General discussion


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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My experiences

by thaifoo In reply to Yes.

In my experiences as a project team member, having a PM without IT experience was a vast waste of time. We ended up taking over the management portion when it become apparent that a few only gather meeting notes. There was no leadership to apply when they couldn't see certain technical being held up for whatever reason.

To be fair, some PM's without an IT background can manage projects effectively. But that only comes from the most effective of leaders, not from a book or course you take.

I have 11 years in IT. I'm currently working as a PM and even I have a hard time.

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The key to management…

by Hubert1497 In reply to Yes.

Is the ability to get things done through others (sounds like something right out of a textbook).

I agree with DC Guy (and Alex.V). I can lead a team of IT professionals, but couldn't begin to manage a team of Vascular Surgeons or even Bricklayers for that matter. I don't have a clue as to what problems they face or how to anticipate their needs. It's ludicrous to believe someone can manage (or lead) a project using a technology they don't understand, and I think the people who regurgitate the "A good manager can manage anything" mantra are doing it in books or in front of a classroom because they can't hack it in the real world, and saying it makes them feel better about themselves.

As for ArrowIVDriver, I don't think anyone is talking about "Technical" Leads here. Once you make the decision to head towards Project Management/Leadership, then your career path is Management, not Technical. It's no longer imperative that you fully comprehend every aspect of the technical details of the system. I have worked on projects where productivity was stunted while we "dumbed down" to the level of the PM's ability to understand the system. You rely on the guru's to perform whatever magic it takes to accomplish the task, but it's critical to have at least SOME actual experience in the field. As DC Guy said, you'll get more respect from the team, and you won't fall for "Oh, I spent an hour changing spark plugs on that diesel engine".

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Depends on the project

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Should PMs have an IT bac ...

Profound that.

Guess it depends on your definition of an IT project.

You should only get to be the PM of a project if you have experience in the goal of the project.

If it's to put new sales order processing system in, an IT professional with experience designing/implementing those systems would be a reasonable choice, but a sales professional with experience of using them would be far better one in my experience anyway.

If you are the PM in charge of producing such a piece of software then yes you should have as a minimum experience of managing similar projects.

I don't see how at least in business you can be an experienced PM without some knowledge of IT issues, but unless it's an IT business, I don't think you need a technical background to manage the project.

Even if you did have a technical background it might end up being irrelevant. My background would be of no use at all if the project was implementing a corporate network. I'd be posting questions on here trying to understand what the technical guys were saying.

If it was choosing the technology to do so, I'd now have enough experience to resign and quick.

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Yeah that was very deep.............

by dafe2 In reply to Depends on the project

LOL Your right though. One of the other posts mentioned coders, so an IT background would help the PM understand issues but he/she is still a PM.

But from operations, I could care less if the PMO or PM knows squat about IT. That's my job. I DO expect him/her to know they're stuff and help us (or whomever) deliver the end product on time & on budget.

For example, re- designing (or) building a Server Room involves many Trades - HVAC, Fire Supression, Building Services & on it goes. You could reasonably argue that the PM needs a background in every one of those...

I know, on time & on budget was a bit much. Hey one can dream right? LOL

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Sometimes it can be a hindrance

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Yeah that was very deep.. ...

I had one PM who had a lot of experience in my field but who differed in how to implement the business logic in a client server DB design. He spent so long concentrating on me and second guessing my approach, when I finished we found he'd forgot to get the live environment sorted out.
Used up nearly all the slack I'd sensibly put in arguing with him too. I'd had plans for that due to a previous miscalculation on my part.

If someone came to you reeking of desperation and mentioning things like quicker the better, you wouldn't take advantage of his circumstances would you ?

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I would not do a corporate network

by alex.v In reply to Depends on the project

I would not lead a corporate network project, unless I made my managers aware of my lack of expertise the said field. It would be dishonest to do otherwise.

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I commend you on your honesty

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to I would not do a corporat ...

and would commend myself in similar situations, but I've seen more than a few people who seem to lie to themselves and/or to others as though they were making a career out of it.

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Team commitment must exist

by chrismarshall In reply to Depends on the project

In these days of corporate takeovers and outsourcing I have come across several projects where there are project team members who have their own agenda. They may have either an active or passive resistance to the success of the project, and are quite willing to support directions that they know will result in varying degrees of the projects failure, or at least major time and cost overruns.
If the project manager does not at least have a good understanding of the business and technical scope he/she should make sure that the team members are fully committed to its success.

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In the bad old days

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Team commitment must exis ...

before business speak arrived in IT. There used to be some unbelievable things going on. I was too far down the food chain to reap the rewards but I watched senior people manipulating projects all over the place for personal rewards. You definitely had to keep the IT manager sweet in them days.

How do you get a team member commmitted to being outsourced. No one's had any success with me on that front and it's happened to me three times and but for a good bit of dodging on my part could have been four.

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

An IT background is not as important in project management as the ability to recognise and use the strengths within the team. Obviously an IT background helps with credibility at the outset but this will soon be forgotten if leadership skills are lacking.

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