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Article by Mohan Babu


Focus on project management skills

Many technicians lack the basic skills to coordinate projects and think modularly about their individual work allotments or code, sometimes at the cost of missing the “big picture,” writes MOHAN BABU

An interesting item of research published in Computerworld (US) caught my attention recently—it was about the acute lack of project managers in US IT departments. This research really hit home since the failure of many of the “gloom and doom” projects can be attributed to the lack of proper project management rather than to any other cause. Meta Group, the Stamford-based IT research company, was recently quoted saying that more than 75 percent of 219 IT executives interviewed indicated that a lack of in-house project management skills was a major issue for them. Similarly, a researcher with Forrester concurred with this research saying: “A lot of unofficial training is going on where people take on the role of project managers.” However, most executives also concurred that providing project management training to IT focused staff was a big “challenge.”

In the years that I have spent in the field, I have noticed that techies, especially the hard-core, hands-on types, are management agnostic and run for miles to avoid the mention of project management or quality assurance. So much so that the current trend towards XP (eXtreme Programming) where “self-managed” team work directly with users to build prototypes and take modules to production in smaller cycles, may be an effort to minimise the overheads generally associated with project management. Perhaps one of the reasons why some companies lack project management skills is because they tend to hire IT professionals from the same pool of talent, with similar skills, feels Martin Colburn, CTO of National Association of Securities Dealers.

A major reason why some techies abhor project managers is probably because they (the project managers) try to go by the book and try to enforce some structure to projects, even when deadlines are tight. Ignorance of the basic need for project management among techies may be another reason for this yin-yang between managers and techies. Many technicians lack the basic skills to coordinate projects and think modularly about their individual work allotments or code, sometimes at the cost of missing the “big picture.”

Trained and qualified project managers are expected to bring this “big picture” view to projects they manage. This is especially true of large-scale projects where smaller development teams work on individual modules and someone needs to coordinate the efforts of such teams, analyse the risk, mitigate them and ensure that the deadlines are met and the deliverables confirm to the specifications laid down in the initial analysis, satisfying the end users.

Maintaining a “big picture” view while fighting daily fires, ensuring the focus of the entire team, is the forte of a skilled and trained project manager. Interestingly, those in project management roles come from varied backgrounds, not necessarily from a development or technical background as many envisage. Some project managers are also qualified in formal project management methodologies, especially the PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) prescribed by the Project Management Institute (PMI) one of the foremost bodies in the industry. The organisation also conducts a formal certification exam and PMI certified project managers continue to be in demand.

Are Indian outsourcers at risk?

Do Indian outsourcers have the project management bandwidth to manage the large-scale projects that they are continually bidding for? Many project managers working for large Indian companies have risen from the trenches, growing from developer to tech lead and then project manager. While they may have a strong technical background, many lack formal training in project management. As Indian companies look to scale up the value chain, hiring and nurturing quality project managers will gain importance. This is especially crucial since the available pool of managers will also be wooed by multinationals entering the Indian IT or outsourcing market.

An opportunity in disguise

This renewed focus on project management in the industry, may be an opportunity in disguise for Indian companies. It is an opportunity to leverage our technical skills with the right project management training, enabling our techies to manage large-scale global projects. This capability will also help Indian companies to bid for larger international projects up the value chain if we can show our execution capabilities and management prowess. In the process, we may also be able to “export” our project management expertise to China, Philippines and Ireland—other hotbeds of IT outsourcing.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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