7 Must-Have Project Management Skills for IT Pros

Just because someone has the title of “project manager” does not mean he knows how to effectively manage projects, as many CIOs and other IT executives have learned the hard way.

So how can you tell a good project manager from a bad one? CIO.com surveyed project management experts and executives to learn what skills are required to successfully manage projects–that is, to ensure that projects are kept on track and stay on budget.

Here are seven skills project managers need in order to be effective and successful:

Skill No. 1: Be highly organized and a good multi-tasker. A good project manager knows how to “manage multiple projects or tasks and track issues on a daily basis,” says Hilary Atkinson, director of the Project Management Office at Force 3, a business solutions provider.

The difference between the success or failure of a project is often “the difference between a project manager who is highly organized and one who is not,” she says. “If a project manager is spending more time trying to figure out where information is rather than productively managing their project, failure is eminent.”

Skill No. 2: Take charge and know how to lead. “Project managers need to be good leaders,” says Lew Sauder, senior project manager Geneca, which develops custom enterprise software. Specifically, “project management is about leading stakeholders and vendors to a successful outcome,” states Brian Lee, partner atNavigate, a management consulting firm.

“Projects need to be led in a fashion that builds consensus while also fleshing out the real risks and roadblocks,” he says. “Effective project managers paint a picture of a better tomorrow and inspire confidence in their team’s abilities to realize that vision. They build credible relationships with key stakeholders to ensure alignment to the project’s objectives and exude the confidence necessary to hold everyone participating in the project accountable.”

Skill No. 3: Be an effective communicator. “Being an outstanding communicator requires the project manager to consistently ensure they are clearly understood by all stakeholders; that all stakeholders understand what is expected of them throughout the project lifecycle; and that all stakeholders communicate effectively with one another as well as with the project manager,” says Dr. Greg Thomas, CMC, PMP and CEO of Roos Technologies International, a management consulting firm.

“Project managers need to be able to communicate status changes, good news and bad news to all levels of staff across different departments,” says Nandi Hayes, an agent at Vitamin T, a talent agency for digital creatives.

“They also need to be able to distinguish who needs to know what, when they need to know it and how that information will be delivered,” she says. “For example, a slight scheduling delay may need to be communicated to internal teams but not to the client if the key client review dates are not affected.”

Skill No. 4: Know how and when to negotiate. “Project managers must be excellent negotiators,” says Brock Boddie, an associate program director at Huge, a global digital agency. “You’re very often dealing with people who have divergent interests from your own or who appear to have no interest in understanding what you’re trying to accomplish and why they should help you or fully participate,” he says.

“A good project manager will invest time to understand and negotiate these relationships and figure out these stakeholder’s interests, so that she can triangulate what will make her project continue to move forward. Without these negotiating skills, you may spoil or ignore these critical relationships, making project success highly unlikely,” Boddie says.

Skill No. 5: Be detail-oriented. “Project management is all about the details–big ones and small ones,” says Aziz Kara, head of Product Management and Design atXtreme Labs, a mobile app and product developer. Therefore, project managers must be “meticulous about managing the details of every project and the impact each detail may have on the overall project success. Details can make or break a project, and the effective PM recognizes that.”

Skill No. 6: Recognize and solve problems quickly. “Inevitably, there will be times when problems and obstacles arise that involve immediate solutions,” notes Michael Pesochinsky, cofounder and vice-president of GovernmentBargains.com, a free site that compiles and provides information about government auctions. “How a project manager handles these problems will separate him from the others.”

Skill No. 7: Possess the necessary technical skills. To be a good project manager, you “must have solid knowledge of the platforms, software and programs that your company regularly works with, even if your job is not actually technical,” says Joel Gross, the founder and CEO of Coalition Technologies, a Web design and marketing firm.

And “a great project manager needs to have enough technical knowledge about areas of the project to be able to assign themselves to some of the tasks,” adds Bob Herman, the owner of Tropolis Group, which provides IT, mobile and social media management services to companies. Why? “Assigning yourself to some of the project tasks and successfully completing those tasks on time helps you earn the respect you need to successfully manage the project team.”

(from cio.com)

Identify nightmares in software outsourcing to avoid

Outsourcing IT functions can be a smart business move, particularly if your organization lacks specific expertise. IT infrastructure, networking, application development, help desk — plenty of high-quality service providers are available to fulfill your IT needs.

But like other major business and technology initiatives, outsourcing comes with risks, regardless of how experienced the outsourcing provider is or how good the move looked initially.

Outsourcer employee turnover, communication breakdowns, shortsighted contracts: They can all sink an arrangement, resulting in lost opportunities, downtime, or worse. In the interest of forewarned is forearmed, here are seven real-life examples of what can go wrong with an outsourcing initiative — and how to avoid or resolve these outsourcing arrangements gone amok.

Outsourcing nightmare No 1: Outsourcing employee exodus

Several years ago, Coalition (Technologies had a project for an important client that it sent to an outsourcing partner to complete. The Web design and marketing firm had worked with the outsourcing partner before, and the experience had been positive. The partner had been responsive and provided a high level of quality and communication, says Joel Gross, founder and CEO of Coalition.

“Everything seemed to be moving along fine, until the project neared its completion date,” Gross says. Then the outsourcing company’s CEO contacted Coalition to report that more than half of the company’s staff had quit.

“They did not have the capability to complete the project,” Gross says. “As a result, we had to scramble and find a way to resolve [the problem] internally on extremely short notice.”

While Coalition was able to deliver the work without too much added delay, it learned a valuable lesson about the risks of outsourcing. Now, the company tries to keep all of its critical IT work in-house, relying on a dedicated, handpicked (team.

When technology projects pile up, Coalition does contract outside providers to perform basic tasks, Gross says. It might sound obvious, but including every possible contingency in the contract is vital.

“Avoiding contracting nightmares is possible; you just have to lay the (ground rules,” he says. “In order to ensure the quality and standard of work, we have a strict and explicit contract that must be signed.”

Payment schedules and consequences for late or bug-prone work are central components of those contracts.( Contractors receive 25 percent of cost funded upfront, another 25 percent upon beta (completion, and the remaining 50 percent when the project is complete and has been( certified bug-free by Coalition project managers.

Coalition also requires that contractors submit two or three references that can provide feedback on the quality of work.

Outsourcing nightmare No. 2: Offshore app dev delays shut window of opportunity

Applet Studios recently switched to U.S.-based programmers after a nightmare experience with its latest outsourced application development project.

“We had one app live in the App Store doing well,” says Chad Grills, co-founder of the company, which creates and sells Web and mobile applications. “We lined up all the promotions and advertising for the Android version, which was being built by( contractors outside the country.”

Grills exchanged several emails with the contractor, which assured him that development was on track and the app would be delivered within a week. At the end of the week, Grills received no deliverables and emailed the company again. The contractor responded five days later, saying that the developer had been sick.

“I was understanding and asked for an update on the app,” Grills says. “They said it would be pushed back another five days. I was frustrated at this point, but pushed back our advertising just in time.”

Some 10 days later, the offshore development team sent a completed application.

“I started testing the app, and to my horror, it was a cruel joke,” Grills says. “The screen, features, fonts were nothing like the detailed descriptions and iOS code I had sent.”

Things didn’t go well from there. The app was delayed another three weeks, still full of problems.

“Our advertising opportunity came and went,” Grills says. “The marketing window for action closed, other projects couldn’t be pushed back, and we had to scrap the app. Worse, the contractor didn’t understand why I was upset.”

Applet Studios is now much more meticulous about hiring outsourcers for development work and uses U.S.-based contractors whenever possible.

“The contract we signed with our contractor protected us for a portion of the development costs,” Grills says. “However, it couldn’t help the fact that we had a huge marketing opportunity/venue that we missed. With the app market being as crowded as it is, a missed marketing opportunity can destroy an app’s chances at success.”

Outsourcing nightmare No. 3: Offshore communications breakdown

Predominantly a Web-based business, California Contractor Bonds has outsourced its IT overseas for the past few years, primarily to India.

“In the beginning we had several huge problems (in designing and maintaining our website that were primarily based on (communication problems,” says Jeremy Schaedler, president of the company, an online provider of license bonds for contractors in California. “There seemed to be a constant flow of discrepancies between what we were asking to be done and what was accomplished.”

What Schaedler learned is that for design, the best form of communication is written instructions combined with diagrams whenever possible.

“Too much is lost in verbal communication,” he says. “Outsourcing IT( overseas is a great way to get quality programming talent at a fraction of the domestic cost, but getting a quality product depends on establishing a clear method of communication.”

Providing written instructions solved the problems, and California Contractor Bonds now has few if any communication problems, Schaedler says: “In the last two years I have only spoken to my current programmer in India by phone two or three times, yet we correspond by [written] message two or three times a week on average regarding IT.”

Outsourcing nightmare No. 4: Poor quality, no recourse for refund

Money Crashers Personal Finance is another company that has struggled with offshore Web development work.

A few years ago the company, which provides online educational services in areas such as credit and debt, real estate, and insurance, decided to outsource a Web development project. Intent on keeping costs down, Money Crashers decided to go with an IT service provider overseas, says Andrew Schrage, founder and co-owner.

From what Money Crashers could tell, the provider was highly qualified. “But after we paid for the job in advance, we ended up receiving results that were nowhere near our expectations,” Schrage says. “To make matters worse, the [outsourcing provider] simply refused to get back to us regarding what we felt was shoddy work. After quite a few hassles, we finally gave up and couldn’t retrieve the amount we paid upfront.”

What Money Crashers learned is that it’s not always best to have cost as the No. 1 determining factor, as the company ended up paying far more in the end.

“I’m not saying I’d never consider outsourcing a project again, but I would definitely take a different approach,” Schrage says.

First, he would never again pay for any job before it’s completed. Next, he would require past referrals from reputable people who’ve hired the service provider in the past. Third, he’d ensure the people performing the work have a clear understanding of his business.

“And finally, I would provide a specific, detailed plan of the job and discuss it at length beforehand, while also explaining the full payment would not be made until I approved the work as being up to par,” Schrage says.

Outsourcing nightmare No. 5: Unexpected overhead of outsourced management

Joe Infante, a onetime IT project contractor for a specialty chemical manufacturer, offers an outsourcing lesson in one-size-fits-none.

With nearly 30 sites around the United States, most of which operated with a high level of autonomy, the chemical company was well aware that outsourcing its IT support services would be difficult. Because of the magnitude of the challenge, the company brought in one of the largest global IT outsourcers, says Infante, who is now president of IT services provider Dynamic Strategies.

Once the five-year outsourcing engagement was in place, gaps that weren’t identified in the discovery phase as well as minor projects outside the normal service-level agreements were constantly cropping up unexpectedly, Infante says. The outsourcing provider had difficulty addressing these issues due to its one-size-fits-all approach.

“A decision was made to continue to supplement with independent contractors to address these smaller, one-off projects and to fill service gaps,” says Infante, who declined to identify the chemical company. “The arrangement quickly became difficult to manage and the outsourcer was removed.”

One of the main causes for the failed outsourcing engagement, which resulted in both lost time and increased costs, were underestimating the effort needed to manage the outsourcing relationship, Infante says.

“Where the client thought it would take one or two individuals to manage the interface with the vendor, it actually took many more of the company’s resources,” he says.

In addition, the client’s interpretation of what it was buying — based on what it was told by the outsourcing vendor’s sales team — wasn’t interpreted the same way by the vendor’s implementation and service teams.

How could these kinds of problems be avoided? “Know thyself,” Infante says.

“The hardest thing for many businesses to do is properly assess their real needs and, more importantly, their current position regarding the state of IT. Properly defining these two components will ultimately determine what can/should be outsourced and which company best matches their needs.”

Outsourcing nightmare No. 6: Metrics without enough granularity to be meaningful

Todd Taylor tells tale of an outsourcing arrangement gone awry due to differing needs among business divisions.

Taylor, an attorney at Moore & Van Allen, who focuses on outsourcing and other technology issues and is familiar with the case, says the arrangement involved a large, multinational corporation and a large, highly regarded technology services company.

The multinational had multiple business units that provide services for consumers and businesses, Taylor says. It outsourced portions of its network operations and infrastructure to the technology services company to support multiple divisions, each of which had different needs.

The client spent time with the service provider coming up with service-level arrangements. But the service-level metrics were typically configured on a clientwide basis.

“In other words, in determining whether a service-level metric was met — or not met — performance was judged for the client on an enterprisewide basis rather than on a division or line-of-business basis or a specific service element basis,” Taylor says.

In many cases, certain business units or functions weren’t receiving acceptable services, and this potentially hindered the ability of those units to meet their customers’ needs on a timely basis.

“The client had little contractual ability to demand correction of the problems, as the service provider was generally meeting the service-level metrics when such metrics were measured on an enterprise-wide basis,” Taylor says. “Even when service levels were not being contractually met, the penalties often were not meaningful enough to incentivize the service provider to change behavior.”

One lesson learned, in ensuring effective service levels for all, was to engage the appropriate business and technical people in all business divisions relevant to the outsourcing agreement, and to do so from the outset, Taylor says.

Companies should also define specific service levels at a micro level. “Representatives of the client receiving the services from the service provider [should] work closely with the service provider’s representatives to define specific service levels that are relevant for each business division,” and that address each service the client and its individual business units would receive, Taylor says.

In addition, penalties and incentives should be meaningful. “The penalties should incentivize the service provider to meet its obligations,” Taylor says. Another way to address this issue is to provide bonuses or financial incentives for performance in excess of service-level metrics, he says.

Outsourcing nightmare No. 7: Downtime and disorganization

When public relations firm DPR Group hired an IT services provider in 2011, it experienced system latency, slow customer service, and problem tickets submitted daily.

“This constant break-fix model resulted in increased downtime and [decreases] in productivity that hurt our business,” says Dan Demaree, president and CEO. “When we submitted a trouble ticket, it would sometimes take days to hear from the technicians, resulting in lost productivity, downtime, and unnecessary time spent on IT maintenance.”

The service provider claimed to have a systematic approach, but the lack of a naming convention for DPR’s computers and the fact that many of the people working on its systems were not familiar with them belied that assertion.

“We would have to start from scratch each time we experienced an issue,” Demaree says. “Beyond the technical challenges, documents were irretrievably lost, creating significant rework, and our ability to service and respond to our clients was being interrupted.”

DPR was spending too much time and money on an IT outsourcing model that was unreliable and even detrimental to the well-being of the business, he says. To avoid these issues, the firm searched for a proven cloud services provider to handle its IT.

“Since we’ve moved to the cloud, we’ve had increased productivity, flexibility, and accessibility, and no downtime,” Demaree says. “Our advice would be to do your research before looking into outsourcing your IT. Look at their track record, security, accessibility, and budgeting. Our current cloud provider has a history of zero downtime.”

(from cio.com)

Is Vietnam software development on the rise?

Software and IT industry of Vietnam

The improvement in the Vietnam software development industry will prove to be beneficial to Vietnam because of the large population, which resides there. Being twelfth most populous country of the world, there is a potential of large domestic demand by people and availability of large number of labor that can make it possible for them to focus on the software development sector. By targeting this sector for around 20 years, it has been possible for Vietnam to modernize their software development procedures and be able to compete vigorously with other strong nations in the South Asian World, especially India.

Role of government in improving the software industry in Vietnam

Vietnam software development industry has been able to achieve amazing growth rates because of several reasons. One factor was the support and assistance provided by the Vietnamese government, which realized the hidden benefits that could be extracted to benefit the economy of Vietnam if the software industry is allowed to progress and nurture over time. Different policies have been designed and introduced for this purpose so that various aspects such as human resource, telecommunication infrastructure, ICT investment and Intellectual Property Rights are developed. Financial assistance was also provided by the government which reduced tariffs and import duties on ICT products if they were imported from other nations. ICT firms did not face any corporate income tax and there were no VAT rate for software products in Vietnam.

Accelerated growth in software market of Vietnam

Vietnam software development market followed the example of India to target their software market in order to achieve economic and social development. Because the costs of production are lower in this software industry along with availability of cheap labor and political stability in the economy, it has become a favorable base of investment for foreign firms as well. The software is developed and given out to customers not only with low prices for them but there is no compromise done on the quality of the software. The high quality of the software allows its demand to increase in even the most developed nations in the world such as USA.

The importance of stable socio-political conditions in Vietnam

Vietnam software development has also been able to progress because of the healthy socio, political and economic conditions of the country. Most of the developing nations suffer from different problems which does not allow them to incur economic development because most of the time, investment is done in other areas, mostly to reduce corruption in country or reduce problems of mismanagement and political instability issues. Only a healthy country would be able to focus on this sector in a better manner. Vietnam is stable and most of the foreign nation considers it as a “legitimate” nation to trade with.

The prevailing of traditional cultures and importance of values has also played an important role for this purpose. In Vietnam, customer service and loyalty are some values given a lot of importance, which allows people to be dedicated towards what they do. Without upmost dedication and motivation, it would not have been possible for Vietnam software development to witness this much growth.

(from http://blog.orientsoftware.net)