I have used this title because I’m not sure whether new entrants to software development realise what a difficult and stressful job project management is. It seems that some people think that being a project manager (PM) is a ‘cool’ job because they have watched the reality TV program The Apprentice where in each program ‘project managers’ are appointed to manage each week’s activity.
I have been involved in various software and ERP projects on and off for close on 10 years, and unless things are going very well, I found that being a PM is a tough job.
If you want to get an idea about project management, follow the über-PM blog – Glen Alleman’s Herding Cats. He can get quite technical at times, especially concerning US defense and aerospace requirements, but has some great points. He points out the the key to managing a project is the following:
- how do you evaluate what DONE is;
- how do you determine where you are along the way to getting to DONE.
Here are his immutable activities of project management – “immutable because in the absence of these activities in some form, there is no management of the project”.
When I first started as a PM, risk wasn’t an issue we really focused on – if a project went over time or budget that was a problem for the business, IT’s job was just to deliver. But these days, that attitude has changed radically (and for the better). To understand the risk management process, here is a diagram I got from Glen’s blog.
Mary Gerush at her Forrester Blog noted the skills that software project managers need to have in order to succeed:
- a solid understanding of the business;
- a solid understanding of technology;
- a strong foundation in project management practices;
- most importantly – an amazing array of updated soft skills.
One of the critical soft skills is an understanding of psychology. Projects are all about people – whether it’s the people on the team, or dealing with the stakeholders of the project (the business sponsors). I know some PMs who are very good on items 1 to 3, but fail badly on item 4.
Finally, for a light-hearted look at what project management, here is a great analogy – Five Parallels Between Golf and IT Projects. The ones that stand out for me are:
- it looks simple but is not;
- a very small error can lead to major problems;
- it’s remarkably easy to second guess others – it’s easy to be an expert, with hindsight;
- it’s very difficult to sustain a consistent level of performance.
Are there other aspects of project management, which I haven’t covered, which could be used as a PM primer? In some industries, project management is now taken seriously; banking I know is one (aerospace and pharma are others, I believe). But in too many small and medium businesses, which is where my experience has been lately, the concept of project management still isn’t very well understood or appreciated. The question is – where and how to start the process of education?