Leaders vs. Project Managers
Susan brings a unique background to her project management engagements. For many years she worked in store management roles at retail chains including Kmart and SportMart. Responsible for opening new stores, Hilty developed firsthand experience with the various people and complex processes that need to be setup and managed for a store to operate successfully. Susan said, “In retail, there were so many moving parts from HR, Payroll, and Finance – my favorite part was figuring out new processes on the fly and mentoring my staff to adopt those processes. We were not given exact instructions on how to open a store. We had to find the necessary resources and make sure that the goal was achieved.”
When I asked Susan how this experience related to her later work in IT consulting and project management, she said “many project managers do not understand how to synthesize varying (often small and inaccurate) amounts of information from stakeholders into a workable plan, and shepherd that plan up and down the decision chain to get things done. Being a leader adds a layer of value to the project management role.”
Building Houses Without Architects
Further along in her career, Susan Hilty developed a knack for complex mergers and acquisitions. Systems and processes were being integrated from many locations or entirely different companies. It was during this experience that she saw the need for a well-run Program Management Office (PMO). “At the time, the CFO budgeted for networked imaging software to cut document production costs and the CIO had the mandate to do software setup and installation for hundreds of users on a timeline. The only problem was, without a PMO taking ownership of the project, no one realized that we had a fleet of copiers in house that were not network capable. We had to procure all new equipment that was not a part of the original budget. If there were a functioning PMO, something that basic would have been uncovered in the project requirements assessment.”
Susan continues to take new project assignments where different stakeholders hold elements of business requirements, software, workflow, training and finances, yet they do not coalesce into a project definition. She said, “It’s like saying you’d like to build a house. You have gotten the loan, ordered a bunch of lumber, hired a painter, and set your move-in date. When I ask what the house will look like when its done, you say you’ll let me know when it’s built.” Susan points out that houses do not get built without the involvement of a good architect and a good general contractor. In addition to their traditional task and resource allocation roles, good IT Project Managers often have to be the architect and general contractor on projects. “I often have to educate upwards, to tell the very people that brought me in to manage a project, what the vision and architecture is.”
Companies Do Not Need IT Project Administrators
Companies have a very narrow vision of what a Project Manager is. Susan Hilty feels that the companies enjoying the most IT project success bring in good project management talent early in the cycle. “I screen my engagements very closely now. There are projects out there where the PM is simply being brought in to run Microsoft Project. Those projects ultimately struggle because project management is seen as an administrative task. When the PM speaks up on architectural or strategic issues, many different decision makers must be consulted. Often the PM is perceived as slowing the project down, or business owners get upset with the questions.” When I asked her to describe her ideal situation Susan said, “When I am in early enough to ensure a proper blueprint for the project. When I can add value to the creation and adoption of new processes, I am the most effective”.
Tips for Surviving as an IT Contractor
Susan has worked with IT Staffing and Consulting firms such as Hudson IT for over 5 years. I asked Susan about what it’s like being an IT contractor in today’s economic environment. She said that her #1 tip is to always keep your own eyes open for new engagements. “The days of companies carrying a huge bench of IT consultants are behind us”, said Susan. “You can’t just stay with one firm and draw a paycheck. Be proactive in this market and keep your eyes and ears open as you get closer to the end of your contract terms. Always work with your staffing partners to see what channels are open to you, and choose projects that will continue to build your capabilities.”
I sincerely hope that Hudson IT can keep quality Project Managers like Susan Hilty on the projects they love for years to come.
- Project Management in Plain English
- Project Management Event Filled With Risk
- Going the IT Recruiter Route
- The IT Skills Shift to Vendor Management
- PM’s and BA’s in the Trenches