Changing role of the IT project manager
Raj Sheelavant
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Over the past few years the complexity of the project management has dramatically increased because of globalization. The life span of business cycle is now getting shorter and continues to shrink at a faster pace. The large organizations do not have the luxury of time to adapt to the changing customer needs. The business processes need to be re-engineered so as to support fast decision making and execution of strategy.

Because of globalization, the role of the IT Project Manager (IT PM) is being redefined. In addition to making sure that the project is progressing as planned, in today’s environment, the IT PM needs to have skills in two more areas:
*To effectively manage resources and customers that are mobile and globally located
*To understand the business and marketing strategy of the customer because in this competitive landscape the project scope can change or become irrelevant quickly

Technological changes have further accelerated globalization and have intensified competition and the organizations need to be ‘nimble and agile’. Agile business processes are very important to adapt to the changing environment. Hence, IT projects’ scopes keep changing.

Agile software development methodologies as well as project management processes have developed over the past few years to address the fast changing requirements and scope. But, the development methodologies like XP, Scrum, etc. that favor smaller development teams are mainly focused on the software development processes. Though they address the issues of shorter lead time, these software development methodologies are very light on integrating global work force. There is also no clear definition on the role of the IT PM in this new emerging environment. As the quest of the large organizations to gain the right talent continues and the barriers to globalization continue to drop, software projects are not localized to a region any longer. The labor today is more globally mobile; software consulting and outsourcing companies have development centers around the globe to not only take advantage of the labor arbitrage but also enable Talent Management. An agile software development process by itself will not be able to solve the complexities arising out of globalization.

Because of the above mentioned dynamic changes in the software development arena, the IT Project Manager needs to possess several skill sets that can be bucketed into two large themes:

1. Demonstrate cultural intelligence
What is cultural intelligence? Cultural intelligence or cultural quotient (CQ) is a theory within Organization Psychology and Management that is focused on understanding the impact of individual behavior in the context of his or her national culture. In other words, it is Emotional Intelligence in the context of global culture. To be globally competitive, an IT PM needs to put on a learning hat to acquire the knowledge and skills to understand the unique cultures of diverse individuals in the context of region, religion, ethnicity, and country.

Geert Hofstedel is an expert Dutch researcher who has documented the interactions between national cultures and organizational cultures and has built the framework for assessing global culture. Since the resources and customers are now globally located, the IT PM needs to build ‘relationship’ with them across different cultural zones. The IT PM needs a clear understanding of Hofstede’s five cultural dimensions to implement strategies to improve collaboration of the globally diverse employees and customers. Using Hofstede’s cultural dimension as a framework, the IT PM needs to customize business processes and communication styles to maximize the effectiveness of the software development process.

Though English is the lingua franca of the global IT development, people in different regions have differing level of comfort with English language. Every region in the world has ‘localized’ English accent as well as the connotations that radically alter the meaning. For example: ‘a deadly issue’ for an American is an issue resulting in the death of people involved, while it’s far less ‘severe’ in the Indian context. The IT PM needs to recognize these nuances and continuously ferret out the right and consistent message. The IT PM with a high CQ will also be able to mitigate attrition and manage talent in this era of global talent war.

2. Understand business strategy
Because of the need for agility of organization, the IT PM now does not have the luxury of being in seclusion and work on a project for a few months at a stretch. In this fast changing environment, the IT PM needs to understand the customer’s business strategy. Why? Business strategy provides an overall direction of the company and ways that company differentiates it from its competitors. Thus understanding where the organization is and its future direction provides an excellent way for the IT PM to align the software application functionality to the business need of the customer.

Since business strategy is usually formulated by the top executives and the board of directors, many customers might not be completely aware of their own business strategy or their core competency. Corporate business strategy is also not easily available or documented for everyone to see. Thus the IT PM needs to work out the business strategy by gathering and connecting information from various sources.

Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model of Industry analysis along with Generic Strategy provides an excellent framework to help understand the company’s core strength and its position vis-à-vis its competition. The successful IT PM needs to interview and talk to all the stakeholders about the role of the software application to their organization’s growth. Connecting sparse and diverse information from the customers and stakeholders and using Porter’s Framework, the IT PM will be able to get a good sense of the business strategy. With an understanding of the broad perspective of the business strategy, the IT PM will have a better understanding of how the new software application might aid the customer’s organization to create and sustain competitive advantage.

The IT Project Manger armed with the understanding of the customer’s business strategy should be willing to challenge any project scope that is not in alignment with the business strategy. He should also be in tune with the changing marketing and business strategy to make sure that the project is still relevant to the customers. It also becomes the job of the IT PM to expose any irrelevance of the project to the customers. Customers who are usually involved in running the tactical aspect of the business might not be able to see the change in their business strategy. The IT PM also needs the influence and negotiation skills to force prioritization to solve the major business problems in a short development cycle. Thus, by aligning the customers with their own business strategy the IT PM will be able to demonstrate not only his leadership traits but also be able to maximize the software application’s impact on the organization.

Thus, along with following the Project Management process that ensures project delivery on time and on budget, an IT PM now needs to have a broad understanding of – 1) Cultural Intelligence of the globally diverse employees and customers, and 2) Business Strategy and Core competencies of the organizations. IT Project Managers who master these additional skill sets will be indispensable in near future.

The author is Project Manager, Intel – Arizona. He can be reached at raj@artha-consulting.com
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