How to Become an IT Project Manager
Project management is a challenging but rewarding career path. The role requires both technical knowledge and the ‘soft skills’; you need to be an effective communicator and leader, able to work well under pressure and handle teams of different personalities.
Here’s our guide on how to become an IT project manager.
What does an IT project manager do?
IT project managers oversee the planning and execution of technology-related projects. Each project can vary in scope and requirements, so they can work on anything from updating specific applications to initiating a company-wide infrastructure overhaul.
Essentially, IT project managers ensure that all deliverables and milestones are met and that everyone involved with the project is kept up-to-date with the latest information. This means the manager assigns tasks, monitors progress and deals with issues as they arise. They are the main point of contact for stakeholders and senior management, so they will have to prepare regular reports on the project progress.
This is a complex role, with the manager constantly shifting between different areas of expertise, all under tight deadlines. They need to quickly identify issues that may arise during the planning or implementation of a project and come up with solutions that will work for everyone.
The most critical part of an IT project manager’s job is ensuring that projects are completed successfully; it is their fault if this doesn’t happen, so there is enormous pressure on the manager to get it right the first time.
Why become an IT project manager?
A career in project management is varied; no two projects will be the same. You will have the opportunity to work with a variety of teams across multiple companies and industries, building up a wealth of experience that keeps the job interesting. For instance, one project could be working with a team of developers to upgrade their company’s software. The next may be in a completely different industry, working with a manufacturing company to install new hardware.
Shape the future of business
With technology constantly evolving, IT project managers are regularly required to think ahead and plan how to integrate emerging tech into workplaces. For example, you could manage a project to switch over from paper files to digital documents. This would involve finding out what options are available to the company and then working with other employees on how these can be best used to improve operations.
IT project managers can often shape the future of a business, implementing new technologies and overseeing infrastructure overhauls that give that business a competitive edge in a rapidly changing work environment.
IT project managers work in challenging circumstances; their decisions determine the success or failure of potentially huge projects. This level of responsibility means these managers must be experts in their fields and possess a wealth of knowledge and experience. As such, they can command high salaries, with IT project managers in the UK averaging around £50,000 per year.
Freedom to change industries
An IT project manager has the opportunity to work with different teams in a variety of organisations, allowing them to build up an impressive wealth of experience in various business settings. You can apply your project management knowledge to projects across every industry, giving you the freedom to work in areas that interest you.
Technology is becoming an increasingly central part of business operations, so more project managers are required to integrate new applications into workplaces. As time goes on, digitalisation across every industry means this demand will only increase.
IT Project Management Skills
Project management experience is not enough to be successful in this career. A good IT project manager couples technical skills with an analytical and strategic mind, balancing multiple elements of a project for successful delivery.
IT project managers must work well under pressure; issues will inevitably arise during the implementation of a project. These problems need to be quickly identified and dealt with to minimise damage and ensure the project remains on track.
It’s essential that IT project managers communicate well with both their team and outside stakeholders. This involves explaining complicated technology in terms that everyone can understand and having the diplomatic skills necessary to resolve conflicts between members of a team and address questions or concerns from senior management about a project.
Understanding of business processes
Any new technology needs to integrate seamlessly with existing processes. IT project managers must understand how their projects will work within a business; you may need to work with subject matter experts, such as accountants or marketers, on how best to implement technology that improves their productivity.
IT projects often operate under tight timescales, so you need to organise your team and execute plans quickly. Throughout the project, you need to keep track of progress and adjust elements to accommodate changing priorities; this requires a cool head and a methodical approach to managing your time.
You need to be an expert in the technology you are overseeing. For instance, if a project includes implementing a new type of software, you need to know how it works before creating a plan for its implementation and working with stakeholders on its benefits. This knowledge will help identify problems during the project that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Businesses adopt new technologies to maintain a competitive edge, so IT project managers need to be at the forefront of developments in their field. You should have a good understanding of how emerging tech will affect future business operations and plan for this when advising your clients.
A business will typically hire an IT project manager to oversee a project from the initial stages through to completion.
For larger projects, this may involve working with many stakeholders and managing multiple teams simultaneously. Regardless of what specific responsibilities you have, the following tasks are likely to be part of your role:
- Overseeing the project.
- Delegating tasks to team members.
- Using project management software to plan, monitor progress and keep track of deadlines.
- Identifying and solving problems that arise.
- Where necessary, adjust the project plan to incorporate changes in priorities.
- Preparing and delivering regular reports to key stakeholders and clients on project progress and advising on any changes.
- For larger projects, liaising with other managers to ensure successful delivery.
- Upon project completion, handing over the product to the client.
- Providing documentation and training for users of the new systems.
- Evaluating the project and making any necessary improvements for next time.
Due to the nature of the role, your responsibilities are dependent on the scope and requirements of the project. For instance, for larger projects, you may only be in charge of a specific element, reporting to a senior project manager.
How to get into IT project management
Project managers do not need any specific qualifications to enter the profession. However, as you will be working with technology, a related degree in computer science or IT is helpful. IT project manager apprenticeships are becoming increasingly common; they can be completed alongside other work or a full-time course.
Training through an official body like the Project Management Institute will give you invaluable skills to be a successful project manager. These qualifications are designed to work alongside a university degree or apprenticeship to help aspiring managers develop their careers.
Understanding specific project management methods are critical for your success. PRINCE2 and Agile are two qualifications that will give you a thorough understanding of popular management methods. Acquiring a project management certification demonstrates your commitment to the profession and forms a foundation for your career.
As a project management professional, you will need to draw on your extensive field knowledge and adapt it for the needs of a specific project.
Working alongside experienced project managers, even through an internship or part-time work, will give you some basic knowledge and an overview of what this career can offer. You will gain real-world experience of how projects work and the issues that can arrive, which will be invaluable as you train and develop.
As you will be working with technology, working within the field of IT will give you good transferrable skills that you can apply as a project manager.
Your project management education and technical knowledge will be important when applying for jobs. However, at your interview, you will also be tested on your leadership and personal qualities; critical elements in a project management job.
You will likely begin as an assistant project manager, aiding senior staff in managing projects. This will give you valuable experience in understanding project management processes.
With experience, you will likely be entrusted with more complex, high-level roles, eventually overseeing your own projects and managing a team. From there, you can move into freelancing and contract work, giving you the freedom to choose what projects you want to work on.
Technology is a constantly evolving field, so project managers can move into different areas of IT to keep their job enjoyable. For example, if you specialise in website management, you may wish to move into cybersecurity. This level of choice keeps the job interesting, allowing you to have a varied and unique career.
How to become an IT project manager
Being a great project manager requires more than just technical expertise. The ‘soft skills’ are just as essential; you need to be an assertive, effective leader, able to manage different personalities and lead your team to deliver the project successfully.
As complex projects require coordination between different internal and external parties, you must be a clear, effective communicator. You may need to explain complex technical concepts to people who are not well-versed in these areas.
As a project manager, you will take responsibility for your team’s successes and failures. As such, you must show that you are willing to work hard alongside your team members and lead them through difficulties.
You must be a team leader, co-worker and supervisor all at once. Project managers have to deal with both formal and informal interactions. On the same day, you may need to deliver an update report to senior management and then have a one-on-one talk with an underperforming team member.
Ongoing professional development is critical as technology moves quickly, and new products emerge regularly. This ensures you have the necessary skills to deliver successful projects for your clients.
Essentially, to be a good project manager, you need to take full responsibility for a project through success and failure. Everything hinges on your ability to lead, so you must own up to failures. If you have the necessary skills and qualities, project management can be an exciting and rewarding career.
General steps of an IT project
You must understand how projects work so you can effectively manage them. As mentioned previously, every project will have different requirements, and you may need to apply a different project management methodology dependent on its scope. However, most projects will follow these basic steps:
Your team identifies the project’s main objective. The project’s goals and timeline are evaluated against the cost in a feasibility study. If this is successful, the project progresses to the planning stage.
With your team, you decide on the tasks needed to complete the project, prioritising those critical for delivery. You create a timeline and allocate resources, preparing as much as possible for any issues that may occur.
You execute the plan, guiding your team through the tasks and ensuring they meet key deadlines.
Project Monitoring and Control:
This is an ongoing process throughout the project lifecycle. As the project manager, you will need to monitor progress, using software to evaluate key performance indicators that show whether the new systems are integrating into the existing infrastructure. You will need to prepare reports with this information and present them to the client, keeping them informed of the project’s progress.
Once the final deliverable has been completed and the new systems tested, you oversee the transfer of ownership from your team to the client. Success metrics determine whether the project was successful; you evaluate completed tasks, the timeline and budget, and consult with your team about any improvements.
Things to consider
Making the tough calls
One of the main tasks of a project manager is making big decisions that may affect the course of a project. Whether it’s changing aspects of the project or deciding whether to terminate it early, you will need to be comfortable with tough calls and explain them.
Making difficult decisions under pressure is one of the most challenging parts of being an IT project manager. You will have to carefully weigh up the variables and make the best decision for the project and the client.
A hard lesson that every project manager learns is that not everything will work out as planned. Unforeseen circumstances can cause difficulties, delay projects or even cause them to be terminated.
Successful project managers are able to learn from failure. Each time this occurs, they use it to inform future decisions and make their projects more successful. This discipline is an essential part of being a good IT project manager.
Not a well-defined role
The project management position covers a variety of responsibilities that change based on the project’s scope and requirements. As such, you must be comfortable adapting to different environments and roles.
For instance, you may be the leading manager for one project, leading the team and overseeing all aspects of the project. For another, you may be working under senior management, only responsible for a part of the larger project and reporting to them rather than the client.
The IT project management world is a daunting one in the IT Support sector. You must have a solid understanding of business processes and strong technical and management skills. A project’s success is dependent on your ability to lead, motivate and delegate with a clear vision for successful project delivery.
The IT project management career path is rewarding for those who are driven and committed. You can have excellent opportunities for advancement, allowing you to manage projects of increasing complexity and expand your skills. Becoming a project manager could give you substantial job opportunities and lead to an exciting and varied career.
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