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Time to take IT Project Management seriously

By Mervin Bateman

“Project Manager: This position requires a professional who has a passion for project management. Utilise people and communication skills by managing a team of business and IT experts. Develop and manage strong customer relationships. Must have business experience, common sense and the ability to ask the right questions. Be assertive, organised and output driven. IT qualifications a plus.”

Project Management is a professional skill that should hold a lot of clout in the IT industry. Until now, IT Project Managers have been unskilled, untrained and inexperienced and have not been held accountable for projects which have failed to meet project objectives, deadlines and budgets. Today the role of a Project Manager is to manage business processes and logistics and to ensure correct and efficient implementations of IT solutions.

Project Management encompasses the running of an IT project from end-to-end, i.e. from the inception of an idea to its implementation and roll-out. A Project Manager needs to understand a project on a contractual basis and must be held accountable for the deliverables, whether these are implemented in-house or outsourced.

Delivery is key. Project Management is about delivering the right IT solution for a customer’s business needs on time.

The shortage of qualified Project Managers in South Africa is because project management was used as a stepping stone to entering the IT industry. Emphasis was on “promoted technicians” for technology solutions. Project management now focuses more on the importance of business acumen and how technology is used to meet business objectives.

Project Management is not only an IT discipline; it is about common sense and an understanding of business. This change was brought about by decreased IT spend and because customers are looking to establish trusting relationships with their IT service providers to leverage and maximise the benefits of their IT investment. Customers are looking for more value for their buck.

So what ensures successful project management and implementation?

Project management and the role of the Project Manager must be taken seriously. If this function is to be outsourced, then the right IT partner needs to be chosen. An IT service provider must have a proven track record and reputation. They must understand the key business drivers, provide the right skills set and enable the facilitation of skills transfer. There must be a good “fit” between the customer and service provider, based on culture and trust, so that expectations can be more easily understood and accurately aligned. Project roles and responsibilities and the participation of third party suppliers must be clearly defined

The most important deciding factor when selecting a service provider is people. The decision is not based on technology as most IT solutions come packaged, nor is it determined by cost as this can be easily benchmarked against information that is readily available on local and international IT projects.

On the customer side, regardless of whether the project is implemented in-house or outsourced, a dedicated Project Manager who is qualified to fulfil the position must be appointed in a full-time capacity. Their role should be to manage the project from the client-side and to assist with risk management.

They must have a senior level sponsorship role within their organisation and be able to chair the steering committee meetings and stop the project if there is potential trouble.

Project implementations at a client should be a two-way street; managed top-down for practical business evaluation, and bottom-up for ideas for implementation.

Project Managers, both on the client and service provider side, must ensure that their expectations in terms of the project deliverables are aligned 100 percent. The client’s Project Manager is accountable for the business disciplines and the service provider’s Project Manager is accountable for the IT solution and involvement of third party suppliers. The combined project team must be tightly managed and virtual teams are the way to go.

Project Managers must bring in the right people or specialists as and when they are needed.

To ensure successful project implementation, first identify the key business drivers and then design the IT building blocks. Projects must be broken down into shorter milestones and payments should be made on deliverables. Companies should engage in a risk and reward approach where service providers and individuals are incentivised for project development and implementation that occurs ahead of schedule together with the agreed quality specifications.

The return on investment of an IT project should be measured against the objectives that needed to be satisfied. It should be based on project management and skills transfer, as well as on the quality, standard and lifespan of the IT solutions implemented.

All these factors account for successful IT project delivery and in effect, reduce IT spend in the long run.

Mervin Bateman is CEO of IOCORE, a global IT organisation whose key solutions include enterprise resource planning, systems administration, application development, business intelligence, knowledge management and outsourcing. He can be contacted on +27 (11) 790 2000 or at mervin.bateman@za.iocore.com

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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