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.
- By Greg Neilson
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
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
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 www.pmi.org.
Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to MCPmag.com and CertCities.com.