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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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A lot of people

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Not necessary

seem to be assuming that an IT project is one where IT is the end product. As opposed to one of the tools used to achieve something else.

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by dafe2 In reply to A lot of people

The word prima donna was used here somewhere..........or was it 'superiority complex'??

IT has to get over itself..LOL

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Oh no

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Yup.......

I agree with them, when I put an order processing system in the most important part is the software, that's why I don't let any of them nasty sales types use it.

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mmmm So do I (to a degree)

by dafe2 In reply to Oh no

A PM does not need an IT background.....he/she needs backround or knowledge of the end product...that's all I (meant to) articulate.

An SAP module roll-out in materials management would require a PM with MM skills (not) necessarily SAP programming knowledge. Does that not make sense?

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Definitely, the

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to mmmm So do I (to a degree ...

object of the project is manage the materials for the business, not design / rollout management materials software. If things have gone according to plan, both objectives are met, if one of them is n't the business suffers.

I'm still trying to think of a wholly IT project, and I can't because any IT in business is a business project with IT in it. Even if you went for something like a re-tool personel or kit, there was a business reason for doing it, hopefully.

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Excellent point

by Hubert1497 In reply to A lot of people

Not every problem requires an automated solution. I am currently dealing with a situation where the data is there, but the problem is in how the data is being used (or rather NOT used).

Sometimes the solution isn't a new program or system, but a change in infrastructure.

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Ideal world versus Reality

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

In an ideal world, a Project Manager without IT skills should be able to lead projects.

But I would suggest I've never seen it happen.

I don't think you need to have been a programmer or a sys admin. But you have to have had some exposure to such things as the software development lifecycle(if its a software project) or had some experience with datacentres if its a a datacentre project. You don't have to be a subject matter expert, but some background is helpful.

As a project manager you have to be able to assess the inputs you are getting from users, subject matter experts and stakeholders. Pretty difficult to do if you don't have a passing acquaintence with the subject at hand.


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Different approach

by jdmercha In reply to Ideal world versus Realit ...

I agree with your details but not your premise.

In an ideal world a IT PM has all the IT skills as well as the PM skills.

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

I have NEVER bought into the shopworn argument that a good manager can manage anything. If life were that simple we probably wouldn't need managers at all.

An IT project manager does not need to have been the world's best software engineer. In fact, those people have generally spent their lives developing other skills and often don't have the social skills and the intuition to be good managers. But it's extremely helpful to have developed some software, to have gathered some requirements and to have inspected some, to have done some testing and troubleshooting, to have dealt with unhappy, untrained, or ornery end users, and in general to know what life is like for the software engineers that the project manager will be managing.

My experience has shown that like any absolute statement, this one is not 100% correct. Sure, I've encountered a couple of people with no IT background who became really good PMs. But I've met a lot more who were utterly incompetent, loathed by their team members, and a complete liability to the organization.

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Zero to sixty

by JamesRL In reply to Yes.

I tend to agree. I have seen some nuclear engineers who became good IT PMs. But they didn't try to run before they could walk. They all spent some time as an analyst, or contributor to software projects, before they tried to run a project on their own. They learned by doing.

Some of the gotchas of software projects. In an engineering project, the requirements are often well documented. When a construction company bids on a project, they get a detailled list. In software projects, you tend to get fuzzy high level requirements and have to extract out the detail.

We could talk about the reverse, does anyone wanna drive over a bridge built by a first time project manager whose only previous experience was on IT projects?


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