IT project managers feel the heat

IT project managers are being asked to do more with less resources and skilled individuals when planning projects, according to a recent study compiled by the Cutter Consortium.

With the current climate changing on the whole in the industry, IT professionals are faced with the uphill battle of changing their strategies to cope with the cutbacks and layoffs.

“The data shows a large number of people who said they were changing their project management approaches due to the new changes in business. Business innovation was a big driver of that,” said Bob Charette, the senior consultant at Cutter Consortium in Spotsylvania, Va. The study was not specific to any one area of IT project management.

Most of the respondents view the current situation as turbulent and complex, but that their approach broke into two patterns, he said. On the one hand, there were those that said more complexity was needed to deal with the complexities of project management, while conversely, some saw streamlining as the solution.

Charette added that there was a shift after the dot-com failures for companies to try to become more fiscally responsible. “Go do what you need to do to get it done, to putting the brakes on; you need to manage your costs more. The hammer has come down on project managers.” One of the startling numbers was that 52 per cent said they were competing for resources, and this was not just related to monetary competition. “The competition for resources was not only in terms of money but how do you get good people. Just trying to get the right skills for a project is very difficult.”

Part of the problem, he said, was companies took on more projects than they were able to handle. Consequently, the blame has firmly been laid. “IT managers are taking the heat for what’s happening. The IT guys were the golden, fair-haired children and are not reaping the blame for what’s gone wrong.”

The inevitability is that planning structures and timetables will be altered, leading to shorter cycles and planning times.

“The process has gone from a very detailed one year plan to a not-so-detailed, structured three-month plan and we just keep repeating that over and over,” said Tim Stenerson. The consultant for Harbinger Partners in Minneapolis said planning strategies for two years from now are virtually gone. The result is shorter cycle times, with less functionality but more deliverables, he said.

Stenerson blamed the rapid changes in businesses and technologies for the shift in planning. But, there are potential benefits. With the streamlining to shorter cycles, “the main focus is bringing your customer much closer to your technical team so that you’re headed down the right path right from the beginning.”

With all the changes, the speculation is that those who are able to survive the challenges will only emerge stronger.

“Clearly, those that are dedicated to their existing projects and know how to weather a downturn are probably going to finish their projects and come out even stronger,” said Marc Koehn, the senior partner at Cycle24 Systems Group Inc. in Victoria, B.C. He agreed with Stenerson that long term planning is near extinction. He believes that organizations have increased the ROI expectations to the short term, adding that longer projects with lengthier paybacks is not a business need at the current time.