Application 2 – Annotated Bibliography
126 communications of the acm | May 2010 | vol. 53 | no. 5
by blaize horner reich and chris sauer
IT projecTs are IncreasIng In scope and complexITy,
fuelled by intense business competition, ever improving technology, and complex organizational structures and processes.6 In many cases, companies turn to suppliers of IT services – systems integrators, consulting project managers, and software solutions providers – to deliver their tough projects. There are many reasons to look for outside help, including staff shortages, risk reduction, and access to specialized industry or technical knowledge. External project managers are expected not only to successfully deliver against targets, but also to help the organization realize value for money.
To understand how external IT proj- ect managers can perform successfully, two questions need to be asked:
What roles (beyond those of tradi- ˲ tional project management) must ex- ternal project managers fulfil?
How can they prepare themselves for ˲ these roles?
We conducted a set of interviews with leading external project managers (see box for details of the study), focusing on those who manage transformational IT projects.
Their answers take us beyond previ- ous discussions of the need for a proj- ect team management role and an ex- ternal business-facing role.
This article first explains the re- search study (see the exhibit) and then discusses the roles and skills required of today’s external IT project manager. Selected quotes from interviewees are shown as italicized text. It concludes with recommendations about person- al and professional development for those entering into external project manager roles.
roles of the external it Project manager the studyA sample of senior external IT project managers was created starting from our
existing industry contacts. We have extensive networks due to our work with IT supply companies and participation in professional associations. We selected individuals whom we knew personally to be senior and highly regarded and to have delivered major projects successfully. These managers were asked to suggest other interviewees who were also well regarded for their ability to successfully manage complex projects. No interviewee was more than one step removed from the individuals originally selected.
In total we interviewed 25 senior external project managers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. Most were employees of mid-size to large systems integrators, consulting project managers or solutions vendors (including representatives of such companies as Accenture, EDS, and IBM). A small minority were highly regarded freelance project managers. Our interviewees on average had 15 years of experience as project managers.
All interviews were taped, transcribed, and systematically analyzed to identify changes to roles and skills as project complexity increased. While not all project managers reported experiencing the same changes, there was enough commonality among their responses about their evolving roles and skills for us to identify emerging trends.
May 2010 | vol. 53 | no. 5 | communications of the acm 127
will undermine their long term ability to add value.
new roles, skills, and Knowledge for the external it Project manager Account manager. Traditionally, ac- count managers within a supplier firm act as the principal point of con- tact for the client, manage the rela- tionship, orchestrate sales, and take responsibility for client satisfaction.7 Today, external project managers are taking on aspects of this role.
Over the last 5 years, the responsi- bilities of project managers have grown exponentially. …every year they add more and more of the responsibilities onto the project manager which used to be on . . . the account manager
As a project manager, you are the lead person in the account.
As reported here and in earlier re- search,9 project managers are taking on more of an account management role in four ways: winning initial busi- ness; maintaining the relationship with the client; selling follow-on busi- ness, and managing profitability.
You are involved right up front at the proposal level. They want a Project Manager to be there and provide the estimates.
roles External IT project managers have al- ways been in the position of having to juggle multiple allegiances. They are employed by a supplier company and have a duty to pursue the company’s objectives, whether they are to real- ize a particular profit margin or to establish a foothold in a specific in- dustry sector. They have a client who is paying for the project and therefore has a claim on them to deliver on the contract. In addition, many project managers feel an allegiance to their profession – to their organization’s project management function, to a professional association such as the Project Management Institute, or sim- ply to their fellow project managers.
Our research shows that external IT project managers are taking on three roles in addition to the core role of managing an individual project. These roles are account manager, sur- rogate sponsor and profession leader. Each is explained briefly here and then discussed in detail with the re- quired skills and knowledge.
Project managers are often asked to take on account management re- sponsibilities because the client has developed a stronger relationship with them than with the appointed account manager. This relationship enables them to identify new areas where the supplier can add value for the client. Project managers take on surrogate sponsor responsibilities when the sponsor is unwilling1 or un- able to perform these roles. Finally, project managers take on the profes- sion leader role because it assists in the development of the supplier’s reputation in project management.
The figure here is a model of these new roles and the skills and knowledge needed to perform them. We do not mean to imply that the project man- ager replaces the account manager or the sponsor. The roles are fulfilled by the external project manager to the ex- tent necessary on a given project.
At the intersection of these roles, the effective external project manager contributes value for all parties. At its best, this can represent a win-win-win. At any specific point, a project manag- er may appropriately emphasise one role over the others. However, failure to juggle them adequately over time
In addition, the client increasingly seeks not merely quantitative assur- ance but wants to make a qualitative assessment of the project manager’s ability to deliver:
The clients were saying “I want to see if this person can walk and talk and chew bubblegum at the same time. Can I live with this guy for 2 years? Do I want to put a 100 million dollar strategic business situation into their hands?”
Project managers’ critical role in their clients’ business positions them to win the client’s trust and then to identify opportunities for new proj- ects or extensions.
[I now have a role] keeping an open eye for opportunities, build- ing relationships with clients to promote more work.
Supplier organizations have in some cases converted this potential into concrete revenue targets.
I have responsibilities for revenue growth in accounts that I am in- volved in.
In order to fulfill the account man- ager role, external project managers have had to acquire sales skills. Typi- cally, these are soft selling skills in- volving creating situations in which
128 communications of the acm | May 2010 | vol. 53 | no. 5
clients want to buy a new service or extensions to the existing project. Surrogate sponsor. The idea that con- sultants can be their clients’ trusted advisor may be seen to conflict with the self-interested position they have more traditionally adopted.2,3,4 How- ever, as projects have become criti- cal to executives’ fulfillment of their role, so project managers have found themselves propelled not only into the trusted advisor role but often beyond it to become a surrogate sponsor. Re- sponsibilities that might normally be thought to belong to the client are passed on to the project manager:
There is a shift towards…support- ing the business strategy of cli- ents, helping clients with the busi- ness case, or finding justification for the execution of certain tacti- cal initiatives.
Coaching the executive sponsor is not unusual:
I will spend 4 hours coaching the client to give a speech that they present.
In some cases, the project man- ager takes the place of the sponsor in front of executive management or the Board. At its most extreme, the spon- sor calls upon the project manager to take over all his responsibilities:
Sponsors just want the problem to go away, and once they’ve as- signed the PM, in their minds the problem has now been delegat- ed….It’s a systemic thing. They come to realize the importance of project management, but as soon as they realize that, PMs become responsible for everything.
In order to fulfill the surrogate sponsor role, the project manager needs business knowledge – both ge- neric knowledge of business manage- ment and specific knowledge of the client’s business. Networking skills assist the project manager to over- come their inherent disadvantage compared to internal project manag- ers – their lack of contacts and friends to keep them apprised of relevant internal information and an under- standing of the power structure. The external project manager must have the skills to rapidly build a network
within the client organization and get it activated:5
We might see ourselves as working for, say, the Operations Manager to deliver the project, but actually he is the wrong stakeholder and we have to quickly find our way into the organisation to find out who the right people are to make the project happen.
Armed with both business knowl- edge and networking skills, the proj- ect manager can stand in when neces- sary for the sponsor. Profession leader. The third new role the external IT project manager is called upon to perform is that of pro- fession leader. As they become more senior, instead of commanding larger and larger staff complements, they are expected to be more visible, more knowledge producing, and more a role model for others. Where once project managers would disregard any activ- ity that was not directly instrumen- tal to delivering the current project, a broader perspective has emerged. This is necessary to demonstrate ap- propriate thought leadership and to position the supplier as able to take on ever more ambitious challenges.
Our client asked what we were do- ing to improve the way we managed projects. That is why I am now examin- ing ways of improving project manage- ment competence in our company.
This role can be internally fo- cused:
I’m expected to mentor junior people…help them move up, and share my lessons learned and best practice
Or the role expectations can be ex- ternally focused:
I am expected to speak and write and mentor other project manag- ers and participate in PMI chap- ter events.
The profession leader role oper- ates within the supplier organization and the wider profession. People in this role innovate, invent, and apply new project management practices to address the increasingly challenging environment. Through networking and communication skills, the proj- ect manager both disseminates new
ideas and techniques, but also identi- fies and maintains contact with indi- viduals with whom s/he can work suc- cessfully on future projects. This adds value for both suppliers and clients at the same time as supporting the proj- ect management profession. Value contributor. The critical change that has enabled the external project manager to become a value contribu- tor has been the shift from short term to long term focus.8 We can use the Prisoners’ Dilemma game as an anal- ogy. If the game is played only once, the players obtain advantage in adopt- ing a win-lose strategy. If the game is played over multiple rounds there is greater incentive to pursue a longer term win-win. So, too with projects. Suppliers now anticipate long term engagements with major clients and see advantage in having their project managers develop deep client rela- tionships. If project managers have an entrepreneurial mindset, they can look beyond the boundaries of the existing project and develop new op- portunities.10 Equipped with sales, networking, and business skills, they can take a proactive leadership stance that balances supplier, client, and professional interests.
recommendations for the external Project manager Although this article does not dis- cuss the essentials of project man- agement, we recognize that the new roles are offered only after a project manager has shown the ability to ex- ecute. So the basics are critical, as is a foundation of integrity and personal accountability.
Typically, IT project managers come from a technical background and are not always equipped to play management and entrepreneurial roles. However, by crafting a long term self development plan, junior project managers should be able to take on increasing responsibility and visibility within the firm, the client, and the profession. Below is a list of recommended actions to take to sup- port the development of the skills and knowledge needed in the future. Al- though this list of actions may seem like a daunting one, it is a long term plan. Becoming a great project man- ager is a marathon, not a sprint.
May 2010 | vol. 53 | no. 5 | communications of the acm 129
References 1. Berggren, C., Soderlund, J., and Anderson, C. Clients,
contractors, and consultants: The consequences of organizational fragmentation in contemporary project environments. Project Management Journal 32, 3, (2001), 39-48.
2. Gable, G.G. Consultant engagement for computer systems selection: A pro-active client role in small businesses. Information and Management 20, 2, (1991), 83-94.
3. Gable G.G. A multidimensional model of client success when engaging external consultants: Influence of third parties on organizations. Management Science 42, 8, (1996), 1175-1195.
4. Gable, G.G., and Chin W.W. Client versus consultant influence on client involvement in computer system selection projects: A two actor model of the theory of planned behavior, presented at 22nd International Conference on Information Systems. New Orleans, LA., (2001), 249-260.
5. Gladwell, M. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Little, Brown, Boston, (2000).
6. Sauer, C. and Cuthbertson, C.. The state of IT project management in the U.K. 2002-2003, Computer Weekly; (2002).
7. Turner, R.J, and Keegan, A. Mechanisms of governance in the project-based organization: The role of broker and steward. European Management Journal 19, 3 (2001), 254-267.
8. Turner, R.J. and Mueller, R. On the nature of the
project as a temporary organization. International Journal of Project Management 21, 1 (2003), 1-8.
9. Webber, S.S. and Torti, M.T. Project managers doubling as client account executives. Academy of Management Executive, 18, 1 (2004), 60-71.
10. Winston E. R. IS consultants and the change agent role. Computer Personnel 20, 4 (2002), 55-74.
Blaize Horner Reich is an RBC Professor of Technology and Innovation at the Administration Simon Fraser University, in Canada.
Chris Sauer is a Fellow in Information Management at the Said Business School and Templeton College, in Oxford University.
© 2010 ACM 0001-0782/10/0500 $10.00
recommendations for education and action
for education Take a sales course and practice its 5
precepts. Learn how to map the formal, political, and budgetary power structures within the client organization. Learn how to identify and size opportunities as well as how to introduce them and influence the client.
Take an MBA or other general business 5 program. Equip yourself with the language that business speaks. If you don’t understand the strategic issues in marketing, finance, strategy and human resources, you cannot take a part in discussions about project benefits.
Take a public speaking course or join 5 associations such as Toastmasters. Become confident at making compelling points in meetings or as a featured speaker.
Take a negotiation course and practice its 5 precepts. Learn to negotiate from interests and create win-win solutions.
Take a coaching course. Learn how to 5 understand and inspire great performance in others.
for action: If you are on a long term project with a 5
client, take every opportunity to learn more about the strategy, financials, and competition that the client faces. Be as detailed as you can, since each business unit will have a different profile.
Be ready to focus your career on an industry 5 vertical and become deeply knowledgeable about this sector. This will allow you to work both locally and globally in this sector. Gain deep knowledge about this sector through personal research, attending industry meetings or joining professional associations.
Develop a networking plan within the client 5 organization. Get to know the key individuals and the up-and-comers – their goals and constraints, their history and aspirations.
Establish your thought leadership within 5 the profession. Reflect on your projects and develop lessons from them. Take opportunities to share these ideas by speaking or writing.
Take opportunities to participate in new 5 ventures, new approaches. Develop your entrepreneurial muscles. Move out of your comfort zone and take some risks.
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