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Should PMs have an IT background?

By MaryWeilage Editor ·
This week's Project Management newsletter explores the debate about whether project managers should have an IT background.

Do you think IT skills are necessary to successfully lead IT projects? What has been the experience in your organization?

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No strictly necessary

by blandinavian In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

I agree that project managers do need to know in general what technologies are being employed, and the basics of each. But at no time in my years of project experience has it been necessary for me to be able to code, or have an extensive IT background. Nor has it been of great import to my fellow project managers (we all take on IT projects as well as business projects). People forget that a project manager is usually a manager, not necessarily the person doing all the coding, the person doing the business analysis, etc. Would any of us jump up and down screaming that a project manager for a business process improvement must be an expert in the business process? It is better to be a good manager and have a good pool of human resources than to have an excellent IT background.

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local gov't ex-user now PM perspective

by govemp In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

I do not believe IT skills are a requirement to successfully lead an IT project. That said, some IT knowledge would be beneficial; knowledge about the IT people assigned to the project and knowledge about who to ask outside the project if you feel you don't have enough information to make a decision or ask the right questions would be key. IMO, the PM needs to understand more about the business needs being met than what hardware to buy. There will be people on the project that have the skills to make that determination. Those individuals need to be able to convey to the PM the necessity for hardware configuration A vs B and the risks, etc involved in the options.
Someone said that a PM wouldn't know how much time to assign a programmer for a given task. Probably true, the programmer should be able to come up with that piece. Hopefully, PMs are not deciding which direction to take a project without sufficient knowledge about the issues. I tend to ask the programmers on my project how long certain tasks would take. That is after the options for direction have been discussed by the technical people on the project, the best options are chosen, and the functional decision makers chose the option they prefer. Then we go back and flush out the detail tasks involved, time requirements, etc and go from there.

In my organization, a local gov't, all "IT" projects are led by IT PMs. I was an IT PM, converted from accounting, payroll, and payables management, that's right a user became an IT PM. I am now a PM in ERP support that resides outside IT. Our group not reporting to IT is a direct result of IT decisions driving a project rather than the business needs driving the project.

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Definitely

by desmedle In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

I believe I.T. Project Managers should have some kind of background in I.T. This does not mean they need an extensive background, but they need to be able to understand not only the needs of the clients but how to interact with the developers. They need to translate what the developers are saying into language the client understands.

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Yes. However...

by Jose B. Carranza In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

An Information Technology (IT) Project Manager (PM) needs to have IT skills. However, these skills need not be specific to the industry, as long as the PM is able to quickly acquire the crucial, influential factors associated with the industry. For example, a Senior Project Manager, with extensive IT skills in the Finance industry, should be able to function quite well in the bio-technology industry. Provided, she, or he, is able to assimilate and integrate the stringent Federal Guidelines governing Technology development projects.

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Project Management is a PROFESSION

by onazol In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

Too many times those with IT and non-IT backgrounds forget the Project Managers are professionals with skills specific to managing projects. Many of us are certified through a very rigorous process.

I have managed technical projects for 20 years. I have a BA in government.

I agree that you have to know enough about technology to understand how to size a project, know when somebody is giving you bull, ask the right questions, etc. You should be familiar with common technical issues, processes, etc. That doesn't mean you have to have been a coder or technician.

Mainly you need to know how to get the answers from the right technical and non-technical people, translate that into a project that is completed on time, on budget, and most importantly, to the customer's satisfaction.

PMI - the professional project management organization - states that 90% of what a project manager does is communication. That means being able to communication with a variety of different people with different skills and personalities in such a way that they will work with you on a project.

Based on that, there are so many technical and non-technical people who are brilliant but wouldn't be able to project manage themselves out of a paper bag.

That's OK. I can't design a complex technical system. I don't want to "sell." I leave that up to professionals of other kinds and respect their skills.

I just wish more technical and non-technical professionals in other areas would learn to respect that Project Management itself is profession just like any other.

Thanks!

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at least...

by herbert_mendoza In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

being PM in today's business environment it is necessary to have a background in IT..but not really an expert as we may say..its still how he implement the methodology in managing a project.definitely PM nowadays interface with the technology-based tools to record, analyze and solve certain project requirements, issues and concerns but those are just tools..its the analytical thinking that counts..i would say a 80 -20 ratio..IT is 20% of the skill needed..

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Our company...

by dnvrtechgrrl In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

has a "fruit basket turnover" every few years to keep ideas fresh and current.

This works fabulously in every department except IT.

It's taken my three piddly offices two years to recover from and IT Director and PM who had no IT background.

It's possible for an IT PM to not have an IT background. It's also possible to sit in a bathtub full of ice...

Why would you volunteer for either?

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Our company...

by dnvrtechgrrl In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

has a "fruit basket turnover" every few years to keep ideas fresh and current.

This works fabulously in every department except IT.

It's taken my three piddly offices two years to recover from and IT Director and PM who had no IT background.

It's possible for an IT PM to not have an IT background. It's also possible to sit in a bathtub full of ice...

Why would you volunteer for either?

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Project Managers should have IT back ground

by kalyan_gvk In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

I feel it is necessary for project manager to have an IT background. As the project life cycle involves lots of IT related features and descriptions, one should aware of it before handling the things in rightway.

Also right from Analysis to implementation the quality and productivity to be clearly followed by the manager that is most IT based. Even to handle the problems during the maintainance of th project the manager should know to appoint appropriate person for attending that problem.

Also to asses the performanance of the development team project manager needs to know the level of each team member in terms Technology which is most dependent on the IT knowledge and experience of the manager

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Is This Project an IT Project?

by chenig In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

Project managment is a discipline which crosses industries, and when you have a project you need a PM whose overall experience is in line w/ the proposed project. Seems axiomatic to me.

I have worked w/ PMs (or rather, consultants w/ a shiny new MBAs representing themselves as qualified PMs) who have nothing to offer but methodology. In the worst case, the methodology is something devised by the consultanting group for their clients, and bears no relationship to any professional criteria for project management methodology. Because this is unacceptable to most organisations these days, one sees less and less of this. In the best case for any project, the best PM is one w/ experience w/ the sort of project under consideration. The best experience is from knowledge gained in that subject area. But I also believe the best PMs are those who have done the necessary work to become PMs, including course work and getting professioanl certification.

I am a PMP who specialises in healthcare software development because that is where my experience was gained. I would not dream of doing a construction project. I am currently a PM on a data warehouse project, and I have no data warehouse project management experience. However, there are many well qualified data warehouse people on this project. What the project needed, and what I bring, is experience w/ structured project management methodology. I'm not about to direct the WBS process from a technical perspective, but I do want the technical staff to review it and sign off on it. Am I the best PM for this sort of project? No. A better PM would be one w/ extensive data warehouse experience. I'm just the best PM for the environment and the industry because it's a clinical data warehouse, and I do have experience w/ the applications which capture the data which populates the warehouse. Plus, I did happen to be available on site when it was clear that PM methodology needed to be applied to this project. And, I have made it plain to all and sundry that I am not the resident DW expert.

Would I put a PM on an IT project who had no IT background? No. I would also not "promote" an IT person to a PM role unless that person was will to do what is necessary to make the career change to become a PM. And I would want that to include PMP certification.

IT skills get out of date. IT is a fast changing industry. If you want both current IT skills relevant to the project and PM experience and training (and certification), you will pay for it. If you want the best possible out come, this is the route to go. Not everyone had deep pockets and such PMs are not easily availabe in all markets.

As in most cases, it's a trade off.
C. Henig


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