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Moutasem Zakkar (UAE) - IT Projects - A Look Beyond the Technology

"Experience has shown that a successful project outcome is related more to the people and processes involved than to the complexity of the technology itself" (MSF V3) .

In fact people and processes can make the project management a challenging job, despite the fact that there are lots of standards that support and control the project management such as: The PMI PMBOK, Prince 2, SEI CMMI, and MSF.

In any project, the stakeholders are persons or organizations whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by the project completion (PMBOK 4), and because of their influence, the concept of Stakeholder Management, has been covered in all of the related standards. Unfortunately in reality this is not easy, and most of the project managers find it too difficult to explain to the stakeholders some technical but yet important concepts such as "The critical path" which represents the shortest execution time that is calculated mathematically, and which explains why the relationship between project execution time and manpower is not always linear .

One of the influential stakeholders is the project sponsor who is a person or group that provides the financial resources, and has a big interest in executing the project, and usually comes from a non IT background.

Generally, the project sponsor has lots of priorities such as: organization performance management, strategic planning, sales forecasting. Also, the IT terms, as well as the project management terms (such as EVM, CPM, WBS, extreme programming, ALM... etc) are often too technical for them to understand. The project sponsor is usually most interested in getting the final solution implemented!

But the main problem is that the project sponsor may have some critical and inaccurate assumptions, such as:

  1. The project manager is merely a coordinator who communicates with the outsourcing company which will do the whole work.
  2. Since the project is outsourced, it should be delivered on time, within the allocated budget, and with a high quality (fairly valid assumption).
  3. The outsourcing companies always exaggerate in the estimation of the execution time, and he (the project sponsor) can push to have the project delivered earlier.
  4. The outsourcing companies can increase their workforce to speed up the execution!

This inaccurate perception of project management is the result of several factors such as the organizational culture, the maturity of the organization, and the overall experience of the organization with IT and IT outsourcing. If it exists it may create troubles for the project. It can become serious when those troubles announce themselves through messages from the project sponsor to the project manager about the slow execution, the unqualified outsourcing company, or unreasonable cost. Soon the project sponsor can start pushing on the project manager to speed things up, and the poor project manager can do nothing: he is following MSF guidelines, and the PMI standards, and he has been sending lots of status reports, and progress reports - but nothing has worked.

I think that "project management" has lots of challenges, and unless it becomes a part of the organizational culture, the project managers will keep on facing similar problems. Safe to say it is a must that project managers act ethically, protect the quality of their work, and follow the standard practices, no matter how much pressure they face!

References
Microsoft Solution Framework V3 Whit Paper , 2003 , www.microsoft.com/msf
Project Management Body of knowledge V4 . PMI, 2008 , www.pmi.org

Moutasem Zakkar, MBA, PMP is an IT Consultant in the UAE.

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