Project Managers - Business or IT?

Project Managers. There are few businesses that would take on an IM&T project without appointing a project manager. In many organisations, the argument still persists as to whether the best person for the job will come from the business, from the Information Technology area, or from an external consulting or contacting firm. 

One of the first issues to address is that wherever the project manager hails from (a business area or from IT) -  experience counts.  Running a project requires particular attributes and skills. The more critical the project is to the business, the more important it is to appoint someone who has appropriate project management expertise.

In cases where the project is purely technical, such as an IT infrastructure project, there would normally be no argument. You could expect an IT project manager to be appointed without much controversy.

In a business project however, it is imperative to have business knowledge at the very top level of the project management hierarchy. Particularly if the project is crucial to the business. The ideal candidate is someone who has been with the organisation for years, knows the business, and is an experienced project manager. The trouble is, not every organisation has someone fitting this description.  So then, the question becomes - which is more important - the project management experience, or business knowledge.

This is where we would go out on a limb. We would suggest that in this situation, you would opt for the experienced project manager - even if it means hiring a contract manager from outside your business. Of course, finding a project manager with experience in a relevant business would be a definite advantage.

Why?  Because an experienced project manager will be used to such situations - they are quite common. They will know how to structure the project to ensure an adequate input of business knowledge. An experienced project manager knows the likely pitfalls and danger signs. He/she will be able to use a proven methodology, and know what steps to take to improve the potential for a successful project. He/she will recognise early warning signs and know what steps to take to mitigate or correct problems which arise.

A business leader who is not also an experienced project manager will have superior business knowledge, and may well have a greater motivation to see the project succeed, but is less likely to understand the complexities of planning and managing a large project, and will not have at his disposal the appropriate tools to ensure success. In fact the potential for failure increases significantly when an inexperienced project manager is at the helm.

The project manager does not necessarily have to come from your IT or IM&T area. However IM&T staff are often involved in projects from quite early in their business career. They often develop their project management skills over many years, starting with smaller projects, and taking on larger ones commensurate with their experience. IM&T staff (whether permanent or contract) are often the only staff in an organisation who have formal training in Project Management, plus have experience with systems design,  software development, testing regimes, risk management, change management and other relevant and critical activities.

No matter how experienced the project manager, most business projects will need an experienced - often quite senior - business person in a high level position within the project. But do not give in to the temptation to appoint a business person and an IT person as joint project managers. While the way in which you reward the various participants is up to you, a project needs a clear chain of command starting with one Project Sponsor and one Project Manager. In very large projects it may be necessary to split a project into components, and each component may have its own project manager. Eventually though, they should all report through to ONE overall Project Manager / Director.

If your project is critical to your business, we consider that appointing an inexperienced project manager will significantly increase the prospect of project failure.

Photo used under Creative Commons from LuMaxArt