Why IT leaders make brilliant project managers

Project Management Institute
By Annie Sheehan, ANZ Head, Project Management Institute
Monday, 14 November, 2022

Why IT leaders make brilliant project managers

The COVID-19 pandemic has jackknifed our expectations of digital service delivery. Whether humans are online shopping, virtual schooling or remote working, people now want their services delivered at the same standard as they expected in person.

While many private businesses have transformed to meet these expectations, many government bodies need help to provide the same service standards. As outlined in the Digital Economy Strategy, this includes the digital transformation of the government itself.

It is an unfortunate fact that government projects suffer from well-publicised, lengthy delays. It was recently revealed that 28 major government projects are running a cumulative 97 years behind schedule and $6.5 billion over budget. Similarly, the 2022 Productivity Commission’s interim report into the country’s ‘data and digital dividend’ found that Australian project delivery capability teams are poorly positioned when enacting technological change due to the lack of highly skilled tech workforces within Australia.

This shortage amplifies how skills in project management are sorely needed to turn project success around. PMI forecasts that we’ll need a staggering 25 million new project professionals globally by 2030 to tackle talent gaps, presenting a further challenge to businesses looking for these critical skills.

Developing the skills to respond to these changes requires organisations to re-examine their approach to skills development and ensure they are supporting their employees to thrive in the digital economy.

Following the footsteps of IT workers

While a shift in the workplace ecosystem has caused a transition in the world of project management, the core skills remain the same: big-picture thinking, collaboration and agility. IT managers often fit the bill in these areas with their experience executing on-the-go projects from top to bottom.

The largest and fastest growing project-oriented sector will be in software development in mobile applications, IT security and a rise in healthcare technology, with a projected increase of 14% by 2030.

Because they are at the forefront of digital innovation and usually have short timeframes to deliver impactful results, the IT sector naturally embeds project management methodologies into their approach to work from the onset. Public sector organisations must look to tech workers who embed a project-oriented mindset into work structures. This mindset can help government departments execute project objectives on time and within budget, making employees more agile and adaptable.

You may be thinking, easy to say from an outsider’s perspective. So the question is, where do we start?

It all starts from the top

The World Economic Forum projects that 54% of employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling to adapt to the changing workplace. This need to reskill affects nearly every industry; however, government agencies have the additional burden of carefully managing every taxpayer dollar. A reskilling/upskilling initiative needs support from the top down to achieve a favourable return on investment.

Department leads must push the focus on skills development to the forefront of their organisation, as opposed to keeping it on the sidelines as done in the past, starting with:

  • Identifying where the gaps or pain points exist within your organisation and achieving project success.
  • Demonstrating a business-wide commitment to the development of skills.
  • Ensuring the investment aligns with organisational strategies and objectives.
  • Looking beyond the cost of investment to recognise the value project management skills contribute in the long run.

Occasionally, consider hiring a skills director to champion the cause, establish personalised employee training and highlight a connection with organisation-wide goals.

Leaders must also acknowledge the benefit of transferable, project-oriented skills for teams to succeed, even in the most technical roles. Consider increased training in areas such as collaboration, communication, time and resource management, critical and agile thinking, planning and risk awareness — these not only help to increase efficiencies, deliver consistent results and improve customer and stakeholder satisfaction but also improve essential team-building and people management capabilities.

Tips for ongoing project success

Once department leads innovate in their approach to work and investment in upskilling, how can they instil this project-oriented mindset within their teams and encourage staff to think like an IT worker?

A few simple action points could include:

  • Introducing project-based learning through micro-credentials or project management certifications can increase job attraction, retention and the value workers deliver to their roles. According to research from PMI, those with a professional project management certification enjoyed increased earning potential, citing a 16% higher median salary on average.
  • Adopting agile practices that help employees improve their problem-solving, resiliency and ability to respond to change. Adaptability is critical, particularly within a turbulent working environment.
  • Boosting internal culture by strengthening ongoing learning and development (L&D), empowering employees to take control of enhancing their personal and work skills. Research by PMI revealed that 37% of employees feel L&D isn’t enough of a strategic priority within their business.
  • Leveraging new technologies that allow employees to work efficiently in a hybrid working environment and broaden capabilities to deliver innovative solutions to customers, which produces positive change.

Combining these action points and learning project management skills will make employees more agile, productive and adaptable, and improve project delivery outcomes. Government department leads now have a golden opportunity to rethink future skills and reshape our society by successfully executing key technological projects and services. These skills will be critical in facing ongoing challenges and uncertainties to meet citizen expectations and transform Australia’s journey into a world-leading, digitally driven nation.

Image credit: iStock.com/NicoElNino

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