Professionals working in IT and cyber security don’t always think of managing their work as a project – but they should.
Let’s pretend you work in IT as an administrator supporting a large company’s email servers and you need to roll out a new update or patch the servers for security vulnerabilities. These evolutions could affect thousands of end users and require the involvement of numerous stakeholders across the company.
Traditionally, this hasn’t always been handled well by those of us in IT, resulting in a patchwork approach across the network without planning for dependencies, unknowingly exposing vulnerabilities and with nobody really tracking the work through to its completion.
Such activities are, effectively, projects and should be run as such. Unfortunately, I have heard numerous IT and cyber security professionals question why it matters and why they should care about project management.
Often, these professionals equate project management with large installations that take months or years, or a cumbersome and obstructive framework of policies. But, nothing could be further from the truth.
I have instead found that having project management skills can both help to manage work more smoothly and accelerate your IT career.
Why project management in IT?
Problems in IT often come up because people are used to working on a smaller scale network, which doesn’t require formal project management skills. After all, if you are making a change to a small business network that only affects fifteen employees, you can quickly coordinate that just by walking around the office.
However, you need planning and process skills when you begin to work on larger networks or conduct cyber security activities, especially in bigger, multinational companies.
In fact, it’s essential to get ahead of the dependencies, such as having systems that are not current or compatible with the latest software updates, prior to executing updates or rolling out patches. If you don’t, then you could cause downtime and extra costs to recover from the problems or vulnerabilities you have introduced.
More junior IT people tend to be good at handling the technical requirements but less so with planning and processes. As a result, everything can become a crisis and your team begins to operate in reaction mode.
Certifying in a project management method, such as PRINCE2®, reduces the stress levels and offers assurance for important IT challenges because you know where you are and where you’re going.
Overcoming resistance to project management in IT
People who haven’t adopted project management before can be resistant to it; they may think of it as resource intensive, having too much oversight and governance or imposing stopping points that slow down the work.
However, project management skills for IT professionals are integral to their work now and to further their future career. For example, understanding better how to co-ordinate with stakeholders, obtaining resources from sponsors and learning how to get things funded are all crucial skills for any future IT or cyber security leader to master. Knowing how best to communicate, to write a business case and to sequence activities are all highly transferable skills within the IT profession and beyond.
Once you begin working in project management, you’re expected to work across different silos or departments, which means – as an IT professional – expanding your experience beyond the proverbial IT basement. Being known across your organization also makes you more promotable, especially when other department heads or the C-suite executives are the people making those calls.
If your goal is to reach a vice president or even executive level, having project management experience and certifications – along with cross-domain ability and having T-shaped professional skills – is one of the best ways to open new doors in your career.