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Become a ‘how’ person

Become a ‘how’ person

The discipline and art of project and portfolio management, particularly in the complex IT world, is crucial in today’s economic doldrums. Becoming formally accredited is increasingly a ticket to secure employment.

If you believe the key messages from this year's Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) major conference, project managers are best placed to become leaders in the new economy. The 400 delegates at the PMI Global Congress 2009 Asia Pacific heard that “project-based organisations are the way to the future” but many organisations have difficulty realising this.

Enterprise executives are, the conference was told, the ‘why’ people and project managers are their ‘how’ colleagues. Both are needed, but to sell projects to the C-level, all need to speak a common language.

Overall, the PMI, a leading advocate for the project management profession, has nearly 500,000 members and credential holders in 175 countries and the Asia Pacific is one of its fastest-growing regions for membership. There are some 102,500 project management professionals (PMPs) in the Asia Pacific and 331 in Singapore. Eighty per cent of these are in the IT industry.

Active promoters

PMI Singapore president Alex Siow says the PMI chapters of Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India and China are all very active in promoting the merits of good project management.

“The governments of these countries are supporting the initiatives to bring IT project management to the next level of professionalism,” Siow says. “Good project management does not just happen, it has to be cultivated and planned for. Having an understanding that project management skills have to be trained and acquired will go a long way towards recognition of the project management discipline.

“Major enterprises should place a premium on hiring certified and trained personnel and have a reward system for personnel who upgrade their project management skills. All these must start from the very top, from the chief executive down to the line managers.”

A project manager (PM) serves as a critical link between IT team members and key individuals involved with a project to ensure its timely completion, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing provider.

PMs typically oversee the process and methodology, identify best practices to ensure a successful project, manage the pipeline of requirements and act as a liaison between IT and the business.

Robust demand

Even though many companies are cutting back on IT projects, Lee says there’s still robust demand for project managers with solid track records.

“A differentiator is whether the person can articulate that they’ve brought a project in on time—or, better yet, under budget—and how they did that,” she says.

According to the crowd-sourcing online encyclopedia Wikipedia, project management is the discipline of planning, organising and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific goals and objectives.

Australian research house Hydrasight examined PPM in the second half of 2008, producing a report entitled Hydrabit: Project and Portfolio Management is a (potential) Key to Improved Performances.

Hydrasight’s principal analyst and managing director Michael Warrilow, says the research shows that the most common methodologies are from the PMI’s Body of Knowledge (BOK), which is often referred to as PMBOK, and Prince 2, closely associated with IT infrastructure library (ITIL). Without specific prompting, there was scarce mention of ITIL by respondents.

“Hydrasight notes that this finding is consistent with our earlier related research and also indicates a significant, ongoing investment in project management within IT organisations,” Warrilow says. “We note that these two methodologies, in particular, are being used broadly across varying project types, such as infrastructure, software development and major business projects.”

Improved process

Hydrasight believes that the need for improved application management processes and governance will ultimately see an increase in interest regarding public domain process frameworks centred on application management, such as application support, change control, service definition and application lifecycle/portfolio management.

“Hydrasight foresees that, through 2013, the need for an application management process framework will accelerate within IT organisations as service-oriented architecture [SOA], software-as-a-service [SaaS] and other software platforms are evaluated and implemented,” Warrilow says.

The National University of Singapore’s Institute of Systems Science (ISS) provides a series of courses that focus on “providing the necessary skills to enable IT professionals and user executives to undertake the project management role effectively”.

Daniel Boey, programme director (project management) with the ISS, teaches and consults in project management and IT outsourcing practices. He believes that, in the US and Europe, the open culture makes management of stakeholders easier, compared to some Asia Pacific cultures.

More difficult

“Project managers in the Asia Pacific encounter more difficulty and risks due to higher power distance in the organisation,” Boey says. However, he believes the success factors are no different than those in other parts of the world, as project management skills are universal.

Generally, he believes project management practices are more established in countries where governments make big investments in IT and training. Boey says India has the biggest number of certified PMs, largely driven by the business and the need for key management staff to have certain standards and certifications as a key IT outsourcing hub.

“Singapore is also well ahead in terms of IT project management best practices because of the big investment in IT and training,” he says. “On the other hand, China has also started to focus on project management best practices and is making great progress.”

SMEs behind

Hydrasight believes Hong Kong has a more established project and portfolio management (PPM) capability and Malaysia a “can do” attitude, whereas Singapore “is typically too timid and diplomatic”. The firm says India and China are advancing quickly but are currently too varied; some projects are leading edge, whereas others are in complete disarray.

Most multinational corporations, such as banks and IT service providers, also have well- established IT project management practices, says Boey, while small to medium enterprises (SMEs) “tend to lag behind by a big margin”. “Overall, we see a growing awareness of the importance of project managers to the success of the IT projects undertaken in companies. Research has also shown a strong upward trend in PPM research and studies, and increasing emphasis on organisational PM capabilities.”

The PMI Singapore’s president Siow says that since 1998, when the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) started promoting PM and there was the launch of the PMI Singapore Chapter, “there is a wider recognition of the special skill sets that an IT project manager needs, to do a professional job”.

“Since then, the SCS has certified close to 1,600 IT project managers and among the 1,300 members of the PMI Singapore Chapter, close to 80 per cent are in IT,” Siow says.

“With the government stipulating that vendors for government work must have suitably certified personnel, the number of certified IT project managers will continue to rise.

“There are suitably qualified professionals on the job, so we are no longer in the era where many projects failed because of poor project management. We are sure that IT project management has improved tremendously in the last decade.”

PM advice

Boey, from the ISS, has some advice for enterprises about the best approach to PM.

“We would like to emphasise the importance of management support and executive sponsorship throughout the lifecycle of the project and not just from the start,” he says. “It is key to the successful implementation of all strategic IT projects.

“We always advise our clients to first look at what is needed in the projects of their enterprises and then customise their strategies to meet what is required, taking into consideration the organisation’s culture and environment.”

Hydrasight adds that its research indicates successful long-term deployment of PPM technology requires a mandate and ongoing support by senior executives—from the CIO, for improving IT performance, or from top-level executives (COO, CEO, CFO).

“We believe that the implementation of PPM tools must also be driven by experienced change agents within the organisation.

“Given these fundamental requirements, our research suggests that successful deployment of PPM technology is most often coupled to enterprise-scale process improvement and drivers for organisational change [operational excellence, compliance, transformation] rather than discreet IT initiatives.

“Success will be primarily depend upon senior executive support, as well as the mandate and ongoing commitment for organisational improvement,” states the report.

Sidebar: Project management pitfalls

  • Failure to understand fully the user requirements
  • Lack of trained professionals and resources
  • Inability to contain the number of changes that creep up during the project
  • Failure to plan for contingencies and other unplanned disasters
  • Lack of project championship and sponsorship
Source: PMI Singapore

Sidebar: Keys to success

  • Understanding the project owner and his requirements
  • Having a good relationship with the stakeholders
  • Appointing a good project director
  • Having good contingency plans
  • Managing the risks
Source: PMI Singapore

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Tags project failureHydrasightnew skillsCIO rolestrategyanalystproject management

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