Professionally Speaking

Is Project Management in Your Future?

This month, Greg and Steve discuss the pros and cons of taking a leadership role on your company’s next project.

From time to time, we’ve talked about career options such as management or more senior technical roles, but we haven’t talked about an important role you may want to consider—project management. In a traditional hierarchical organizational structure, it was usually up to line managers to make things happen. Now, with flatter matrix structures in many companies, it’s up to the project managers to manage and guide the implementation of the projects that actually make a difference.

What do project managers do? They work to achieve a set of pre-defined objectives—called the project scope—and, at the same time, manage the delivery of the project to ensure it’s delivered on time, on budget and with the required level of quality.

Let’s look at a simple example. Say a client wants a hardware upgrade performed on a mission-critical application server. The project manager records what the client requires, works with the technical people to determine how the upgrade will be done and documents it for approval by the client. The work is estimated, and a price provided to the client. Assuming approval to proceed is granted, the project manager builds a detailed schedule that lists each task, the estimated effort required for each task and any prerequisites.

Before the schedule can be confirmed, the project manager ensures that the needed resources (human and equipment) are available and coordinates the scheduling of the server outage, the ordering, and the delivery of the correct hardware for the upgrade. All the while, the project manager is tracking the progress of the project against the schedule, so that when and if things go wrong, corrective actions are in place. The project manager establishes backout and test plans and makes the decision whether the change is implemented or cancelled.

This is a simple example, but I hope it gives you a feel for what may be involved. A larger example—such as a rollout, moving a computer room across a city or the implementation of an ERP package—requires more planning and resources, but the concepts are similar.

This isn’t a job for everybody. Some people feel daunted by the pressure to deliver the project and prefer to stay in a purely technical role. It requires an organized mind and also significant maturity. One of the most important issues is a change in project deliverables. Those new to the project-management game often want to please their client and agree to everything new requested (and usually at no extra charge). However, experienced project managers have specific processes for handling project changes, making sure the client understands the cost and schedule implications before proceeding.

If you don’t intend to make a career in project management, some basic training in the field can be very useful for all technical staff. Even when handling small tasks by yourself, it’ll help you think of how to better plan and track these tasks. It also means that when you do work with project managers, you understand their approach and can work better with them. One of the good things about moving to project management from a technical background is that you’re well placed to understand the technical details of your project and any issues that may arise. This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to lead the technical effort—that’s what the technical people are for—but it does mean that you won’t be “blinded by science” and can make informed decisions on how your project should proceed.

For those of you considering this career path, there’s a non-vendor-specific professional certification in project management that’s becoming quite common. The Project Management Institute has a certification program that first apprises all candidates to ensure they have sufficient practical experience. Then, candidates complete a certification exam that tests their theoretical knowledge of key project management concepts. You can find out more at

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to and

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Bill Gates USA

I did! its was great!! Toys and everything!

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Mrs Uz UZ-land

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Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Burwood

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Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Burwood

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Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Active Directory Support Turkmenikstan

₤ = pounds sterling!

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Burwood

David & Darren are PM's for Clowns Pty Ltd.

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Asim Behind Asims Desk

No Comment

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Active Directory Support Turkmenikstan

I used to earn ₤550 per day, I dont need to take this!!

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Burwood

To many Clowns @?

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Asimulator Turkey

I cannot believe my cousin is allowed run riot on this system, he knows nothing, please somebody find and kill the man

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous


Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

A basic technical understanding of English is also good for people in role of project managment and client execution. This is not only for short term, but for long term as well.

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Asim Anonymous

Asim should NEVER be allowed to comment here again.

Mon, Nov 21, 2005 Asim Sydney

Project Manager's and Project Cordinator's must have a basic Technical understanding when dealing with Project's, Client's & Technical Consultants.

Sat, Aug 31, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

If you want to start a career on PM, may you should consider the CompTIA certification "IT Project+". This certification used to be issued by Gartner Group, but CompTIA bought it last year. It is even a requirement to maintain the Master Novell Certifications, which I think is good because this cert. really emphasizes on soft and management skills. Microsoft should follow this example with a senior certification (please, not another worthless MCSE + Internet)

Wed, Feb 13, 2002 Ralph T New Orleans, La

I am currently working on my third roll out in 18 months (while administering a 5 city WAN). Anticipated completion date is 1 June, and then I will start on another new location, with a target date of 1 Sep. I have found MS Visio very useful.

Tue, Feb 12, 2002 Val Atlanta

The article also left out MS Word. You also have to be in a position to provide various team members with written concepts regarding the proposed project. As the project progresses, Word will be your delivery mechanism for providing status reporting. Word is also key in providing communications to the project team, upper management, other vendors, and partners.
In regards to the use of Excel, one must also think about various project costing models. I use Excel to begin the project cost modeling discussions. Once the cost model has been completed, I use the numbers within Project. I also use Excel to scope out my initial tasking prior to using Project. Once my initial project tasking has been confirmed, I paste it into Project to get the project going.

Tue, Feb 12, 2002 Shepherd Mambo Harare Zimbabwe

The only way you can ensure success in any project. It's definitely in my future.

Mon, Feb 4, 2002 Asim Uz NH06

For people who are pursuing a Career in IT Project Management role, must have a basic Technical understanding in order to execute Clients Projects Successfully which provides a way of good relationship with the Client. This is not only for short term, but for long term as well.

Tue, Jan 29, 2002 Damian Argentina


Thu, Jan 24, 2002 Rubye Braye, Ph.D. NC

Sound advice.

Wed, Jan 23, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Good read, is what I am no doing.

Wed, Jan 23, 2002 Khalid Shuwayhat NH06

A must basic knowledge to have for any team member who is a participant in any project that taking a part of the responsibilities to be on track on time or Alert a feed back of none possible progress in according with the plan.

Project management skill is just the right extra knowledge to the proper delivery of technical effort that will shape up the professional approach.

Wed, Jan 23, 2002 Khalid Shuwayhat NH06

A must basic knowledge to have for any team member who is a participant in any project that taking a part of the responsibilities to be on track on time or Alert a feed back of none possible progress in according with the plan.

Project management skill is just the right extra knowledge to the proper delivery of technical effort that will shape up the professional approach.

Wed, Jan 23, 2002 CAR-PMP NYS

MS Project is a wonderful tool and Excel is a poor substitute. Even Powerpoint presentations become enlightening when a MS Project Gantt chart is included showing the project schedule and sequence.

Being able to pull up MS Project's Earned Value function may alone be worth days of calculations. More than once the VP has said I'm over budget cause the finance section says so. With Project, you can pull up the budgeted cost and the actual cost and have an independent set of numbers. Oops says finance, on goes the project.

The PMI sets the standard set of knowledge for these:

Project Initiation
Project Planning
Project Execution
Project Control
Project Closing

This is a science unto itself. The PMI is a good place to start.

PMP (Project Management Professional)

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