Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Posts Tagged ‘Skills’

Random Stats

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 June 2009

I was a little surprised today when I was looking at Dice.com.  It turns out that there are only 3072 results for “project manager” in the US.  Of those, 2060 are in “development”.  I really expected a higher percentage to be in infrastructure and/or networking.

If you are interested in locations, New York had the highest in “development” and “project manager” positions, coming in at 101.  It had 179 overall.  Even San Francisco only had 81 PM positions (less than half).  However, even then San Francisco was tied for 2nd place with Chicago.  Cleveland only has 23.  Jacksonville, FL comes in dead last with only 12.

I was originally looking for information on programming languages, actually.  Since it seems that roughly 2/3rds of us are dealing with developers or software engineers, I will share that with you as well.  I’m not trying to start another religious war about programming languages, but I did want to see what employers and clients are looking for.  Keep in mind, though, that languages are just a tool.  We may have our favorite tools, but they are still just tools.

Java – 8268 results

C# – 4036

C – 2355

C++ – 4103

COBOL – 481

Flash – 843

PHP – 1073

XML – 4337

HTML – 3155

SQL – 9168

I ended up throwing out the .NET number because the numbers just didn’t add up.  It seems to me that a lot of the HR/recruiters still don’t know the difference between .NET and C#.  Or, is there really a C# implementation outside of .NET (because I’m not aware of any)?

So, why do this exercise?  Well, if someone wanted to learn a new skill in this economy, would it really make sense for it to be COBOL?  Yes, it has its uses.  It might even be fascinating for some people.  However, if your aim is to improve your stance in the marketplace, I think COBOL should not be your target area skill set to upgrade to.  If you understand Java, perhaps it would be easier to be hired in as a project manager overseeing a Java development team.

What do you think?  Other than certification, what can you do to increase your value in the marketplace?

Posted in Economy, Software | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Random Stats

Are You Cut Out to be a Project Manager?

Posted by iammarchhare on 27 May 2009

On the blog Project Management Tips, Brad Egeland wrote 2 articles titled “Five Signs You Aren’t Cut Out to be a Project Manager” and “Five More Signs You Aren’t Cut Out to be a Project Manager”.  Both of these articles are worthwhile reads.

The first 2 he lists pretty much show that an IT PM’s job is to bridge people and technology.  While people skills are important, they certainly aren’t the only skills you need.  Likewise, a PM in a technical position needs some sort of technology background.  While it is important for an IT PM to be technically minded, it certainly isn’t a necessity to be an expert.  Being an expert can help, as it lends credibility to the PM, but the reality is that the PM must rely upon the subject matter expert (SME) in a given area.  However, to be totally unable to understand the technical team members and to not be able to communicate the information to a business partner, a sponsor, an executive or customer can be a death sentence to a PM career.  This touches a few of Egeland’s other points as well.

In addition to the signs Egeland lists, I would like to submit these 5 for your consideration.  It isn’t that these are any better than Egeland’s lists, but his certainly got my own thought processes working.

Inability to Negotiate

Part of being a manager is the ability to negotiate items.  As a PM, you may need to assist purchasing with negotiating features or price with a vendor.  A PM will definitely be negotiating timelines and resource allocations.  A PM might have to probe into estimates and help come up with alternatives.  A PM will have to set customer/sponsor expectations.

Unwillingness to Continue Learning

Some people graduate college thinking they will never need to learn again.  A PM, though, is constantly learning.  In fact, any IT manager, including an IT PM, has to do double duty on learning because a good PM will be keeping up on the latest technology as well as learning new management skills.

Shady Ethics

Yes, it is a sad statement on the state of the world to even mention this one, but many companies these days have lost sight that the public trust has to be earned.  International companies can present special challenges because graft and “gifts” are taken for granted in some cultures.

Lack of Transparency

This is similar to lacking ethics, but it also includes hiding “bad news” from stakeholders.  This does not mean, of course, that you just bluntly state bad news, but it does mean you don’t try to hide it either.  Bad news has a way of leaking out when it is least convenient.  Unfortunately, I have witnessed executives and product managers that try to cover up the truth only to worsen customer relations in the long run.

Lack of Creativity

Perhaps the most controversial on my list, this item isn’t referring to artistic flair or even to not being able to create an appealing user interface.  Rather, this is the ability to use or reuse technology and processes in some new way.  If you are really creative, it may mean using items in a manner that wasn’t originally intended.  For things that already exist, someone had to be first.  Someone had to be first in applying user supplied tags to objects.  Someone had to be first to take the idea of streaming video and create video conferencing over the Internet.  I can remember using DOS batch files for fdisk-ing and formatting hard drives in a computer lab during bootup because the Novell scripting had limitations that made it difficult in Novell.  Do you have the creativity required to be a true solution provider?

Those are Mine

So, what are some that you have identified as being necessary in order to be cut out to be an IT PM?

Posted in PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

What Is the Most Important Part of a Project?

Posted by iammarchhare on 22 April 2009

Most of the time, a project manager will say “requirements gathering”.  Once upon a time, I probably would have agreed.  But, I don’t any longer.

Toni Bowers of TechRepublic posted on the IT Leadership blog “Five reasons to discuss project failure”.  She writes:

  1. Failure is instructive. Most of us have an instinctive aversion to discussing weakness, based on concerns that criticism may hurt our pride, reputation, and so on. While I deeply respect these sensitivities, fear creates an environment where repeated cycles of failure can manifest. Breaking this cycle requires understanding the source of problems followed by developing solutions to address them.

Failure causes you to learn.  Hopefully, success does as well.  Humans have an amazing capacity to learn, and we should do so at every opportunity.  If we do not learn, we do not improve professionally or grow personally.

Teams and even companies can learn as well.  That’s why Bowers’ article is so important.  If teams and companies cannot face the facts and learn, then they never improve.  Projects will continue to fail.

A thorough “lessons learned” or “after action” review is a must.  The US Army has a tradition of sending soldiers on field exercises and then holding after action reviews afterwards to grade themselves.  Self-reflection is the key to improvement.

That’s why in the long run requirements gathering just plain is not as important!  Why?  Because a thorough lessons learned review will uncover it as a weakness and make recommendations to fix the problem.  If you do lessons learned poorly or not at all, you will never know if your requirements gathering is any good or not!

What if you had a project to create a product, it was done on time and under budget, it was delivered and the customer never complained.  Was the project a success?  How do you know?

There is a saying that for every customer that complains, there are 9 others who have the same problem but do not complain.  It could be because they are too busy or too tired, or maybe they don’t know who to complain to.  Just because no one complains does not mean the project was a success.  Again, you have to gather data after the main portions of the project have been completed.

The fact that I’ve changed my mind about “requirements gathering” is proof I’m not too old to learn.  🙂

Posted in PM Basics, SDLC, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

IT: “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Marketing!”

Posted by iammarchhare on 10 April 2009

What are your more overlooked soft skills?

On 5 April, Seth Godin blogged in “The power of a tiny picture (how to improve your social network brand)“:

In the social group I run, part of my job is to pick the featured members. As a result, I spend a lot of time looking at little pictures. Here’s one person’s take on the things you can do to avoid wrecking that first impression:

…4. If you are wearing a hat, you better have both a good reason and a good hat.

Well, if you’ve looked at my profile, you can imagine how that got my attention!  What can I say, Seth?  I don’t have a good hat, I have several!  Well, I was up late anyhow, and a little punch-drunk, so we ended up with a short tongue-in-cheek email exchange.  To be honest, I really didn’t expect him to answer me.  He probably gets a lot of email, and he probably gets a lot of cranky email.  I hoped I wasn’t coming across as cranky (it’s hard to tell at 2 am).  Thankfully, he replied with an amusing email, so all is well in bloggerland.

You might be wondering why I reference a marketing blog so often.  Granted, Seth Godin has a “good” marketing blog (IMNSHO), but it is still “marketing”.  In many IT circles, “Marketing” is treated like the enemy.   HR?  Fine.  Customer support.  Great!  Payroll.  Even better!  But, Marketing?  About the only department that gets worse press than Marketing might be Sales, if you work somewhere large enough to warrant separate departments.

Let’s strip away the animosity, OK?  Sales people go out to sell a product.  If those products do not sell, then money stops coming in.  The money stops coming in, people get let go, contractors and full time alike.  However, sales people cannot sell something unless there is a perceived need.  That’s where marketing comes in.  They use various techniques to convince the potential customer they need a product.  Sales and marketing are pretty much 2 sides to the same coin (IMO, of course).

“OK, John,” I imagine you saying right now, “they are a necessary evil.”  Really?  Are you a “manager” (yes, project managers are managers)?  Then, go look in the mirror!  Say out loud, “My position is a necessary evil.”

Have you ever had to do any of these?

  1. “Sell” an idea to a customer or a project team.
  2. “Negotiate” scope on a project?
  3. “Entice” a potential user or customer that they need a specific solution?
  4. “Sell” a project to an executive board, change board or even to your own boss?
  5. “Present”, i.e., put on a dog and pony show, in order to inform and rally  company directors and managers to get behind an idea?
  6. “Negotiate” with a vendor over price, length of service or warranty?
  7. “Incent” a project team to desire a particular result?
  8. “Provide a vision” to a project team of how grand everything will be once the project is complete and the sponsor is happy.

I really could keep going, but I think you get the point.  You are a marketer and sales person both if you are a manager.

I’m not done yet!  We are all marketers these days, even if we are not managers!  We can no longer depend upon 20 years service and a gold watch at the end!  We are all contractors, even if we are working full time for a company.  We need to sharpen our skills to market ourselves for if/when we are faced with losing our current job.

Do you have an online resume?  That’s marketing.  Do you have a LinkedIn account (and if not, why not?)?  That’s “networking”, which is really another form of marketing.  Do you have a blog or website?  Marketing.  Do you really think potential (and sometimes current!) employers don’t check these things?  In short, you are marketing your most important product — You!

OK, this more or less wraps up a lot of what I wanted to say about soft skills.  Never forget that they are your most important skills.  I’m sure in the economic environment we are in, the need will arise to post more about them, but this is an IT blog, after all.

If you are in IT leadership, no doubt you can read a book or peruse a blog and become a technical expert in short order, but learning and improving soft skills are a little different.  What may work in one instance might not work in another.  Keep them sharp and honed, though, and you’ll be better able to handle the crisis situations as they occur.

I believe the saying is true that it is easier to learn the needed technical skills.  If someone doesn’t have interpersonal skills and cannot be a team player, then projects will suffer regardless.  In a similar vein, if IT leadership (or any business leadership for that matter) cannot sell their vision and their ideas, the staff will be going in conflicting directions.  Individuals must be team players, but leaders must be team builders.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Why I am Still a Geek

Posted by iammarchhare on 3 April 2009

Why Being a Techie is a Positive Thing

The other day, I posted about how I’m a Geek! out of frustration with receiving spam emails for all sorts of “opportunities” that have nothing to do with IT or project management.  Yesterday, I posted in the article Don’t Try to Get a Job which included a blurb about how IT project managers are rather independent, which is likely due to being tried by difficult circumstances.

Is this contradictory?  I think not.

If you have read my post about The Most Important Project Management Skill, then you realize, IT or not, a project manager must first of all be a good manager.  Often, the project manager requires even more skills because the people working on the project do not report directly to the PM.

Geeks are not nerds.  Some people are very smart, very bright but socially don’t express themselves well and do not wish to.  Nerds are sometimes inclined technically.  Geeks, however, are technically inclined but also know how to communicate their ideas and vision to others.  Geeks may or may not make good managers, but nerds do not.

Project management is so much more than running the latest earned value calculations or updating MS Project.

This brings me to a topic that people often disagree on.  Should a project manager be an expert in the field they are working in?  Usually, PMs will move up through the ranks, so it isn’t a question.  However, I have seen a construction PM oversee an IT project.  The skills are transferable.  However, is it desirable?

I would at least think it would be desirable that a PM overseeing an IT project have a technical background.  Likewise, I would not feel comfortable overseeing a construction project.  However, should that stop me from overseeing a wireless communications project?  Honestly, I don’t think it should.

The PM relies upon the subject matter experts (SMEs) to get the work done.  If they don’t know their job, it will fail unless they can be swapped out for others who know it better.  SMEs know how to get it done and how long it takes.  That’s why they are the experts.

It will take some extra effort for the PM to reorient themselves, but if the project manager has been in technology for a while, he or she should be used to changes by now.  How fast do operating systems change?  How long does hardware really last?  Anyone in a technical field should be used to constant change.

If you are stuck in a rut, consider branching out.  If you haven’t programmed in a while, blow the dust off of Visual Studio.  If you already know .NET, open up Eclipse and take it for a drive.  Expand your horizons.  If you came up doing software, volunteer for a small infrastructure project.  Building your skill set not only helps your team and company, but it makes you more valued by the company and by the project teams you work with.

Let’s face it: In today’s job environment, every little bit helps.

Posted in PM Basics, Skills | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Why I am Still a Geek

The Most Important Project Management Skill

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 March 2009

The often overlooked skill that every PM needs

What skill is essential for project managers?  Is it EVM?  Is it using MS Project?  Is it creating a WBS?  No, it is none of these.

Many people have a misconception of what a project manager does.  Unfortunately, many of these may themselves be project managers.  If you believe that playing with spreadsheets and MS Project schedules are all that is required, then it is time to sit up and take notice.  If your idea of project management is running around with a notepad checking up on people’s tasks every couple of hours, then perhaps you need to step back and give that some reconsideration.

A project manager is responsible for quite a few things.  Since many came up through the technical ranks, some of these activities may be new when promoted to a project lead or project manager.  Let’s look at a few of the things a project manager is responsible for:

1. The completion of the product the project was intended to produce.  In other words, you must meet the needs and expectations of the user.  In order to do this, you must be able to communicate and build a solid understanding with the user and sponsor.

2. The completion of the project on time, on budget and in scope.  In order to do this, you must be able to talk to the subject matter experts (SMEs), understand their estimates and concerns.  You must be able to tell the user what is and is not in scope for the project.  You must be able to communicate the schedule and the budget to the sponsor.  You must be able to influence resource managers to give up resources for your project.

3. The tracking and communicating of changes throughout the life of the project.  You will likely have to negotiate and renegotiate scope throughout the life of the project.

4. Motivating the team to complete the project.  You must do this, even though in many organizations the team does not report to you.  You must sell them on the project and motivate them to put out a quality product.

5. Clearing obstacles to getting work done.  This can be anything from people who interfere with the team’s work to access to a particular piece of equipment.

6. Ensure that risks and issues are dealt with in an effective and timely manner.

I could go on, but I think this is sufficient to point out some skills that aren’t necessarily found in a book on PM: Communication, ability to influence, negotiation, ability to motivate, sales, obstacle removal and resolution of risks and issues.

What do these have in common?

A project manager is put in charge of a project to help ensure the success of a project.  How do you ensure the success of anything?  Don’t you influence people, motivate people, lead people, collect and organize resources?  If so, you are managing them.

Yes, the one skill that is often overlooked in project management, believe it or not, is management.  You, not the resource manager, have to influence and motivate the team.  You, not the sponsor, have to lead the team.  You have to manage them.  Fortunately, people usually do want to do a good job, and that makes the job easier.  Yet, too many times PMs can get in their own way and affect how the team performs if they are not conscious of their leadership role on the team.

Manage – To direct the affairs or interests of.  To succeed in accomplishing or achieving, especially with difficulty.

It is time to put the “management” aspect back into project management.

Posted in PM Basics | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »