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Going from Software QA to IT Project Management

Software QA

My journey in the world of IT began as a quality assurance analyst. For UPS, I would test and certify applications used in operations. I spent most of my time in the test lab with the rest of the lab rats. Testing software back then was the easy part, the hard part was building the right platform. Performing a ground up install of MS Windows Pro could take almost half a day and if it failed, you’d have to start over again. If you were lucky you got to use a ghost OS image, but even those presented their own challenges.
 
Later in my career I would go on to focus less on hardware and more on testing software. With Accenture I worked along side large testing teams on huge multi year waterfall software projects. We would create test plans consisting of hundreds of test scenarios. We then charged off to complete all the testing in a matter of weeks. Anyone who worked in QA (or dev) can attest to the agony of the waterfall project death march experience. Pressure from management, late nights in war rooms, and working weekends combined to make the QA role a nightmare.
 
Fast forward to the arrival of Agile and my role in QA became tolerable again. Instead of having a mountain of code dumped on me for testing, now I could test small chunks of software in two week sprints. The only problem was (and still is) that many organizations struggle building shippable software in sprints. This results in companies that are waterfall masked as Agile.
 
After almost a decade working in QA I decided I to get into project management. I always enjoyed connecting with people and I felt project management better fit my strengths. Through the guidance of mentors, lots of studying and hard work, I was able to become an associate project manager. After time I was able to work on larger projects, consulting for large companies.
 
Making the transition into project management was a great career choice for me. Project management much better aligns with who I am. For you it may be different. Your passion might be in QA and there’s nothing wrong with that.
 
If you are someone who works in QA and you’re considering get into project management, my advice is to go for it. Software QA analysts make great project managers because they are battle tested. I discussed this more in my last post “The identity crisis of the IT project manager“.
One thing’s for sure, if you’re not happy in your current role, don’t settle!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Project Management – Why technical skill alone is not enough

Project Management – Why technical skill alone is not enough.

Project Management

Today’s changing business environment is becoming more and more complex. The global competitive economy is less predictable than ever. Organizations need project managers who have skills that support long-term strategy. For this reason, technical skills alone are not enough for project managers. PMI’s 2016 pulse of the profession report underscored this fact.

The report showed that business and leadership skills are in high demand. These skills, combined with technical skills, represent the PMI talent triangle (pic shown above). The ideal expertise areas are technical, leadership, and strategic and business management. “When organizations focus on all three skill sets, 40 percent more of their projects meet goals and original business intent.”

Companies should recognize the importance of business and leadership skills, and provide training. Many companies split roles to be either a “Business PM” or a “Technical PM”.  In my opinion this is a mistake. Instead of having two separate types of project managers, why not have just one that’s good in technology, business and leadership?

For new project managers, I suggest studying the three areas of the PMI talent triangle. Many good schools now offer flexible MBA programs with concentrations on leadership and strategy. I had the good fortune of going through the MBA program at Bethel University in St Paul Minnesota.  The program had a heavy concentration on leadership. As someone with a background in technology, the MBA helped me to become a better-rounded project manager.

For “technical” project managers like me, gaining business and leadership skills is crucial.  As the global economy continues to drive up complexity, the PMI talent triangle skills will be more in demand.

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3 Things You Can Count On The Best Project Managers To Do

Leadership

I’ve always had a great deal of respect for project managers. Managing projects, especially IT projects, is challenging. It requires skilled individuals who are strong communicators and cool under pressure. They juggle competing priorities while managing personality conflicts and keeping stakeholders happy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some great project managers. Over time I’ve learned there are three things you can count on them to do. Here they are:

1.   They provide clear communication – They keep stakeholders updated through easy to understand written and verbal communication. A lot of project managers struggle in this area, and for good reason. It’s difficult to provide an easy to understand update when managing complex projects. The tendency for project managers is to rush and write up a long email that gets down into the weeds. They think they’re doing a good job because they provided a lot of information. In fact, they leave people confused and frustrated. People don’t want to read a long email and figure out what it means.

2.   They take full ownership and drive the work – Projects are challenging and messy. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a need for project managers. Great project managers take stress of their bosses’ plate by taking full ownership. They will drive the project to completion. Yes, sometimes project managers will need help from leadership. When those times come, it’s important they ask for help. But most of the time, great project managers do whatever it takes to lead the project to success.

3.   They stay positive – If the project manager starts to get down and negative, the whole team will follow. It’s so important as a project manager to stay positive, even when the going gets tough. And, it will get tough. I’ve yet to experience any IT project that didn’t come with some level of stress or issues. Problems will come, but the project manager needs to stay positive. This is the essence of leadership. Collin Powell once provided a great lesson he learned on this from infantry school. They taught him: “no matter how cold it is, lieutenant, you must never look cold. No matter how hungry you all are, lieutenant, you must never appear hungry. No matter how terrified you are, lieutenant, you must never look terrified. Because if you are scared, tried, hungry and cold….they will be scared, tired, hungry and cold.”

Summary

Project management is difficult. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such a large demand for project managers. If you are a project manager and you want to stand out from the crowd, focus on these three things. First, take the time to provide clear written and verbal communication. Second, take full responsibility to drive the project. Lastly, be positive, especially when things get tough.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an Agile Delivery Consultant and IT Project/Program Manager. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or visit Mike’s blog.

Hands Down, This is The Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

Best Skill To Have As a Project Manager

If you are considering a career in project management, listen up. There are a lot of different skills needed to be successful, ranging from people management to organization and planning. There is one skill though, that you need above all the rest.

The hands down best skill to have as a project manager is the ability to communicate.

Project managers can spend up to 90% of their time communicating. Webster defines communication as “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior”.

The communication process requires both a sender and receiver. The sender transmits the message to the receiver. The receiver then decodes and acknowledges the message. The below image from PMI’s PMBOK is a good outline of the communication process.

Most project managers focus on the sending part of communication, overlooking receiving. This is understandable because project managers must send messages often. The receiving part of communication though, is as crucial.

Let’s look at the different aspects of communication for project managers. I have broken them down into speaking and writing (sending), and listening (receiving).

Speaking

You don’t have to be an amazing orator to speak as a project manager. You also don’t have to be an extrovert who enjoys being the life of the party. I’m an introvert who’s not always comfortable speaking in groups. This is an area which I’m sure I could improve, but my discomfort in speaking is not always a liability. When I’m not speaking, I’m listening, or at least trying to.

The four important areas of speaking in project management are the following:

  • Running meetings
  • One on one communication with team members or stakeholders
  • Proving updates to leadership
  • Giving presentations

I could write a full post about each one of the speaking topics, because they are all important. I enjoy one on one communication the most. Effective one on one communication requires emotional and social intelligence.

If you have trouble speaking, I recommend taking a Dale Carnegie course on speaking. Warren Buffet credits a Dale Carnegie course to helping him overcome his fear of speaking.

Writing

Good clear writing is crucial in project management. One could make the argument that writing is the most important skill of all. The project manager must write by sending emails, status updates, meeting minutes, action items, project plans, etc.

The challenge for the project manager is to communicate clear through their writing. This is no easy task giving the complexities of projects, and the amount of ambiguity that exists in corporate communication. Most companies have their own unique language. The language consists of acronyms and jargon, which makes clear writing more difficult.

Project managers can fall into the trap of using ambiguous corporate jargon in their writing. Part of this is because of fear and corporate politics. What if I write the wrong thing, sound stupid, or make an enemy? A good project manager will put those fears aside and take the time to write good clear English. You can write clear while also being smart about corporate politics.

As a program manager, part of the reason I blog and write LinkedIn posts often, aside from the fact that I enjoy it, is to work on improving my writing. I know I am not a great writer, so I must continue to work at it. Writing, like any other skill, requires continual practice.

Remember, it’s easy to write something confusing, but it takes time to write something clear. For a great resource on writing, I recommend William Zinsser’s classic book, “On Writing Well“.

Listening

Communication in project management is not only about talking or writing, it’s also about listening. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening.

To better understand the importance of listening, I’ll paint a picture. Imagine a sea-captain leading a heroic voyage across the Atlantic in the late 1700s (I’m on a revolutionary war kick now, stick with me). For the voyage to be successful, the captain doesn’t tell the crew what to do, all the time. Instead, the captain spends a good part of his time listening to the crew. The captain receives all the messages on problems, concerns, and suggestions from the crew. After receiving the messages, the captain can then take the appropriate actions.

The project manager is like that of a sea-captain. He or she needs to listen to the team members and stakeholders. If the project manager is not listening, the project will most likely go off course.

For a good resource on listening, I recommend Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. In this great book, the 5th habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”. Covey explains how to use empathy, a part of emotional intelligence, to achieve the highest form of listening. Emphatic listening goes beyond active listening, to understand how someone feels.

Summary

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the importance of communication in project management. I haven’t touched on communication channels or nonverbal body language, which are also important.

If you are new or considering a career in project management, I hope this post has been helpful. The good news is that we can all continue to improve our communication skills.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

Managing Project Risk Should Be Top Priority

Managing project risk might be the most important responsibility in project management. Risk management is often overlooked. Usually people think about things like communication, organization, and interpersonal skills as key aspects of project management. While these are important, if I had to pick one critical skill for project management, I’d have to say managing project risk. Every project comes with risks and if you don’t plan for them, you’ll spend all your time putting out fires. To manage project risk, you must be proactive, not reactive. I’ve found that the best project managers are always looking out for risks and they have a natural sense for identifying them.

Managing Project Risk

Project risk is defined by PMI as, “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a project’s objectives.” Risks are the unknowns, and a good project manager is like a lookout person for a ship, scanning for risks. They are using their binoculars to see any trouble in the waters ahead.  Not only are they on the lookout for trouble, but they also are planning to deal with it.

At the beginning of a project, and all throughout the project, it’s the job of the project manager to identify and manage risks. This is done through analysis and talking to key stakeholders and team members on the project. The project manager needs to question everyone and ask for risks that others know about.

The project manager then needs to access the likelihood and risks to address. After determining what risks to address, the project manager needs to determine what action to take for the risks.  Part of the mitigation plan usually involves setting aside some contingency funds for risks.

Ask yourself and your project management team, are you doing a good job of managing project risk? Project managers should devote a good portion of their time to managing project risk.

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant forMacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog

 

12 Ways Management Can Empower Teams And Create Agility

empower teams

Mike MacIsaac – President at MacIsaac Consulting Inc

With the advance of technology and globalization, organizations today must have agility. It doesn’t matter the industry, companies need to be able to adapt to change. As a consultant, I’ve seen this need first hand throughout the tech, retail, and financial industries.

Gone are the days when different departments within a company worked in silos. Companies who still do this, and use a static organization structure, will struggle to survive. They will fall to the competitive advantage of the agile organization.

The problems faced by companies today are too complex to not be agile.  The pressure put on from external forces demand a new way of thinking and collaborating.

One way to create agility is through the use of decentralized cross-functional teams (CFTs).  A CFT is a team made up of people from different functional areas within the company. These experts work together to achieve a common goal. Over time the team develops synergy, and becomes high performing. Team synergy vastly exceeds the productivity of individual efforts.

When management empowers CFTs to make decisions and self-organize, the teams move fast, really fast. Team autonomy and empowerment promotes an atmosphere of trust, creativity, and worker satisfaction.

One of the greatest benefits of empowered CFTs is their ability to manage chaos. This phenomenon is counter intuitive to our natural reaction to manage chaos. Most of what we learn in business school aligns with the carrot and stick style of management. The more things get out of control, the more we tighten up our grip on the team. As managers, we have to let go of this notion of command and control. We can empower teams while still holding them accountable.

In a recent HBR article, Michael Mankins and Eric Garton describe how Spotify balances employee autonomy and accountability. They write “Companies that take the approach of empowering autonomous teams must find ways to ensure that coordination and connectivity happen among those teams without relying on controlling managers. Again, it’s a matter of managerial art as well as science to achieve alignment without excessive control.”

If you assemble a CFT with people new to such an environment, there will be a learning curve. You can’t expect people to self-organize and make decisions when they are used to being controlled.  The key is for CFTs and management to learn a new way of thinking, but this takes time.

Ken Schwaber, who formed the Agile Scrum framework along with Jeff Sutherland, writes “A team requires concrete experience before it can truly understand how to manage itself and take the responsibility and authority for planning and conducting its own activities.”

Below are 12 principles that can help management develop high performing cross-functional teams:

  1. Create stable cross-functional teams – Creating stable CFTs, dedicated to long-term goals, is necessary for high performance, quality and innovation. To do this you must dedicate resources and provide constant training. Each team member must have knowledge and expertise in a certain functional area. Changing team resources and not allocating for long-term planning is a killer to team performance.
  2. Provide a clear and compelling purpose – People suffer when they lack purpose. It is the responsibility of management to provide a purpose. People need a purpose because it creates intrinsic motivation. If employees are assigned tasks that have no meaning to them, they will lack motivation. Management should communicate how the goals of the team align with the long-term goals of the company.
  3. Protect the teams – Run interference and protect CFTs from distractions and skeptics. Management must be committed to the overall purpose of the organization and the CFT. There are always skeptics and people who are resistant to change. It is well advised for management to not include these types on change efforts and new CFTs. Skeptics will cause more harm than good. Staff CFTs with people with positive attitudes who will champion the goals of the team and organization.
  4. Give teams the help they ask for – With the high performing CFT model, managers don’t tell the team how to do their job. Instead, the teams tell management what they need to be successful. It is the job of management to listen to these requests and do their best to provide the teams with the help they ask for. Again, just because management is not telling teams what to do, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hold teams accountable.
  5. Empower teams to make decisions – Management can hold teams accountable for results, but they need to empower teams to make decisions. The decentralization of authority allows teams and organizations to produce results fast while responding to change. Management is still responsible for telling teams what needs to be done, but the teams are responsible for how it will be done.
  6. Allow mistakes to be made – Encourage teams to accomplish stretch goals, but do not punish if everything is not achieved. It’s important for management to help drive out fear. When employees are afraid of being punished for mistakes, it kills innovation. The important thing is learning from mistakes. Teams should continually take inventory on how they can improve.
  7. Use information radiators – On CFTs, everyone needs to see what’s going on and what needs to be done. Having a board that displays visual controls enables and promotes teams to self-direct. Information radiators also let management and outside stakeholders view how the team is doing and how much work is in progress.
  8. Deliver as fast as possible – Fast product delivery results in increased business flexibility and happy customers. Short value streams eliminate waste and they allow decisions to be delayed. Management should promote the idea of delivering valuable products fast. Often time’s people think that you can’t deliver fast without compromising quality. This is not the case when you build quality and integrity into product development. The fast delivery system does not compromise on quality; in fact it improves quality because consumers get the product faster. This enables consumers to provide feedback sooner which can go back into the design of the product, improving quality.
  9. Analyze and improve throughput – The best way to optimize an organization is to focus on throughput. The theory of constraints teaches us to find bottlenecks in the system and fix them. Teams should continue analyzing the system, identifying bottlenecks, and removing them. When teams focus on improving non bottleneck areas of the system, it doesn’t help improve throughput. Following the theory of constraints principle, teams can delivery fast.
  10. Promote quality built into products – In Edward Deming’s book “Out of the Crisis” he writes “Quality comes not from inspection but from improvement of the production process. Inspection, scrap, downgrading and rework are not corrective action on the process”. This means for software development, we need to get away from this notion that QA is this separate process that happens after software development. We should not be inspecting quality into the software through QA. Instead, QA should be happening as part of software development through the use of test driven development and automation. This enables quality to be built up front, instead of through inspection.
  11. Improve quality by learning from the consumer – In the Agile software development “Scrum” we do product reviews continually with the consumer. This same principle can be implemented throughout the organization. The goal is to feed the consumer reactions and feedback back into the design of the product to improve quality.
  12. Provide servant leadership – In Scrum, the Scrum Master acts a servant leader. The Scrum Master job is to remove impediments and help the team. This servant leadership practice is a great example for management to emulate. By supporting and helping teams, you foster at atmosphere of empowerment and trust.

For many organizations, the points I listed may be a significant change from their current reality. It’s not easy to put in place all these changes. Even for the modern agile company, agility is an ongoing learning process. If your organization needs guidance, at MacIsaac Consulting we are here to help. From advising leadership, to providing resources, we can guide you on your agile transformation journey.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the president and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

References

Deming, E. (1982). Out Of The Crisis. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Mankins, M & Garton, E (2017). How Spotify Balances Employee Autonomy And Accountability. https://hbr.org/2017/02/how-spotify-balances-employee-autonomy-and-accountability

Poppendieck, M. (2003). Lean Software Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Schwaber, K. (2004). Agile Project Management With Scrum. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press.

 

Difficult project stakeholders? Here are 5 ways to deal with them

5 ways to deal with difficult project stakeholders

Difficult Project Stakeholders

Project managers have an ethical responsibility to keep their project stakeholders informed. How much to keep stakeholder informed, and satisfied, depends on the level of power and interest of the stakeholder.

If you’ve ever managed projects, odds are you had to deal with a difficult stakeholder at some point. You know who I’m talking about, people who throw grenades at you and your project every chance they get. They might make last-minute scope change requests, send rude emails, or be confrontational in meetings. The list of possible difficult behaviors is huge.

They could naturally be a difficult person, of they may have it out for you and your project.

If you don’t know how to deal with a difficult project stakeholder, you could be in for a nightmare situation. Sometimes you need to use an unconventional approach.

Here are 5 ways to deal with difficult project stakeholders:

  1. The “olive branch” –  Go out of your way to engage with them early in the project. This is the diplomatic approach. Due your best to include them in the everything. Provide transparency. If they are showing signs of being difficult, acknowledge any concerns they have. Do your best to develop a positive working relationship. At this point, you are going on the offense to diffuse them. This is always my initial approach.
  2. The “keep em in the dark” – If you’ve done step 1 and it’s to no avail, it’s time to change the approach. If diplomacy isn’t working, it’s time to get tough and strategic. Nobody should let someone cause problems for their project. Managing projects are difficult enough, we don’t need people making it worse. The keep em in the dark approach means involving the difficult stakeholder as little as possible. Try to go around them and not let them do too much damage. John Kotter says the best way to deal with a change resister is to go around them. If the stakeholder has a high level of power, and interest in the project, unfortuntaely this approach is not an option.
  3. The “let’s do this!” – The “let’s do this!” means it’s time to drop the gloves and battle. Stick up for yourself and your project. Push back! Sometimes it can be effective when you tackle the problem head on. Don’t be afraid to disagree and meet with the difficult stakeholder one on one to give them a piece of your mind. Who knows, it could be they didn’t realize they were causing you problems.
  4. The “sound the alarm” – When all else fails, it’s time to escalate. Escalating to management about a difficult resource is a last resort. I try to avoid doing this at all cost. What your telling your manager is that a person is giving you a problem, and you can’t handle it. Now it’s your managers problem. Your manager can then decide if they want to take action and either speak to the stakeholder, or to their boss.
  5. The “okie-doke” – The okie-doke means keeping the difficult stakeholder involved to keep them happy, but don’t involve them in key decisions. Make them feel like they’re a part of the project, when in fact they’re not. You’re pulling the wool over their eyes. Manipulation is certainly not a preferred approach, but if all else fails….

Dealing with difficult project stakeholders is part of the job in project management. The steps I listed above can be helpful but only you can decide what approach to use. It depends on the level of power and interest of the stakeholder. If your sponsor is a difficult project stakeholder for example, you would never keep them in the dark.

How do you deal with difficult project stakeholders?

 

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

5 reasons project managers make lousy scrum masters

Lousy Scrum Masters

As the Agile movement continues to grow, the demand for scrum masters has increased. Traditional project managers have caught on and they’re disguising themselves as scrum masters. With a small fudge of the resume, they’re hired as scrum masters. What’s the problem? Project managers make lousy scrum masters.

Now, don’t freak out and get offended. When I first began working as a srum master, coming from an IT project management and QA background, I was lousy. I had a steep learning curve. It’s only after time and working with good Agile coaches that I’ve been able to improve as a scrum master.

The reason we project managers make lousy scrum masters is simple. The two roles are completely different. The original founders of scrum have made it clear that a scrum master is not a project manager. For a description of the scrum master role, check out the Scrum Guide from Scrum Alliance.

Yet, companies continue to hire project managers as scrum masters. Part of the problem is that most business executives don’t understand Agile. I still hear the question from management, “hey can you do that project using Agile”? As if Agile is something you can decide to use like choosing which fuel to pick at the gas station. Agile is a different way of working and thinking. Agile adoption requires commitment and understanding from teams and leadership.

Okay, I’ll get off my soap box. Without further ado, here’s my list of 5 reasons why project managers make lousy scrum masters:

  1. The concept of self-organizing teams doesn’t register with project managers. This may be the most challenging aspect in Scrum for project managers. Project managers are hardwired to tell teams what to do and when to do it. They then expect a full status back in return. In Scrum, the team decides what to work on with guidance from the product owner. The team is then accountable to each other, not to the scrum master. During the daily Scrum, team members should be giving their updates to the team, not to the scrum master. Keeping quiet and letting the team be accountable makes project managers feel like fish out of water.
  1. Project Managers aren’t used to coaching. On traditional projects the project manager is a leader and decision maker. In Scrum, one of the primary roles of the scrum master is to coach the team. They coach in self-organization and cross-functionality. To be able to coach though, one first needs to learn. If the project manager hasn’t learned Scrum, how could they coach the team?
  1. Project Managers struggle to give up being the top dog. On traditional projects, the project manager is the top dog. The buck stops with them. As a project manager, it feels good to have authority and control. In Scrum, you have to let that go. The scrum master does not have authority. The team does not report to the scrum master. The one who has authority on the Scrum team is the product owner. This fact requires project manager to have humility when transitioning to Scrum.
  1. Project managers freak out without a plan. The Project Management Institute teaches project managers to create plans, for everything. If you have your PMP, you know that they expect you to create a giant plan (document) consisting of like 10 sub plans. This plan, the size of the PMBOK, does not change unless there’s some official change request. While Agile still involves planning, this is completely different from Scrum.
  1. Most project managers don’t understand servant leadership. Scrum masters are servant leaders. This means they’re willing to jump in and do whatever it takes to remove impediments and help the team. That might mean helping to dive in and handle low level administrative work. Scrum masters put their ego aside and serve the team. Instead of puffing out their chest and telling everyone what to do, the Scrum Master asks how they can be of service. Most project managers are not used to this style of leadership when they begin in Scrum.

Here’s the good news, it is possible for project managers to become good scrum masters. It takes time and training. It’s like learning to play both guitar and drums well. Yes both instruments create music, but they need different training and skill sets.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

The identity crisis of the IT project manager

The IT project manager role is one of the most in demand and sought after positions in technology. Ask any hiring manager and they will tell you that finding a good IT project manager is difficult. I’ve seen people with the most impressive credentials crash and burn trying to manage IT projects.

So what exactly is an IT project manager, and what makes a good one? The IT project manager used to be the person accountable for managing scope, schedule, and budget for IT projects. Today, that’s still true, for the most part, but the role has a bit of an identity crisis

The Project Management Institute, with their PMP certification, says the role is all about planning and control. If you’ve taken the PMP exam, you know PMI teaches you to create a large project plan. Within that plan are many sub plans for each area of the project.

The PMI has come under scrutiny in recent years by the technology community, and for good reason. With the rapid advancement of technology and globalization, organizations need to be agile. Planning is important, but responding to change may be even more important. Our systems and organizations have become too complex for the PMI plan and control model. This need to adapt to change is what has fueled the Agile software development movement.

With the increase of self-organizing agile teams, it brings us back to the question, what is the role of the IT project manager? Is it an Agile project manager? Is it a project leader? Is it a servant leader? Is it a Scrum Master? Is it a tech lead?

The answer depends, but the role may consist of a combination of all these things. One thing we know for sure is that the IT project manager is a change agent and a leader.

To succeed in this role, one needs to have both hard and soft skills. Good IT project managers use both the left and right hemispheres of their brain. The right side of the brain used for cognitive thinking, the left side for emotional intelligence and relationships. This enables them to be both technical, and emotionally intelligent. Project management is both a science and an art form.

If you are looking to get into IT Project management, you better be able to deal with chaos while keeping your cool. If you currently work as an IT business analyst, tester, or developer, you are well prepped for IT project management. I began my career in QA, and my experience in testing has been invaluable to my role as an IT project manager.

The reason people in these roles make good IT project managers is because they are battle tested. They know what it’s like to be in the trenches of IT projects, and to come out on the other side.

Let’s face it, delivering IT projects is tough. Business executives often don’t realize how tough it is. They are like patrons in a restaurant ordering a four-course meal. As they sit in the dining hall waiting for their meal, agitated by any delay, they don’t see the chaos in the kitchen.

It’s the job of the IT project manager to manage the chaos while portraying calmness and confidence to the team and business. Managing the chaos and leading the project to completion is what makes the IT project manager so valuable.

For me, I enjoy the chaos that comes with delivering IT projects. I particularly like the areas of development and testing. If you love technology, working with others, and solving complex problems, the IT project manager role may be a great fit.

So although the identity of the IT project manager is hard to define, it’s an exciting time for the field. With the rapid advancement in technology and globalization, the demand for good IT project managers will continue to go up.

We have only begun to scratch the surface of the digital world. AI, IoT, and big data technologies are in their infancy. As we chart a course into unknown territories of the digital world, we need good IT project managers to lead the way!

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.

Managing projects in a global operating environment

managing projects

Project managers need to be culturally versed to work in the global economy. Being open to learning new cultures helps foster good relationships. One way to do this is by developing cultural intelligence (CQ). “Cultural intelligence refers to a person’s ability to use reasoning and observation skills to interpret unfamiliar gestures and situations and devise appropriate behavioral responses.” (Daft, 2011)

The three components that work together for CQ are cognitive, emotional, and physical. Cognitive refers to your ability to pick up on observations. Emotional refers to self-motivation. Physical is being able to shift your body language or way of expressing yourself to align with people for a different culture.

Having the opportunity to work or study abroad and get exposed to different cultures is a great way to develop CQ. Studies have found that people who adapt to global management best are those who have grown up learning how to understand, empathize, and work with others from different cultures.

As a project manager, I work with people from other countries outside the US. My teams use technology to communicate with coworkers in other countries. Video conferences and internet connection forums have introduced great methods for work collaboration.

Whether you are talking over the phone or in person, it is important to show interest in cultures outside of your own.  This helps to establish good relationships and increases communication and team effectiveness. Relationships are the key to global business. Whether you are from Ireland, Japan, or America, you have to treat people well. People deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

By developing cultural intelligence, you can manage projects successfully on a global scale.

For more on global effects on project management, see my LinkedIn post here.

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References

Daft, Richard L. (1996). The Leadership Experience

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