Features

Method to madness

There are few elements within an IT team that touch as many departments within an organisation and remain a complex beast as project management. IT managers across the region and over the globe struggle to implement and enforce project management across their organisations. And the reasons for it continuing to bewilder departments are multiple.

“I think the whole idea of a project being unique has not sunk in. People still confuse operations with projects. It is not entirely unusual to come across IT heads that think regular backups of their data and software is a project in itself. Most organisations do not have a framework to segregate normal operations from project management. The notion in the industry is that such efforts are meant only for large construction projects,” says Vikram Suri, managing director – Middle East and India at Sage Software.

“The history of this is related to the fact that there is no touch-and-feel or tangible element to IT projects. And their element is noted in history as well. IT in the western world has already achieved a certain level of maturity; due to the amount of time the western world has had to invest considerablle cost and effort to build an efficient learning cycle. That same level of maturity and understanding has not yet transmitted and theefore not been absorbed in the developing world. The lack of a touchand- feel element is the biggest contributor to the fact that project management remains a complex function within organisations,” says Krishna Gopal, VP, MEA-sales at Tech Mahindra.

Within the Middle East the lack of maturity among organisations is one of the most crucial factors for the continuing issues faced with project management. Besides this there are several challenges that continue to plague the speciality.

Counting them
Chief among these challenges is that of simple communication – the exchange of ideas and requirements between the business team and the IT team.

“The IT manager or team member in any organisation wants the business leader to be able to article
every one of his requirements. He would be very happy if the business user was able to define his needs field-by-field, so the IT guy can just programme it and live happily ever after. That is the ideal he lives by. The business user, however, wants the IT team member to be able to tell him what works best for him. So the business user does not want to commit to anything, and the IT team member wants him to commit to everything from day one. This is where the problem starts because the reality is somewhere in between,” says Gopal.

To solve such a challenge, the higher management in an organisation needs to be able the nail the business user to specific requirements. According to Gopal, a mature PMO (project management office)
or business analysts that sit between the groups to translate have seen things work much better.

The continuing confusion in project management roles – wherein operational staff are pulled in to do project management – creates problems, as the organisation struggles to balance the roles in an effective fashion.

“Project management should not simply be an added responsibility. In more organisations, project management is yet not recognised as a distinct but function. For companies to move to the next stage; it is important for them to realise that it is an important function that requires structural thinking patterns and organised execution,” states Suri.

He adds, “Many large organisations in the region generally already have a basic PMO. But setting up as a central office and ensuring that this office has some far reaching influence blessed by top management which cuts across specific dept heads whose jobs are assigned by central project team is slightly more. It shows signs of an organisation that has the basic recognition of project management as a methodology,” points out Suri.

While this might be the case in the majority of organisations there are yet others which become examples for the other extreme as well. Nicolai Solling director of technology services at helpAG says out that not every project needs the PMO, and there is a fine line that should not be crossed when defining PMO requirements.

The general lack of resources and a knowledgeable staff affect the speciality of project management in must the same way it affects any other organisation in the region.

“There are definitely customers who are doing project management very well. But the general lack of understanding and trained staff continue to affect it adversely. Companies must ensure that they pick the
right control mechanism for the delivery of each project. Failing to recognise the right delivery mechanism could mean that it may not get the right results at the right time or to their satisfaction,” says Solling.

Exposure and practice
It is true that when it comes to project management, the Middle East is far behind its counterparts in the Western world. But the entire comparison could be wrong, industry stakeholders believe, since they
have token longer achieve this maturity in processes and management.

Solling opines, “The region is witnessing lots of changes as IT in increasingly considered a strategic business operation. Today, business owners focus on assigning the right budget to ensure efficient management of critical business projects.”

“Project management can turn out to be personality thing, rather than a process thing. I have seen cases where when there are too many people involved in a project; everyone tends to think the elephant looks
a certain way and works based on their particular understanding and outlook. Every project requires a person who looks at things from a bird’s eye view point, brings together IT and business objectives
effectively and has the power to implement his will to get the project done. That might seem like a tall order and proves to be in many organisations – regional or otherwise,” states Gopal.

While there might be no perfect path to achieving a good PMO or ensuring that the current PMO is consistently resultoriented and functions at the highest levels of efficiency, there are best practices and standards that can be used to guide an organisation to a large extent.

“More IT departments need to undergo the PMI certification as this will give them a degree of exposure, working with some of the western projects. Today this part of the world is about trading and trying to eke
out savings. It is about trying to get western quality at eastern prices. If those are the levels of engagement then behaviour is likely to be along those lines as well,” says Gopal.

Suri agrees, “The PMI document can become your ultimate guide; it should be adopted in a structured manner and updated regularly with processes across the organisation. With that the firm can be assured of keeping abreast with the latest in methodologies and controls. Having said that, it is important to highlight that when you look at best practices you can have different implementation strategies that may
be driven by different drivers. Unfortunately, everything is subjective to the organisation’s business goals.”

For most organisations in the Middle East this is just the start of the journey when it comes to project management within IT. It is likely that they will make a lot of mistakes, either because they are unable to use the standards or because it is not customised enough for them. The belief though; is that they will learn from these mistakes and continue to climb up the curve to further maturity.

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