iShift Insights
iShift Insights
iShift Insights

Do It Right the First Time: The Case for Engaging with an External IT Program Manager

by | Oct 8, 2021 | Articles

Numerous examples in the history of IT project implementation prove that even the most capable IT leaders can fail because the pace of change is more than what they can handle. Over a decade ago, the Harvard Business Review reported that one in six projects costs more than 200% of the estimated amount, and about 70% of all IT projects face project delays. 9.9% of every dollar spent on a project is lost because of inferior performance: to put it in perspective, for every $1 million invested, $99,000 is wasted! More mind-boggling data on project management failures can be found here.

While the numbers are emphatic, let’s face it – you aren’t really that surprised by these stats. What is even more stunning is that while over the years the approach to IT project deployments has seen some major shifts, the outcomes haven’t improved. Twenty years ago, the formula was to hire expensive project teams that were managed by the integrator’s external staff. Escalating costs have led to a change in strategy in favor of hiring project resources who are supervised by internal managers. Yet failures continue to loom large.

The same hurdles pop up time and time again: scope creep and mid-project changes, lack of communication among cross-functional teams, lack of clearly defined goals, unrealistic deadlines, absence of accountability, inadequate risk management, budget issues, shortage of project management practices and talent, insufficient skills of team members. In their efforts to tackle these challenges most project management publications highlight the importance of project management tools and frameworks for overcoming these issues. For sure these methods have an important place in project implementations.

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However, in my experience delivering IT projects on-time and on-budget, I have learned that a lot of problems can be eliminated from the start by rigorously selecting who you put at the helm. I call this person an IT Program Manager: the person who has the specialized expertise, the soft skills, and the vision to steer the project in the right direction and execute it successfully within the allotted time, budget, and resources.

I would like to explain how I understand the difference between an IT Program Manager and an IT Project Manager. First off, I want to make it clear that both roles are necessary for the successful roll-out of any IT initiative. The difference is in the scope of their reach. A Program Manager takes the long view of a company initiative and plans how to implement an overarching vision. A Project Manager, by contrast, takes the short view and focuses on carrying out specific activities that drive a program forward.

Sometimes, an IT Program Manager can oversee several projects to achieve efficiencies of scale.

An analogy from filmmaking comes to mind: program managers are very much like movie directors in that they are the masterminds of a film from concept to final credits. Project managers, on the other hand, are like the film crew that ensures all the components that go into making a movie — camerawork, set design, script, casting, etc. — are present. In the end, when the aligned efforts of a program manager and project managers conclude a successful program, we have the business equivalent of a blockbuster movie.

Most organizations do not have such a resource internally and in the current business environment the process of hiring such talent as a traditional full-time employee is both costly and lengthy. But this is 2021, the Gig Economy rules, and there are a lot of experienced IT program managers who are knowledgeable, available, and willing to work on contract.

Here are some of the benefits an external IT Program Manager can deliver to your organization: 

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An IT Program Manager can play a critical role at the planning stage of defining an IT project based on your company’s most pressing needs and overall growth strategy. Usually, this person will possess a skill set that includes not only product know-how and pertinent experience, but also the memory of lessons learned and gotchas that accumulate from spearheading similar projects in the course of their career. Steering you away from what NOT to do can sometimes be even more valuable, as it can protect your organization from serious pitfalls, keep you on track with the budget, and save you a lot of headaches.

An experienced IT Program Manager can spot roadblocks and counteract adequately in a timely manner. They can also define and clarify the activities of every team member from the start, thus avoiding frustrating conflicts due to miscommunication during the project implementation.

An implicit benefit you get by engaging with an outside expert to oversee your IT project is that through them you get access to their vast network. This in turn will immediately mitigate or even fully eliminate another characteristic obstacle that hinders the successful implementation of complex IT projects – talent shortage.

In scenarios where the IT project is tied to a transformational change initiative, a trusted external advisor with a breadth of expertise in charge will add weight and overcome internal resistance. In addition, working side by side with an expert will allow the internal team to acquire knowledge and skills they would not have attained otherwise and which they can apply in future endeavors. The knowledge transfer contract professionals at the management level bring to organizations is an advantage that often remains overlooked.

Final Thoughts on IT Program Management

If you are a growing business, a larger organization with multiple ongoing IT projects, or if your business processes need to be streamlined and optimized, having in place an IT Program Manager solely dedicated to these tasks is essential. Rather than burdening your internal managers with more responsibilities on top of their day-to-day duties, it might be wise to hire contract management staff to operate these programs. A seasoned IT program manager will ensure that your technology programs stay on track and achieve the business results you invested in without the traditional pitfalls that hinder IT project deployments.

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At iShift, I am lucky to work with a solid team of talented program managers who have managed multiple projects and operations across industries in companies of various sizes. They understand that a successfully executed IT project is about building the capability AND operating it in the long run. In one of our recent engagements, the client hired us as much to plan their migration to the cloud as to design their operating model after the migration is complete.

It means a lot to all of us at the iShift family that clients who engage with us trust our expertise as project architects and rely on our advisory direction for the long term. If you are thinking of starting a transformational IT project or you are already in the middle of one and want to make sure it gets done right the first time, let’s talk.

About Pete Kinkead

As Vice President of Services, Pete is at the helm of the iShift team of consultants responsible for delivering projects that make companies become more efficient, more competitive, and more innovative in a rapidly evolving environment. Following uncompromisingly his guiding principle of “Getting it right the first time” Pete often plays the role of an agent of change for his clients by directing them in their transformational undertakings. Follow Pete on LinkedIn.

About iShift

iShift is a multi-cloud technology solutions company that provides cloud engineering, cloud migration, cloud management and specialized IT staffing services. Their mission is to help businesses to simplify and accelerate growth while enabling digital transformation and IT modernization. No matter where organizations are in their cloud journey, iShift can design, build, optimize and manage a future-ready multi-cloud environment, resulting in significant cost savings, increased workforce productivity, operational resilience, continuity of services, and business agility. For more information on how iShift’s offerings empower businesses through their adoption of cloud and modern technology, visit www.ishift.net.

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