Talent Development for Complex IT Programs

I just received a McKinsey brief on “Developing talent for large IT projects” that has the usual recommendations, but adds two useful insights.  From the opening section:

The responses [to a survey on levers for improving IT performance] reflect the challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining the right IT talent at a time when building a digital enterprise has become a priority for most companies. To succeed, organizations need to cultivate in-house talent for roles that require intimate knowledge of the business and the organization. Enterprises must recognize the value and scarcity of employees who combine IT savvy with business acumen and must build and support a staff of such people.

The authors lay out three recommendations:

  1. Focus on the roles that really matter: Here’s the first useful point. There are plenty of skills and competencies that can be outsourced, but the piece suggests ensuring that IT program manager, business change leader, and lead IT architect roles stay in-house.
  2. Attract talent by improving culture, benefits, and career paths: I really like the recommendation around career paths, because it identifies the biggest barrier to nurturing project-oriented staff. Where do they go next? From the post:”Career paths for leaders of large IT-driven projects are rarely clear or compelling, and they’re often nonexistent, which is one reason these leaders are in short supply.”
  3. Build IT project-management capabilities: a.k.a., train and build a PMO…err, a Center of Excellence.

Here’s one point of my own, related to career paths. Project and program managers need to drive this discussion, even if it’s in their own heads. While firms could be more proactive in career planning, we own our careers. If the project is sufficiently important and strategic — whether you accept the role, refuse the role, successfully deliver the project, or light a Viking Funeral — your next move may well be out of the organization. If you’re being asked, you’ll have a choice in front of you sooner or later.

Whether you like it or not.

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