Finding the Perfect IT Project Manager

The best IT project managers have a solid foundation built on years of technology design and support work.

It’s a common misconception that IT project managers don’t need to understand the details of the project they are managing. Instead, the thinking goes, they should be able to rely on subject-matter experts within the team. In my experience, quite the opposite is true: The most successful IT project managers are those who have a broad background in IT and a solid understanding of what needs to be done from a technical standpoint.

Any decent project manager can initiate and successfully kick off even the most complex IT project. The need for technical understanding becomes evident as the project progresses and issues arise. It’s the project manager’s duty to take in information; evaluate it; and then adjust the time, funding, and resources needed to complete the job. Without the right technical knowledge and experience, this is nearly impossible to do.

In fact, a lack of technical experience can derail a project. When communicating between in-house administrators, external consultants, and business stakeholders, project managers who aren’t technically proficient have a difficult time understanding why a problem occurred and how IT experts involved in the project propose to fix it. Because of this confusion, one or more of the required resources for a project almost always gets out of whack, and the entire job either spins out of control or comes to a complete halt.

IT project manager fail

Here’s an example. A few years back, I consulted for a rapidly growing healthcare company that was planning to migrate from their existing open-source enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to a proprietary solution. It was a complex project to say the least. Fortunately, all the right technical people were involved to take on the challenge. Still, the project ended up failing miserably due to missed deadlines and a skyrocketing budget. Why did the project fail? Because the project manager in charge didn’t know the first thing about what it takes to migrate an ERP. Costs for external consulting services quickly depleted the budget and the project was abruptly ended.

Eight months after that failed first attempt, when the project had been re-scoped and re-budgeted, one of the in-house database administrators took control as project manager. This administrator-turned-PM had the background necessary to fully understand all the problems that cropped up. Using a traditional waterfall project lifecycle model, she was able to successfully navigate past the challenges in order to complete the project on time and within budget.

A good project manager is someone who has been on the “doing” side of projects while observing the “planning” piece. The right person will also need strong communication and leadership skills to successfully complete a project.

Unfortunately, IT pros often get pigeonholed into a stereotype where it’s assumed that their personal and social skills are severely lacking. While in some cases this may be true, there are plenty of IT professionals working in your organization right now who likely have the necessary communication and leadership skills to successfully manage and complete a project.

Next time you need an IT project manager, first take a good look at employees within your IT department. You never know who may want to break out and try something a bit different. If they have sound communication skills, combined with a broad technical background, they just might end up being your best IT project manager ever.

About the Author

Andrew Froehlich, a network engineer and IT consultant, is a contributor to EnterpriseEfficiency.com, a UBM Tech community.

Andrew Froelich
Andrew Froehlich is the President and Lead Network Architect at West Gate Networks, an IT consulting firm based in Northern Colorado that specializes in enterprise network architectures and datacenter build-outs. He has well over a decade of enterprise networking experience at organizations such as State Farm Insurance, United Airlines and the University of Chicago Medical Center. When he's not consulting, Andrew enjoys writing technical blogs and is the author of two Cisco certification study guides published by Sybex.
Andrew Froelich
Tags: Software,Technology