important for an IT project manager to understand the overall architecture and where apps/data live on the corporate network and why. This information is incredibly useful for discussions on where to place technology based on project cost and performance outcomes.
Monitor return on investment
If the information technology department is pushing a specific application or digital service, it’s important that the project manager understand how it will benefit the overall organization from a return on investment (ROI) point of view. Will this new technology generate new business? Will it make processes more efficient? Understanding this sets the stage for clear project milestones and outcomes that help to ensure the final product is built to operate as the business intended
Identify common technology roadblocks
Project managers with no technology background tend to struggle with common technology roadblocks that seem obvious to those of us that have spent their entire careers in the field of IT. Finding proper maintenance windows, identifying and eliminating information silos, and those common “technology A must be completed before technology B can start” situations are absolute necessities. Without that background, the monitoring of project milestones can get out of balance in a hurry.
Explain technology to non-technical stakeholders
The IT project manager is often the liaison between technical and non-technical partners. One of the biggest challenges any highly-technical project can face is boiling complex technical issues down so they make sense to non-technical stakeholders. This requires a clear understanding of specific parts of the project. Being able to communicate well with non-technical members of a project can be invaluable. This is especially true for situations where a project falls behind or requires additional funding due to an unforeseen technical problem.
Know the language of IT
Information technology is rife with technical buzzwords and acronyms that can confuse even the most veteran IT staff. Therefore, it’s crucial that project managers understand the language being used by the technical experts. Misunderstanding the importance or meaning of a technical term could make the difference between a successful or failed project.
Gauge technical resource capabilities
IT project managers are required to understand the skill levels and competencies of the technical staff assigned to the project. When parts of a project begin to go off the rails, it’s the responsibility of the PM to know whether the problems are related to technical deficiencies. If that’s the case, they must be ready to quickly remedy the issue by finding the right technical resources to fill the void without requiring the sometimes-biased opinion of others.
Make difficult decisions
When difficult decisions need to be made regarding an IT project, sometimes the best person to make a tough choice is the project manager. After all, it’s the PM that should have the greatest visibility into both the technical and business sides of the project. When choosing to alter a project from it’s original state, the decision requires a clear understanding from both perspectives.
For those of you seeking IT project managers, or if you are looking at getting into the field of IT project management, having some sort of background in enterprise IT should be thought of as a huge advantage. While the skills the PM needs will vary dramatically from one project to the next, understanding infrastructure architectures and how applications/data operate on modern platforms goes a long way toward the success of virtually any project these days. While technical skills aren’t an absolute necessity in some situations, it certainly never hurts to have them.Andrew has well over a decade of enterprise networking under his belt through his consulting practice, which specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs and prior experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the ... View Full Bio