Recession may put short-term IT projects on hold

The global economic crisis may force Canadian IT managers to sharpen their skills in selling projects to senior management, experts said during a Webcast for technology professionals on Tuesday.

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Dealing with the economic meltdown

As part of its ongoing Ignite Your Career series of online events, Microsoft Canada hosted a pair of project management professionals who discussed the pros and cons of bringing in outside help like consultants to steer difficult IT-related initiatives through to completion. Among all the other challenges IT managers face on a project, a recession may be the one that has the biggest impact on their workload in 2009.

“Anything that is not going to bring profitability or is really necessary, like Y2K was, will get dropped,” said Jessica Keyes, author of Leading IT Projects: The IT Manager’s Guide and a former technology executive. “Companies are looking to cut projects. If it’s something that can reduce headcount or increase revenues, you as an IT manager have to help make that business case on why that project needs to keep going.”

Michael Frenette, a project manager who works out of the Halifax office of Sierra Systems, said the worldwide downturn doesn’t mean IT managers can afford to ignore sound project management principles and practices. If anything, he said, it should reinforce them.

“No doubt projects that are long term may come off the table,” he admitted. “I don’t know that you have to treat projects any differently than you did. You’re still tracking the deliverables, the planning, taking care of your team.”

Keyes recalled a time when she was working on an IT team at the New York Stock Exchange that was focused on artificial intelligence research. It wasn’t long after an economic slump began that she started to see her colleagues handed their walking papers.

“Everyone was being let go because no one who was working in the area of R&D and AI, which was new at that time, was able to make a business case as to why these projects would add to the bottom line,” she said, adding that some professionals may need to be creative in how they executive projects before they get back-burnered. “It might be a phased approach where you slice it up, but anything you demonstrate that there’s a reason for it to be done is going to get done.”

All companies have a portfolio of projects that are in various stages, and IT should be a trusted advisor in determining which ones will bring the biggest benefit, Frenette said. They should also distinguish between projects and programs, which are a series of projects that can interrelate. “They can help clients understand which projects should simply add to a program,” he said.

Even when the economy isn’t an issue, Keyes said IT managers have be skilled at manoeuvring around business leaders that butt heads during a project’s execution. As much as business and IT aren’t always aligned, other departments have their own conflicts, she said.

“The problem is (IT managers) are not the highest level within the organization. Usually stakeholders are higher than you,” she said. “You may have a stakeholder war or problem, but you’re not at their level. You need to know who you can go to resolve the situation.”

Tuesday’s Webcast was the final segment in Microsoft’s Ignite Your Career series for the year.

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