CIOs scramble for project managers

The pressure to deliver projects on time and on budget puts project management skills atop the list of hiring priorities for many CIOs. But good project managers are hard to find.

CIOs are desperate for project managers.

PMs must manage change process with an iron fist.
Kurt Sowa
IT directorDeckers Outdoor Corp.
According to polling by Forrester Research Inc., the pressure to deliver projects on time and on budget puts project management skills atop the list of hiring priorities for a majority of CIOs in 2007. In fact, 59% tell the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm they plan to train their staff in project management this year; another 29% said they will hire project managers.

But the talent, Forrester said, is in short supply.

Forrester analyst Samuel Bright, author of the report, said IT staff members, "particularly those in technical roles, struggle to make the transition to project management roles." According to Bright, they lack the training, experience and business knowledge to make the leap. Meanwhile, CIOs blame the educational institutions, complaining that academia is "failing to meet the needs of the enterprise by not emphasizing project management skills," he said.

Outsourcing looms large in 2007
Many of the CIOs interviewed by Forrester said they are "de-prioritizing" hiring for the so-called commodity skills, relying instead on third-party providers or outsourcing to get the job done.

Twenty-three percent said they plan to hand off responsibility for packaged application support to a third-party provider, while another 11% said they will rely on contractors to provide support; 18% plan to outsource application maintenance skills this year, and another 9% will contract for them. Legacy programming is also being farmed out this year, with 23% of those interviewed saying they will outsource and 16% planning to contract to fill legacy needs.  
The trend toward outsourcing is creating demand for procurement skills. More than half of IT leaders, 55%, told Forrester they plan to train their staff to better manage third-party relationships, negotiate contracts, assess vendor risk and monitor service-level agreements.

Bringing rigor to the delivery of IT systems is a big theme this year, too.  

Sixty percent of CIOs will pour money into training employee in change management. The goal is to improve the uptime, integrity and security of systems.  

Nearly as many CIOs said they plan to increase service management training, citing the growing popularity of ITIL as a means of process improvement, the report found. The adoption of ITIL service management training "heralds a larger shift from technology-oriented management to service-oriented management," Forrester's Sam Bright said.

-- Linda Tucci
The unmet demand for project managers comes as no surprise to Kurt Sowa, IT director at Ugg boot maker Deckers Outdoor Corp. in Goleta, Calif. Projects tend to come and go in the lifecycle of a company, Sowa said, so companies rarely have a stash of project managers from which to draw. But good project managers, he added, are hard to find under any circumstances because of the nature of the job.

"PMs are part artist, part technician and part administrator," Sowa said. Not to mention ambassadors.

Good project managers must constantly sell the project, Sowa said. They must keep all constituents in the loop, deal with changing customer demands and report back to upper management, which, he added, is getting its own status reports from the business side.

While project managers don't have to be technical experts in his view, they do need to understand the technology well enough to tout its benefits and explain its constraints to every user group that technology touches. Gifted communicators and good people-persons, the good project manager can also ride herd. Said Sowa: "PMs must manage change process with an iron fist."

After the gold rush

Not everyone is on the project manager bandwagon.

"I actually got rid of my project managers, one out the door and the other promoted to DBA/Data czar," wrote Mike Lehman in an email.

Lehman, who oversees IT operations at Hartland, Wis.-based midmarket chain Batteries Plus LLC, said project manager mania may be a big-company phenomenon. "I found that Batteries Plus was too small for someone to be just a project manager."

What he really needs are IT pros -- including business analysts, specialists (.Net developers) and "functional" leaders (managers of applications and operation) -- who have good project management skills. "We do train internally to develop better project management skills, and we expect our people to be well-rounded and wear many hats," Lehman said.

More on IT projects and hiring
Selling project management to your CEO

A booming job market means headaches for CIOs
Deckers' Sowa said it isn't surprising that a large percentage of CIOs, at big and small companies, are opting to train their own project managers in-house.

"An outsider would have a difficult time understanding the culture and nuances of each of the departments," Sowa said. Trust is a big component of a project's success. "Having a trusted individual within the organization is a tremendous help to the implementation of a system."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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