Being an IT Project Manager is not an easy pair of shoes to fill. I was recently reading CIO Magazine and happened on an article titled, “7 Top Wishes of IT Project Managers” that got me thinking about the role a project manager plays in many organizations. While I identified with many of the “wishes” that were detailed in the article, I instantly thought of the ways I have leveraged my relationship with clients to assure I do not face the same challenges. In short, I have made it my responsibility to assure I am involved in the process so that when we close the project, the client and I are both happy and we walk away friends. In my business, continued success is dependent on referrals I get from past and current clients.
I am not going to detail each of the wishes included in the article. Frankly, if you want to read the article, click on the link I posted above. I will go through a handful of the concerns and tell you as a project manager what strategies I have used to deal with the identified issues.
Wish #1: To be involved from project inception. The article details what an IT project manager wants — they want more control of the process from the beginning. The article states that they want to be involved in writing RFP’s, vendor selection, and contract negotiations, but for me there is a different motivation for this wish. I like being involved from the beginning of a project because the more I am involved in the planning process, the definition of the parameters of the project, and the identification of key performance indicators (KPI), the more complete and accurate they will be. That will make project implementation that much easier.
I ask my clients to involve me in their projects from the very beginning. That means I may have more meetings, conference calls, and email chains I need to be involved in. It takes more time to listen and direct brainstorming sessions, but understanding the project from the very beginning gives you a better vision of the intended outcomes. When I am brought into a project late in the planning process, I always request and read all the meeting notes and documents produced for the project to date. I will also hold a meeting with the project sponsor, the stakeholders, and the project team so I can ask questions and get feedback directly from the group who has directed discussion so far.
The Bottom Line: Get involved early and spend time familiarizing yourself with all facets of the proposed project.
Wish #4: To have clearly defined project objectives and requirements. The article doesn’t really detail much in this area. I assume because for a project manager, this is intuitive. I mean, my first response to this was a big “DUH”!
This is the responsibility of the project manager. Regardless of when you are thrown into the project, it is your job to detail the objectives of the project, the KPI, the timelines, and the criteria for acceptance and closure of the project. If you are brought into the project late and these items have not be defined or set, then you need to backtrack a little, bring your team together, and provide any clarity or additional details in these areas. Even when your project requires some ambiguity in the work packages, as a project manager you should always have clear objectives, KPI, and criteria for acceptance. I for one do not start the implementation of a project or design and construction stages without those documents in hand that have been approved by all key stakeholders.
The Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to ask the right questions to key stakeholders to understand the details of what they need so you can craft project objectives, KPI, and criteria for acceptance. Treat the documents as a catalyst to start discussion if you are having trouble getting a commitment from stakeholders.
Wish #7: To be allowed to adjust projects as needed (without being second guessed). In the article, this boils down to project control and being micromanaged by key stakeholders. I think we all like the freedom that total control provides. Frankly, unless you are self-motivated and can self-directed, project management may not be the profession for you. I think the best project managers like to lead from the front and would most likely be defined by their peers as a “get it done” type of person. I think we all resent it when we are micromanaged.
Project priorities and requirements are going to shift and change — that is a reality of our profession. If you do not like change and the challenges it presents, you may need to find another profession. Reporting the progress your project team is making is a reality of our profession. You are going to have to get used to following the communications plan you formatted as part of the planning process. People are going to want to give their input at all turns of the project. Welcoming this input and filtering the good from the bad is part of your job.
As the project manager, during the planning process you should have identified the level of changes that could be made by you and your team. You should have also identified the process of evaluating changes that fall outside of those parameters and who needs to approve those changes. That stakeholder(s) should also be committed to providing you with a decision in a timely manner. Having control of your project comes with time and the successful completion of other projects. Building trust and a reputation for completing your projects on time and within budget is what will allow you to have more control in the future.
The Bottom Line: Work within the system that you defined in the planning process to facilitate the changes and gain required approval. Only time and success will generate the level of trust you want to increase your autonomy.
The reality of our profession is that nothing will ever be perfect when it comes to project planning and implementation. But what separates the good project managers from the great is the ability to deliver results in spite of the roadblocks that come up. Approach your next project with this attitude and you can become indispensable to your clientele.