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Boiling Point: Are today's IT project managers under too much pressure?

By Mike Bryan

A lot of companies experience failed and derailed technology projects. As project leaders, IT project managers tend to shoulder the brunt of the frustration. Are today’s IT project managers under too much pressure?

As a hiring manger, what can you do to find and also set up your next IT project manager for success?

More often than not, project managers are delivering recovery programs or projects that need resuscitation. Often, such cases require more ramp-up time not accounted for in the schedule. Today’s IT project managers are finding it difficult to manage organizational expectations as they come under increased pressure to deliver huge programs under tight, and perhaps unrealistic, deadlines. This drives many professionals to leave.

When it comes to recruiting new or replacement IT project managers, it’s not uncommon for businesses to withhold key information. And these businesses are to blame for the revolving door mentality in the sector.

What happens on the inside is not always transparent. Within an 18-month period, it’s possible that there have been up to four other project managers that have left the same position in frustration. Companies and hiring managers hope that if they withhold this detail, a new person will come on board, like the team, and cope with the challenges.

The truth factor

It’s difficult for a business to explain to a potential recruit that multiple project managers have already attempted the role, or that the operational culture is not optimal and as a result the project is 12-months behind schedule.

Given that IT project manager candidates are in high demand and may even have two or three other opportunities, it’s no wonder that hiring managers may be tempted to avoid sharing the complete story.

Once in a role, project managers are classically put under pressure due to timelines, budgets, resources and scoping issues.

It is important to ensure that projects managers have the resources they need, access to key areas of the business and also the leverage of the stakeholders to get things done. If the stakeholders do not believe in the project manager, it will be very difficult to bring projects to completion.

Extra pressure points: tools and timeframes

Another pressure point for project managers is being unable to access the right tools for the job.

This can be due to a lack of resources, but often it is the realization and discovery that the core IT systems of a particular organization are not up to the changes required. Project managers and clients have halted projects after as few as three weeks or as many as eight months into production due to that reason.

It can be painful when a new program team is coming into recover a project that is six to nine months behind. Even though the teams are getting good outcomes initially, they are then being put under more pressure to make up time, and this has a negative effect.

In this situation, organizations should acknowledge that the new team is achieving where others have fallen short.

Implications for hiring IT project managers

In terms of those who hire or recruit for IT project managers, what then are the implications?

Hiring managers should consider these pressures when assessing the kind of person who will succeed in a particular role.

If the reality is that IT projects are often delayed and under tight budgets, then they need to define the talent solution. They need to find the kind of people who cannot only cope with—but actually excel—in that environment.

You might be looking for someone who enjoys the pressure of delivering a large project. Or you might be looking for someone with the very specific skill of communicating to stakeholders the consequences of them not fulfilling their part of the project.

It will depend on each individual project but broadly, when it comes to IT project managers today, you’re looking for adaptable PMs who can deal with the challenges of a project that is way behind time and well over budget.

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