Friday, 13 June 2008 08:34

Techies leading deployments a recipe for disaster: project management boss

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Allowing engineers and other technical staff who lack project management skills to lead deployments is a mistake, according to one of Australia's most experienced IT executives.

Former StorageTek boss, Phil Belcher, who recently signed on as CEO at project services firm PMPartners Group said technical staff need opportunities to learn about techniques that can be applied to these projects, and to be shown how to apply that knowledge to their own experiences.

Some people and businesses are obviously cottoning on the the problem, as PMPartners trained over 4000 people last year.

Since project management standards are universal, the skills transferred are universal - but the IT sector needs leading edge project management skills due to the rapidly changing environment.

"Very often, project management and project managers might be blamed for a project that goes off track," said Belcher, but that's often because the company didn't address the organisational problems when implementing the technology.

Part of the problem might be the lack of project governance in Australian organisations. According to surveys carried out by PMPartners between October 2007 and January 2008, 62 percent of them have no governance mechanisms in place, leaving each project manager to operate independently.

Without a project management office (PMO) - currently found in only 30 percent of Australian organisations - to oversee individual managers, it is hard to maintain control, said Belcher.

But do PMOs always take an active role?

CONTINUED


Yet the surveys found that even where PMOs exist, only 60 percent of them feed into an organisation-wide portfolio management framework, and 80 percent have little authority to make project related decisions.

"I was a little surprised" about the small proportion of organisations with PMOs, said Belcher, but he was reassured by the finding that 81 percent of those that do say it delivers tangible business benefits.

He recommends providing existing subject matter experts with formal project management training, and then using them along with consulting services (such as those offered by PMPartners) to build a PMO and an appropriate implementation methodology.

"That way a relatively small number of people can achieve a lot using the resources organisations already have," he said.

But "organisations have varying levels of maturity in project management" and an alternative approach is to outsource the project management function, but Belcher suggests the people involved should be brought into the organisation as if they were employees.

PMPartners Group was formed by the merger of project management training and consulting firm PMPartners with IT project delivery organisation ITPM.

At first glance, it may seem slightly odd that the enlarged firm chose someone who previously held director-level positions at data communications, networking and data storage businesses as its CEO.

But "it really isn't," says Belcher.

His earlier executive positions include managing director of Datacraft Australia and managing director at StorageTek in Australia and New Zealand. "A large part of what we did was delivery," he said.

"It's good to have leading edge technology, but it's what you do with it that's important."


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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