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Selling project management to your CEO

A strong project management atmosphere in IT departments provides the necessary tools and processes to take increasingly complex initiatives from idea to installation. But CIOs still struggle with communicating the value of project management to their bosses.

Many IT professionals swear by project management, yet that concept hasn't filtered up from the department level to the C-level, where projects and budgets are approved. But executives need to realize the value project management brings to the table so IT departments can justify the resources needed to implement projects. It may be a tough sell, but it's worth the effort.

"Project management should be the CEO's assurance that the project gets done on time and on budget, with structure and discipline around the expenditure," said Shabbir Merchant, director, internal audit department at San Francisco-based Charles Schwab & Co. A secondary, yet still important, objective for the project manager should be to standardize processes and make sure metrics are in place to measure success (or lack thereof).

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"Right now, secondary objectives are gravy," Merchant said, "but they are becoming more integral, and increased emphasis on project management will be coming down the pipeline soon."

Independent consultant Don Thompson has been in the technology field for nearly four decades, mainly in smaller shops. He said he can't imagine not using project management for nearly any type of IT endeavor. "There can be a disconnect between the expectations of management and what the computer guys bring to the subject," said Thompson, who is based in Calgary, Alberta. "Project management is about clarity and getting everybody on the same page."

Without a project manager in place to compare and contrast the needs of various stakeholders, Thompson worries about what he calls "scope creep," which occurs when the expectations of the various stakeholders aren't in alignment.

Marilyn Ellis, IT director at the SimplexGrinnell LP division of Tyco Fire & Security, said she has a stronger belief in project management than her employer does. The company's IT department includes a project management office group that consists of six workers and a manager who are responsible for overseeing large business and applications projects, as well as eight other managers who handle networking issues, database needs and other smaller projects.

The primary driving force behind belief in project management "is recognition of the need for better planning to improve our ability to deliver on time and on budget," Ellis said. "In my personal opinion, the company needs to provide training in project management and other IT disciplines (infrastructure, networking, QA, training, support) with consistent, on-the-job mentoring."

Ellis and James P. Kelleghan, chief architect at SigmaTao Software, agree that a Project Management Institute certification will become more important as the concept takes a firmer hold in the executive suite. SigmaTao, a software company in Queretaro, Mexico, has 600 programmers out of an 1,800-employee group and believes strongly in the project management infrastructure.

"I used to work outside a project management environment, and it was insane," Kelleghan said. SigmaTao uses the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) process improvement in conjunction with project management. Kelleghan said that before starting with CMM, employees often worked 12- to 16-hour days. Now eight-hour days are the norm, with no loss of productivity. Each project is led by a PMI-certified project manager -- more if the project is particularly large -- and overseen by an administrator, who supervises two or three jobs.

"Once upon a time, with a subject-matter expert and a hotshot programmer, anything was possible," Thompson said. "Now, with huge projects that touch several departments, a project management structure is needed." A project manager can prevent IT from rushing into a project before the action plan is in place, which could waste time, money and resources, Thompson said. Deliberate steps help eliminate duplicate processes, account for various interfaces and aggregate data in one place to ensure accurate audit and reporting functions. The CEO definitely will love that.

"Project management is transitioning from tactical to strategic, with metrics that can be linked to the strategy, which is the CEO's role," Merchant said. "It has not been articulated in that way before, but it's coming."

Matt Bolch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. He can be reached at

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