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Adding value through project management

01 Aug 2011

The post-recession business environment, both in New Zealand and globally, has seen a shift in how project managers (PMs) are viewed and valued, as well as in the expectations placed on their roles, especially with regard to ICT projects. Once considered a discipline, project management is now "globally recognised as a distinct profession”, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s largest project management member association. Research conducted by the PMI indicates that project management, as a profession, has grown some 30% over the past five years, and predicts that approximately 1.2 million new project management jobs will be created each year for the next 10 years.Fuelling this growth, in part, is "companies’ increased recognition of project management as a strategic, competitive advantage in the post-recession economy”, explains Jane Farley, PMI board member and Auckland-based portfolio manager. Whether you employ project managers directly or indirectly through an IT contract with a vendor or systems integrator, for instance, understanding how a PM can best meet the needs of your business is an invaluable asset."Project managers are among the most critical strategic role needed by today’s IT organisations, which are struggling to find the IT talent they need to support their businesses – a development that contrasts with an expectation that the economic climate would make the problem (and solution) more straightforward,” explains PMI’s Farley."At the same time, organisations are under tremendous pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, while sourcing and managing a diverse global workforce,” she says.Change of focusIt is this financial pressure and ever increasing demand to justify every expense and prove return on investment (ROI) that has most prominently led to the development and change within the typical PM role. "Fundamentally, this shows a move from a predominantly technology focus to a focus on business outcomes, first and foremost,” says Naomi Lind, chief projects officer for New Zealand technology solutions provider Intergen.Over the past three years, she says, companies have invested less in projects, but more in project management. It is no longer enough for a project manager to deliver an individual project on time and on budget. The PM must, in addition to that essential task, act as a strategic resource, engage senior executives, carefully manage multiple relationships and, most importantly, have a solid understanding and firm grasp on the objectives of the businesses for which they work."The economy has had a significant impact on the role of the project manager,” agree David Morrison and Marty Pine, PMs for the New Zealand company Provoke Solutions. "Clients want more done for less, and project managers have had to become very effective in managing expectations and protecting both scope and budget. Effective management of delivery is vital, and striking a good balance, with both clients and internal stakeholders, is key.”At Provoke, projects are handled in a very transparent way, and accountability is high. While this may not have been the norm five years ago for many organisations, it has become a necessary expectation for successful project management in New Zealand today.Lexel Systems, for instance, operates a unique model, which rates its project managers against agreed KPIs. The customer is then invoiced at a rate that has been calculated against the level of satisfaction for each resource."Smart PMs use this to grow and fine-tune their skills; smart customers use it to pay for what they get,” explains Paul Alexander, Lexel’s general manager for project services. The system appears to be working: Lexel’s Rob Franklin won Project Manager of the Year 2011 at the PMINZ National Conference in July this year.Stuart Byrne, senior project manager at IBM NZ, sees the effect of the economy influencing project management in a number of significant ways. The first, a demand for improved efficiency and cost effectiveness is evident everywhere.Additionally, he says, there has been a move toward improved organisational focus and governance, with a shift from strategic transformation projects towards operational and efficiency initiatives (cost management and ‘tactical’ projects). "The management skills to achieve project survival and success in this environment are quite different, and PMs have had to adapt their skills to suit,” he explains.Furthermore, the number of concurrent projects assigned to a PM has increased steadily over the past 10 years, so that even though the average project size may have decreased during the recession period, the number of projects that a given PM is responsible for at one time has likely risen. Byrne also notes the changes in resource management, and the resulting effect on the role of a project manager. "Resource pools for project delivery are rigorously controlled and increasingly virtual, with resources based in multiple locations and time zones. This requires PMs to have exemplary interpersonal and communication skills, coupled with unceasing diligence to ensure that the right resources are available for the (increasing number of smaller) projects when required.”Murray Young, Gen-i Australasia’s general manager of professional services agrees: "Project management has traditionally been about balancing the need to deliver projects on time, to agreed quality, for an understood price. More recently, the price part of this equation has become much more dominant as organisations need more certainty about their future financial outcomes.”"These changes have led to a new kind of project manager – one who operates at a business leadership level, delivering business outcomes, rather than just technical solutions,” he adds.Competing on qualifications As the level of IT project management grows within organisations, the expectation on the PMs’ qualifications increases. The most recent PMI Salary Survey revealed IT to be one of the top money-making industries for PMs in New Zealand, averaging NZ$109,259.As salaries rise, more employers and clients are seeking project managers who have achieved accreditation or specific PM training, to better justify their salaries and expenses. The most successful project managers are those who can deliver projects in line with business objectives and operating practices, as well as deliver a real result to the organisation’s bottom line. On top of this, certifications and training are growing in importance, as PMs seek more ways to show their merit. "According to a recent report from a recruiting firm, the general trend is for certifications to become mandatory,” says the PMI’s Farley. "As corporations and recruiting firms can pick among an increasingly large universe of project manager candidates, they will naturally move to have something to weed out the first 50% of any given candidate set. Certification is often the easiest way to do just that – much like a university degree has become essential, instead of a plus, for many professions.”The PMI offers Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, as well as Agile certification. At Intergen, nearly all project managers are PRINCE2 accredited, a result of client expectation and demand. "New Zealand has been a bit slower off the mark with this than other countries, but we have seen the gap closing in recent years, with accreditation now almost a requirement,” Lind observes. Still, while qualifications and memberships may get a potential project manager an interview, success is dependent on other core competencies, say Morrison and Pine of Provoke. "Project managers are not defined by the qualifications they hold, associations they are members of, but by their actions and results. These qualities are what we believe to be the natural part of the makeup of an excellent project manager: integrity; honesty; loyalty; communication; unyielding positivity; pragmatism; leadership; self-awareness; perspective and strong decision making skills.”Integrity was cited by nearly everyone interviewed as a vitally important quality in a top-notch project manager. "Everything is based on varying levels of trust,” explains Lexel’s Alexander. "Without a core of integrity, skills quickly become redundant and fade fast. Without integrity there is little hope of exerting influence or leading change with any lasting results.”Nearly as important are excellent communication and relationship management as key skills. "Project managers also need to be proactive and completer/finishers, able to manage risks, remove roadblocks and troubleshoot,” says Intergen’s Lind."Great project managers are comfortable working at all levels of the organisation, from the boardroom to the factory floor,” says Gen-i’s Young. "The best project managers take personal accountability and drive for the outcome needed by the business, as opposed to those that just administer a process.”If you choose to view the project manager as more of a strategist than a tactician and, by nature of the demand of limited resources and capital, expect the PM to manage multiple projects, people and objectives, adhere stringently to budgets and remain flexible and adaptable to the business’s changing needs, you will need to invest in and support the best of the best to excel in such a role, as it is one of intense demand. The New Zealand economy is growing, and project managers will continue to be in demand, as the scope and number of projects increase. Despite, or as a result of, the fluctuating economy and greater demands from clients, project management is in growth mode, and is morphing into a business critical profession. The PMI’s Jane Farley predicts: "While the profession may be feeling temporary growing pains, the circumstances are elevating the profession for the greater good of all involved.”