I’ve been a Systems Integration professional for over 30 years – 20+ years working for consulting firms in project delivery, and approximately 10 years as an independent consultant assisting state government in project oversight of their selected Design/ Development/ Implementation (DDI) vendors. During my lengthy career as a Project Manager for DDI vendors, I believed that we could do more to train our project management personnel in doing a better job for our clients. When I went over to the “other side” in the capacity of project oversight for these same clients, I became convinced of it.
I am a huge proponent of the PMP certification process. I watched DDI vendors, government organizations, and company IT departments put project management staff through the intense PMP certification process. Yet in my little corner of the IT project delivery world, I did not see a lot of change from the “old days”. Studies told me that the success rate of IT projects was improving, but my personal observation told me that there were still too many failures and near failures.
Some examples that I have witnessed firsthand or received from colleagues with firsthand experience include the following:
- A major DDI vendor took a manager out of its data center and placed her in charge of its largest contract. Dumb decision. Project eventually cancelled. Significant financial loss.
- A company put husband and wife on the same project (husband in leadership) to save travel dollars. They became disgruntled. Rest of the team negatively affected.
- A top DDI was invited to do an oral presentation of their bid proposal and to demo their highly touted turnkey solution. Unprepared and disorganized. Didn’t win the bid.
- A client assembled its management staff to discuss a major project issue. When the DDI Project Manager arrived, and I watched two of the client’s senior team members physically turned their backs on him. Issue eventually resolved, but not at all easily.
- A government liaison called me to request that I intervene on their behalf with a DDI vendor to help resolve a contract issue. Common sense applied. Issue resolved.
- A colleague of mine was contracted to perform a project review for an overseas consulting firm. As part of her due diligence, she interviewed the client, who raved about the consulting firm’s attention to schedule, solid delivery skills, and on-budget implementation. The client then volunteered, “and we’ll never work with them again”.
Notice the common thread among these examples? (Incidentally, I could fill PAGES with similar situations from personal experience and witness, but these few make the point.) Did you notice that not one of these situations had anything to do with the technical aspects of Project Management? They all had to do with the human aspects of managing the projects.
It is my assertion that most Project Managers are very good at what they do. They know how to develop project schedules, display Gantt Charts, perform resource loading, manage to the critical path, calculate earned value, produce status reports, write meeting minutes, and so on.
Yet many IT projects do not meet their full potential or fail altogether? I believe it is because Project Managers are taught – maybe not explicitly, but certainly through emphasis – that if they check the right boxes, produce the required “arts and charts”, and have weekly status meetings they are de facto managing the project. And I’m here to tell you that THEY ARE NOT.
If, as I contend, the human aspects of Project Management are equally as important as that wonderful project management certifications, why then, do companies pay so little attention to it? Because, and I hate to admit that I was once here as well, there is an undercurrent of arrogance among Project Management circles that the human aspects are mere “soft skills”. Less important. Worthy only of lip service.
I’ve witnessed this undercurrent at PMI meetings in every chapter that I’ve had the privilege to visit – including my own. I’ve heard it directly from senior management of DDI vendors. I’ve seen “soft skills” training cut from the budgets of IT departments in which I have worked.
I’m advocating for the day in which the “soft skills” of “reading” the customer, collaborating rather than confronting, presentation and communication skills, meeting facilitation skills, managing “up” the organization, body language, understanding what was meant over what was said, and many, many other such skills are as valued as the PMP certification.
Then watch the rate of successful project delivery climb!
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