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.

Why can’t we plan for leadership?

Glen Alleman asks “Why is it so hard?” and focuses on one of the most difficult line items for IT projects to fund: project/program management, including contract planning and controls. 

I’ve had varying success in positioning these resources, so I’m still stumped.  Arguments that worked for one initiative failed for what should have been a similar initiative. 

So here are two questions to you all:

  1. What arguments, research, findings, etc. have been EFFECTIVE in ensuring that your projects or programs have the leadership they need? 
  2. Does these “effective” factors work better for one type of project over another?  In other words, do some types of projects lend themselves to “selling” project management better than others?

The unasked change control question

This change will be cool...it has fire.

This change will be cool...it has fire.

When evaluating change requests, I’ve seen many of the same questions asked:

Do we have the needed budget?
Do we have the right resources?
Have all the business partners signed off on this change?

More sophisticated approaches will also bring focus on the benefits, risks, and added complexities that the change will introduce.  However, I’ve only seen two change control boards ask this question:

What will we NOT do if we accept this change request?

In my experience, raising this topic clarifies much about the change.  First, it validates that the sign-offs referenced above weren’t simply a formality.  For example, I’m reassured when the requester can say that “we looked at these three options…” or “this scope change had a higher benefit than the other two proposals”.

This question also surfaces risks that the change will introduce.  In one case, I saw a very plausible change for a new entry screen proposed.  The costs, resources, and benefits were all in order.  However, the “what won’t you be doing” question produced blank stares.  A few probing questions surfaced what wouldn’t be done: the team has assumed away two weeks of testing effort to make room for the change. 

Request denied.

m = F/a

Finally broke the inertia and got the blog started.  I hope I can keep up the momentum!

My focus is on getting initiatives to produce something useful, so we’re going to chat a lot about strategy execution, knowledge management, and project, program, and portfolio management.  Also, since I lead an enterprise PMO of sorts, I’ll put out a bit of chaff on starting, growing, and succeeding with project management organizations.

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