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Project Management for IT Pros: An Interview with Rita Mulcahy

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Tim Warner, host of the InformIT Certification Reference Guide, interviews Rita Mulcahy about her new Cisco Press book PM Crash Course™ for IT Professionals, how an IT executive makes sense of the often-confusing world of PM certifications, and how an IT decision maker can identify and avoid the most common PM pitfalls.
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Tim Warner: Many, if not most, IT executives, are project managers, whether they consciously realize it or not. How does your new book, PM Crash Course™ for IT Professionals, address this large group of industry professionals?

Rita Mulcahy: In simple terms, the book “opens a door“ for them in two critical ways. First, it allows them to determine exactly what they don’t know about managing projects, without wasting time pouring through an academic text or a project management standards document. Second, it offers them the opportunity to quickly fill the gaps in their project management knowledge, and learn the tools and techniques that are MOST important to successful project completion.

TW: As an IT executive begins to wake up to the reality of having to hone his or her project management skill set, the exec is confronted with a veritable “alphabet soup” of PM standards and certifications: Six Sigma, ITIL, Kaizen, PMI, et cetera. How does the IT executive begin to make sense of them all?

RM: The good news for the IT executive is, the tools and techniques in this book are universally applicable, independent of the certifications they hold or the methodologies their companies have adopted. Regardless of the type of car you drive, the steps to move it from point A to point B are still the same — you get in, you start it, you push the pedal, and you steer. Once in a while, you use the brake. Each of the methodologies you mention might use different terminology, but this book focuses on applying project management tools and ideas to the real-world. Standards documents and certification exam specifications have a markedly different focus.

TW: In your PM Crash Course Book you include an appendix that contains a number of case study-type interviews with actual IT project managers. Without “letting the cat out of the bag” too much, could you share with our readers some of your most significant findings?

RM: Throughout this book, project management is looked at as a vehicle for focusing the existing expertise of the IT department on making projects happen faster, cheaper and easier. The key phrase here is “focusing the existing expertise.” As companies continue to treat the art and science of project management as a legitimate way to impact the bottom line, they are surprised by the fact that their technical and IT knowledge is becoming better utilized as well. The Appendix of this book is designed to show readers that an increased focus on project management can indeed improve the IT operation as a whole, citing stories of how other companies have already done it.

TW: Many IT managers work for organizations who are bound by federal compliance regulations, such as SOX, HIPAA, PCI, and so forth. How can these IT decision makers use your book to help them navigate these potentially hazardous legal waters?

RM: When it comes to compliance, we have to keep in mind why these types of regulations were originally put in place — to force companies to better understand what they’re doing, track their initiatives, stay organized, and effectively use their corporate resources whenever possible. A structured approach to project management aligns perfectly with these goals, and the tools outlined in this book are designed specifically to assist companies in reaching them.”

TW: For an IT professional who is embracing his or her first role as an IT project manager, what are your suggestions for attaining initial familiarity with IT project management fundamentals? What are the initial landmines that should be avoided?

RM: To me, the best way to become familiar with the fundamentals of IT project management is to read this book. If I didn’t believe this, I wouldn’t have written it. Readers of this book can rest assured they are being sent in the right direction, and are receiving real-world information and tricks of the trade they can begin using on projects immediately. My goal in writing this book was to show people that IT project management can be easier than they thought.

In terms of landmines, there are obviously too many to count when it comes to IT implementations. I think this book does a wonderful job of covering some of the most common ones: gathering accurate requirements, establishing realistic project milestones, avoiding scope creep, properly managing stakeholder expectations, understanding why IT projects fail, and so on. The book itself literally includes the knowledge and experiences of thousands of project managers who have already walked in the reader’s shoes, without all of the unnecessary discussion and theory.

TW: In this troubled economy, many out-of-work folks are transitioning into IT, some of whom carry project management expertise from other industries. What is one thing can people do to help assure a safe and stable career?

RM: The key to long-term success as a project manager is to always understand issues from management’s perspective. It is not uncommon for project managers to fall into the routine of blaming management for all project-related problems — unclear requirements, lack of resources, unrealistic schedules, and so on. But good project managers understand that ultimately, any gap in requirements, resources or scheduling is their responsibility alone. The job of a project manager is to find and resolve gaps between management expectation and project reality by bringing them to management’s attention, then having a realistic and respectful conversation about how best to handle them. Project managers who understand this have a much better chance of keep their existing jobs — or finding a new one — in a tough economy.

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