“I’m sorry, I hate to bother you, but, I was, um…wondering if you wouldn’t mind possibly helping out with this project. I, um, know it’s your job to work on projects and you’re on the project team, but you, uh, always seem to be so angry and agitated whenever I ask you to do something to help finish the project…” says the apologetic IT project manager. “If there’s anything I can possibly do to help you out so you are not so put off whenever I ask you to do something, please let me know. I’ll be glad to add it to my already ridiculously long task list that’s full of work from, um, other people that are just as angry and agitated as you.”
The above may be a little bit of an exaggeration of the type of conversation that takes place in the realms of project management in IT, but we want to stress that it is a little bit of an exaggeration. Project management in IT is tricky business for a number of reasons that we’ll cover below. It’s also a slippery slope that can quickly relegate good project managers to rambling and hesitant project managers that have lost their effectiveness.
Why IT Project Management is Tricky Business
IT Project Management is complicated for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that there is typically not a solid, tangible, wrap-your-hands-around-it type of deliverable that is produced in an IT environment. It’s all bits and bytes. The results end up on monitors, on the web, and in the cloud. The intangible nature of the work produced makes IT project management particularly tricky. Then, add the following complexities:
- Very Smart People – There are smart people in all professions. They have amassed a certain amount of specialized training, education, and experience that makes them good at what they do. People that work in IT are pretty smart as well. As a matter of fact, those that have a natural ability or knack for the work they produce can be eerily smart. You can see a brilliant DBA or software engineer work through all the different scenarios in their head in a split second and come up with the best approach to solve the problem at hand.You want these types of people on your team. They are usually very good to work with. However, if you don’t “know your stuff” they will quickly see through the smoke and become a different management experience altogether. They will make you feel as if you are interrupting them or that they are too busy for you because you are not adding value to them and their position. You then find yourself in the situation where you feel hesitant to approach them and then start each sentence with “I’m sorry, but…”
- Very Experienced People – A different take on ‘very smart people’ are those people that are very experienced. This becomes even trickier in IT project management because everything is changing so quickly. Exponentially new technologies come and go every six months and the real talent of very experienced people is not necessarily how much they know (ask the experienced COBOL programmer how easy it is to find work these days) but rather how quickly they can learn and come up to speed on new technologies.You want very experienced people on your team as much as you want very smart people on your team. But, be prepared for a similar challenge in managing these very experienced people. They have “been there, done that” and have little time nor patience for someone that is just coming up to speed. You need to dot your ‘i’s and cross your ‘t’s as much as you can prior to interacting with a very experienced resource.
- Very In-Demand People – There’s no surprise that very smart and experienced people are also going to be very in-demand as well. They’ll be glad to help out as much as possible, but you need to respect their time. You will get a lot more done if they feel you are highly conscious of the value of their time.
Check Your Apologetic Attitude at the Door
How can you be successful working with the types of people described above? Much of your success has to do with your attitude when it comes to working with highly educated, skilled, and talented people. Project Managers can be loosely categorized as taking two different types of approaches when it comes to managing these resources:
- What Can I Do For You? – One approach to managing projects is to serve as a “resource” for your resources to tap into. You go around and ask your team what areas they need help in, what obstacles are in their way, or anything else they need you to handle.This approach works well if you are working with newer resources that do not have a lot of experience. They will appreciate the direction you are providing and knowing that you are looking out for their best interest. Experienced, smart, and busy resources may not view things the same way. These people have been in and around business for years.They know what needs to be done, know how to power through their own issues, and have an ability to focus on the end result until it’s achieved. They may view you as a bit of a pest if you flitter around them incessantly asking them what you can do for them. You’ll soon find yourself “apologizing” for checking in with them so often.
- What Can You Do For Me? – The other side of the coin is that you are expecting certain things of them and you are basically asking them what they can do for you. This is a fundamental shift in your attitude about project management in IT but one that will serve you well as you progress in your career. Rather than being apologetic about having to follow up with them all the time, you will find yourself in more of a position of strength and control. You know that these people know what they are doing. You know they understand what a deadline means and keeping their word is important to them.They respect the fact that as a strong project manager you are coming to them with the attitude of “in order for this project to get done, this is what I need from you.” They will react positively to this type of direction as you continue to establish a strong relationship with them on future projects.
One additional word of caution if you fall into the category of “what can I do for you” project management: Don’t be so eager to please. Your job is not to garner the approval of smart, educated, busy people. Your job is to get the job done. That is what will ultimately establish the respect you need to propel your project management career to new heights.
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