In the last years of my careers I have experienced that IT project managers are very often former developers, architects or other IT specialists with extended technical knowledge who evolved to become project managers. There are various possible explanations for this. One is that project management is often considered as next step on the career path of technical experts to take on bigger responsibility. Another reason is that having profound knowledge in IT domain is usually considered as essential prerequisite to become an IT project manager.
I am a passionate project manager for IT and technical projects. Although I have completed a technical study programme I was never a so called “IT pro”. In the beginning of my career I encountered many situations where I was doubting if I had the right skills or if the absence of detailed IT knowledge was a real problem in my job. Nevertheless I took on every possible project and grew with the challenges. Looking back, I have successfully managed a lot of different projects in the last years – ranging from research and development projects in IT, leading SAP and SharePoint implementation projects to managing and winning multimillion tenders for IT projects. So I was starting to ask myself what was the main factor to succeed in IT project management without being an IT pro? I came to the conclusion that it’s all about effective communication, which is in my opinion an underestimated key success factor in IT projects.
What my work experience has taught me is that it is possible to manage IT projects without having detailed technical know-how but being a good communicator and enabler for a great team of specialists you can rely on instead.
Looking closer at the competence profile which the international project management association has published supports my insight as well. A project manager needs to have a big set of different skills. On the one side there are the “hard” skills like financial management, risk and quality management, managing the project’s goals, stakeholders, resources and many more. On the other side there is also an immense focus on the so called “soft” skills – communication, team work, problem-solving, conflict and crisis management, openness and even creativity.
Effective communication is needed in every second of the project from start to the end – building and forming the team, leading the team on the path to success, managing project crises, dealing with customers when negotiating change requests, sorting human disputes and keeping the team’s spirit in hard times until the successful closing of the project.
In contradiction to the classical view which says IT project managers should be experts with project management know-how, there exists also another approach: IT project managers who are exactly the contrary – great communicators with technical understanding as well as a passion for the field of IT and undoubtedly with a lot of passion for communication.
I am not arguing that an IT project manager does not need to have any IT knowledge at all. It is actually very important to have an understanding of underlying principles of IT projects and to be able to grasp the technical challenges which are effecting the success of your project. But it’s not necessary to be an IT pro. In my opionion the new approach to IT project management offers the possibility to bring in new perspectives. A project manager with technical understanding and excellent communication skills in combination with a great technical team is the best foundation for successful IT projects.