Soft Skills Produce Concrete Results

Companies that develop their project managers’ interpersonal and business skills can improve the chances of a project’s success by up to 30 per cent over the next four years, according to a recent report from the Gartner Institute in Eden Prairie, Minn.

Success means the information technology project is delivered on time and on budget.

More than 400 project managers and their supervisors participated in the eight-week study. They said skills such as budgeting, forecasting and risk assessment are non-IT skills contributing to project success.

Some analysts and consultants said that after grappling with complex and costly e-commerce and year 2000 projects, companies are starting to formalize skill requirements for project managers.

“Most IT organizations are in the early stages of developing project managers,” said Gartner Institute research director Barbara Gomolski. Moreover, firms have traditionally selected technologists, such as application development managers, for these positions, rather than people from the business side, Gomolski said.

Henry Miller, a project manager at a large telecommunications company in Kansas City, Mo., said he agreed with the findings. He said that during a recent Y2K project, empathizing with employees who were relocating — at the same time he was making more demands on their time — contributed more to the project’s success than “being able to manipulate information in a computer.”

And project managers need to make up-front decisions about issues such as whether it’s more cost-effective to train employees departmentally or companywide, Miller said.

Although the need for a combination of business and IT skills isn’t new, the blend is becoming more business-heavy in the project management world as more projects, particularly in e-commerce, are being driven by businesspeople, said Gopal K. Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif.