Business Smarts Trump Book Smarts in Project Management, Gartner Says

Visionary companies will push project and portfolio management from the top down to develop basic management skills at all levels

Like many IT professionals, your eyes probably start to glaze over whenever you hear someone talking about "portfolio" anything. To a large number of professionals, however, the word portfolio isn't just a buzzword: it's a way of life. There are project portfolios, product portfolios, software portfolios, and (of course) plain-old asset portfolios.

It's no wonder, then, that program management -- or the science of managing portfolios of different assets -- has exploded in popularity.

Industry arbiter Gartner Inc. acknowledges that managing your projects, software, and service assets as portfolios isn't such a bad idea. As some advocates argue, the portfolio-based approach can help you better understand your IT spending, more effectively target your IT dollars, and improve the reliability, availability, and performance of your IT assets.

If this sounds too good to be true, just watch. If Gartner is right, there's going to be a shake-out in the project management ranks as organizations increasingly tap business-savvy managers -- and dedicated product and portfolio management (PPM) or [program management office (PMO) tools -- in place of hotshot IT pros with project management certifications.

Gartner predicts that companies will start to push project and portfolio management from the top down, with the idea of developing basic management skills at all levels of the enterprise. As this happens, Gartner predicts, traditional project management best practices -- which developed out of the construction industry -- will fall out of favor, supplanted by a business-centric approach that emphasizes a portfolio-based methodology.

"The bubble of interest surrounding project management is about to burst. The discipline will always be there, but it will not evolve into more than an effective tool in a professional's toolbox," write Gartner analysts Audrey Apfel, Donna Fitzgerald, Michael Hanford, and Lars Mieritz.

The Endangered Project Manager

What's not to like about hotshot project managers? They're expensive, for one thing. Second -- and perhaps most important -- a professional project management certificate doesn’t guarantee success.

"Organizations that are hiring project managers are conducting long searches and paying high prices, yet often express dissatisfaction with the value that a formal project management certification brings," the Gartner analysts write. "It is becoming increasingly clear that what is needed are skilled business managers who are goal-focused and who can navigate complex organizations, introduce and execute change, and help set priorities. These skilled business managers must have the skills and capabilities to lead and manage ad hoc, mixed collections of employees and contractors in an end-to-end delivery effort that contributes success elements to organizational goals."

There are a few reasons for this, according to Gartner. For one, the firm notes that many of today's project management best practices are borrowed from a specific vertical -- the construction industry -- and are both too linear and outdated.

"The developers of industry project management standards and those who gave us today's project management practices [which issue from construction industry roots] are not focused on providing practices and guidance aimed at the business-embedded project manager," they point out. "So, from a market perspective, real skills, combined with experience, will triumph over the ability to correctly answer questions that lead to a project management 'certification.' Business skills and savvy will triumph over book smarts."

One upshot, the Gartner quartet predicts, is that IT pros who take the certification route to jumpstart their careers in project management will have only limited success. "Those following the traditional project manager path … will have trouble rising to the top of their respective organizations," they argue. "[C]onventional certification approaches … perpetuate the same linear, over-detailed methodologies that do not work for project management," the analysts continue.

"At the program management level, understanding the business strategy and direction, having the ability to correctly interpret and refine high-level business goals, and being able to create a compelling need for change and then manage the change and its impact are better places to start."

Pervasive Program Management? Enter PPM of a different sort -- pervasive program management. That's what happens when organizations launch top-down initiatives to try to inculcate management expertise at all levels of a company.

"[Organizations should] Invest in basic project management training for all knowledge workers," they indicate. "[They should] focus this training on planning, leading, organizing, and controlling, which transcend any particular business segment. It is the ability to use these basic project management capabilities integrated as part of the general work of the business or organization that ensures the flexibility necessary to maximize value and competitiveness in an increasingly global and competitive business environment."

Here, too, Gartner sees an opportunity for savvy IT pros. "[Organizations should] consider developing already successful and savvy business and IT managers into program managers," they conclude. "This capability should be focused on the achievement of needed business outcomes, and on the planning and management of change in … the organization."

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