The Right Project Management Skills

New certification programs hone in on IT; begin to offer streamlined versions, IT-specific PM training.

Project management skills are hot. So hot, in fact, that the Project Management Institutes Project Management Professional certification—a vaunted certification held by a mere 40,000 people worldwide—nets IT professionals an average 14 percent salary bonus, according to Foote Partners LLCs 2001 Hot Technical Skills & Certifications Pay Index.

But the PMP has a couple of problems. First, getting it is painfully difficult. Ask PMP holder Janet Burns, director of project management for The New York Times Co.s Shared Services Center, in Norfolk, Va. Burns spent two years preparing for the PMP exam, which she took in 1999. And she couldnt sit for that exam until she had 4,500 hours of on-the-job project management experience.

But heres what really hurts: Even after all that pain, theres no guarantee that acquiring a PMP will give you the right skills to successfully shepherd an IT project. Thats because, experts say, the PMP certifies general, not IT-specific, project management skills and experience. (For a selection of new project management training options, see the resource list in eweek.coms IT Careers Center.)

"If you dont have good exposure to [IT-specific issues of] risk analysis or, say, knowing how to get into the guts of software development technologies, you can get snowed or miss things," said Tim Stanley, vice president of IT development for Harrahs Entertainment Inc., in Las Vegas. "With IT stuff ... people can get a little blindsided by technical minutiae that may have a significant impact."

Now, eWeek has learned, several IT training vendors plan to address what they see as the PMPs shortcomings by introducing streamlined, IT-focused project management training and certifications. The Center for Project Management, in San Ramon, Calif., this spring will introduce a Project Management Core Capabilities curriculum designed to prepare IT professionals for a new Project+ PM certification from the Computing Technology Industry Association. IT Project+ is geared to IT professionals with 12 months of project management experience, as opposed to the PMPs prerequisite of a whopping 4,500 hours of experience for applicants who have a bachelors degree. For its part, the Project Management Institute recently announced that it is developing a new certification, the Certified Associate in Project Management, which will require less experience than the PMP. Its also developing two Certificates of Added Qualification: one in IT systems, the second in IT networking. (For a selection of new project management training options, see the resource list in the IT Careers Center at

How interested are enterprises in IT-specific project management training and certification? At Harrahs, senior managers are taking IT-specific project management so seriously that Stanley is searching for a training company to help the casino company develop courses customized to Harrahs needs.

The payoff for IT-specific project management expertise became evident to Harrahs manager after the company put an IT-savvy project manager, Rik Reitmaier, in charge of integrating three Harveys Casino Resorts properties acquired from rival Colony Capital Inc. last year—a $675 million acquisition. The integration of systems that power the three locations casinos; restaurants; hotels; and back-end systems such as human resources, payroll and financials took a mere four months, from August to December 2001—blindingly fast when compared with the nine to 12 months it took Harrahs to integrate only one resort in an earlier project.

All that is attributable to the marriage of project management experience and domain expertise, said Stanley. Reitmaiers education focused on finance and industrial engineering, but he has been working in IT at Harrahs since 1995 in a variety of roles, from junior project manager up to director of e-procurement. He plans to take the PMP exam by July.

Joel Spolsky has seen how irrelevant project managers can be when they lack such domain knowledge. The founder of Fog Creek Software Inc., in New York, and an IT project management expert, Spolsky said, "The things that are important to doing [project management] in the real world, outside the software industry, are radically different than in the software world." For example, he said, if youre trying to build a skyscraper, dependencies are important, requiring charts to track who does what when. In contrast, with software development, dependencies are less relevant. Developers can work independently and then stitch pieces together for a finished product.

Project managers who dont get it just get in the way, said Spolsky. "Ive been on at least two projects where professional [project managers] were brought in, and they filled the walls with Gantt charts. They didnt understand, and they were irrelevant," he said.

Will employers embrace the new IT-specific project management certifications as they have the PMP? Its too soon to tell, given that details of the new programs wont be published until later this year. Still, say experts, IT professionals would do well to invest in some form of project management training. "Good project management is important across all kinds of projects," said Harrahs Stanley. "But when you get into nuances of IT ... if we can get people doing that kind of work, that has value."