Project manager mixes business with technical

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With IT organizations undertaking Windows 2000 migrations and an inordinate amount of new applications development next year, project managers will be in high demand.

Job title:
Project manager

Variations:
None

Responsibilities:
PMs helm a cross-functional team in gathering requirements, developing, testing and implementing a new application, network, IT infrastructure, Web site or other IT rollout. The role is typically broad. It crosses over to the business side of an organization and is more people-oriented than hands-on technical.

A key part of the PM's job is to keep users and managers informed on the progress of a project, thus eliminating any surprises. While missed deadlines are undesirable, they're usually deadly only when unanticipated, says Lynda Gutman, CIO at Guinness Bass Imports Co. (GBIC), Stamford, Conn. The PM must also manage user expectations and stick to cut-off dates after which additional requirements and changes won't be considered.

Gutman notes that the PM role on a network-related project, such as a Win2000 migration, is "much more technically oriented" than on an applications development team.

Skills required:
At least five to six years of IT experience, including some supervisory experience such as team leader, is needed to take on the role of project manager. PMs should also be familiar with a project management methodology like Microsoft Solutions Framework or the Universal Modeling Language (UML), says IT consultant Ron Maille of INET Records in Acton, Mass.

But because projects can fail from poor communication, Maille says management and people skills are even more important than specific technical proficiencies. For example, in a Windows 2000 migration, designing the Active Directory infrastructure successfully is highly dependent on interaction with business users and management.

"You want the AD infrastructure to mirror the organization as closely as possible," Maille explains. "AD is hierarchical in such a way that it allows you to map the org chart and complement the way the business runs. So you'll be going out into the organization more, and you have to be able to interact well with all of those involved."

Certification requirements:
Some IT organizations insist on project management certification. Marriott International, Bethesda, Md., for example, is pushing its IT staff to get project management certification, says Jos� Porro, director of sales decision support, who holds the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. But consultant Maille notes that as long as an individual can demonstrate a combination of PM experience, people and technical skills, certification is a non-issue.

The leading certification is PMI's PMP program (PMI.org). The Gartner Institute (Gartner Institute also offers three PM certifications.

Typical day on the job:
A day on the job varies with each stage of the project. During the initial requirements gathering, PMs will spend much of their time with end-users, observing work processes, defining deliverables and building consensus. In the design and development phase, PMs will be finalizing requirements, getting sign-off from users and IT, coordinating the design work among team members, and keeping all parties informed about progress. In the later testing and deployment phases, PMs will interact mainly with team members and IT management.

Career path options:
Those who prefer a more hands-on, in-the-trenches IT career can move serially from project to project, advancing in stature and salary by taking on increasingly complex, high-profile projects. Those interested in a management career can leverage the PM role on several highly visible projects as a first step up the IT management ladder. Project management offers the kind of early experience essential to reaching the IT executive suite.

Demand:
With a boom in applications development (AMR Research, Boston, projects that spending on supplier- and customer-facing applications development will increase IT budgets by an average of 5% next year), as well as Windows 2000 migrations, PMs will be in high demand in 2001.

Project managers are usually chosen from within an IT organization, but independent consultants can carve a niche as PMs for hire if they'll wear multiple hats, Maille notes. "I don't see a high demand for freelancers," Maille adds. "When I'm brought in as a PM, I'm usually doing other things as well, like coding and design."

Salary range:
The average annual salary for PMs is $73,804, with an average yearly bonus of $8,684 for a total of $82,488, according to Computerworld's 14th Annual Salary Survey, published in September (Computerworld). Job search site Dice.com puts the mean hourly rate for contract PMs at $80.

Best types of companies to work for:
The best opportunities will be in companies with a lot of original applications development underway. Even companies using shrink-wrapped packages or outsourcing development need a PM to manage the vendor-user relationship. In smaller companies, PMs are jacks-of-all-trades, while the role is more structured in a mid-sized to large company. "Startups are great to work for," Maille says, "because there's so much to be done that you'll get an amazing amount of experience."


This was first published in January 2001

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