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Project managers top CIOs' must-have list

Historically, project managers were a luxury most midmarket companies couldn't afford -- and thought they could do without. But now a growing number of CIOs say without a project manager, why bother?

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Without a project manager, a project (no matter how much money you throw at it) is doomed to failure.

"A project manager is critical," said Jesus Arriaga, the former senior vice president and CIO of Spirent Communications and a speaker at this week's CIO Decisions Conference being held here.

Nine out of 10 times taking the extra time to create a plan will save you time and money.
David Ruiz
director of ITDIC Entertainment Corp.
"Making a plan as you go along is not going to work," he said. "In order to mitigate risk, you've got to outline the rules of engagement."

A common thread in many of the sessions geared specifically for midmarket CIOs is the need for good planning -- which experts said should be a given, with or without a project manager. But too many midmarket companies forgo a plan. "They just aren't thinking about it," said Arriaga, although he does admit that he has seen a significant uptick in the number of companies using project managers. Someone has ownership of managing the project, even if they don't have that title, he said.

Experts say project management brings clarity and can help keep everyone on the same page. Without a project manager, expectations that are not constantly tweaked and adjusted can quickly get out of alignment.

"Projects have to have milestones to meet," said Marvin Stone, CIO at New Century Title Co., a San Diego-based title insurance firm. "You have to have deadlines, and consequences if they're not met."

Still, many midmarket companies are just starting to realize the value of a good project manager -- most of them learning by their mistakes.

"Most ERP projects fail because of the lack of a plan," Arriaga said. "CIOs need to communicate that plan."

But a project manager is a coveted luxury. In fact, according to a recent study by Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., 26% of the 281 IT leaders polled cited project management experience as a top hiring priority in 2007. This year, one-quarter of IT leaders plan to hire new project managers, and almost two-thirds expect to have to provide project management training for current employees.

Part of the problem midmarket CIOs face, however, is that talent is in short supply.

"Project management is not only an undervalued skill," said James Woolwine, former CIO of Majestic Insurance Co. and now CEO of Bradford Enterprises, "it's the rarest of IT skills."

"Sure, they have their certificates, blah blah … that's just process. It's an art as well as anything else," Woolwine said. "A project manager should be assigned [to every project]. But it'll be hard to find one. If you find one, pay them more money."

In the panel on data integration, much of the discussion swung toward project management. When asked how many had project managers driving major projects, such as data integration, most of the nearly 200 CIOs in the audience raised their hands. More than half, however, admitted to being their own project manager.

Part of the problem, too, is that while many CIOs swear by their project managers (as does Stone), some midmarket CIOs can't get buy-in from the top. Higher-level executives can't see the value in it and, therefore, refuse to lay out the budget.

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David Ruiz, director of IT at Burbank, Calif.-based DIC Entertainment Corp., said he rarely engages in major projects without a project manager. However, he said that too often there's pressure to get the job done, and especially in IT "they just want to jump in."

Not all of his projects have a project manager driving them, however. Smaller projects don't require it, but all have a plan. "Even if you don't have a project manager, you have to have a plan."

He said it just doesn't make business sense not to.

"Nine out of 10 times, taking the extra time to create a plan will save you time and money," Ruiz said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director

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