Skills required of project managers for large-scale projects (Part one): High level of professional skill
Jan. 31, 2018
Being project manager for large-scale projects is said to require a different set of skills from those who manage smaller projects. We ask Yoshihiko Murowaki of NRI, who has worked in large-scale system development of everything from industry, finance (banks, trust banks, nonbanks), to property insurance, about the management skills required of project managers for large-scale projects.
Link to article on Part two
Professional skills of a system engineer (SE) with management ability
――What kind of skills are required of a project manager for large-scale projects?
I believe it is expertness. I myself spent most of my younger years as an SE diligently working on my engineering skills so I could help build systems that our clients would want. Build a system, and solve the client’s issues. Without the expertness of an SE, you would be ill-equipped to manage an IT project. This is one thing that really separates IT-related projects from other projects.
――Why is expertness important?
IT is different from other fields, in that we provide actions and mechanisms that are, essentially, invisible. So when a project manager is overseeing an IT project, they must have the skills necessary to evaluate things that they cannot actually see. You would be unable to do this without expertness as an SE. The management skills also required differ for medium- and large-scale projects.
Management of large-scale projects is the management of people
――What kind of management skills are required for large-scale projects?
For a project of 20,000 to 30,000 function points, a single SE can oversee the content, and manage the project on their own. But when this becomes five to seven times larger in scale, it becomes a large-scale project, with more SEs, and team leaders as mediators to facilitate management. This requires that they be able to evaluate quality through multiple team leaders, and it requires them to come up with processes to acquire relevant information through these team leaders. They would have to, for instance, create a guideline for work completion, and standardize documents, reports, and the work process to be able to verify whether the standards have been met.
――So standardization becomes necessary.
As I mentioned before, development for large-scale projects involves many people. So for a project manager to be able to check quality, there has to be a certain standard of outputs, and a standardized set of information that the project manager receives. The project manager would not be able to evaluate quality if these things are not standardized.
Another thing is that quality evaluation methods differ for different types of work—the requirement definition process, design and manufacturing process, and the testing process. This means that project managers have to deal with three different management systems. A true project manager should be able to handle all of them.
――Do large-scale projects also require the professional skills of an SE?
Project managers for large-scale projects must be able to work with project leaders to solve issues that crop up during the development process. They have to investigate deeply into the technical parts of the project, and in some cases even advise the team leader as to what to do. Without knowledge of the technology, they also wouldn’t be able to explain it in a way that the client can understand. If they are able to provide a thorough explanation and gain the client’s trust, they can strengthen their relationship with the client and dramatically increase the productivity of the project.
Development methods are changing—The need for new technologies
――It seems that the methods used for system development are changing.
We have come to a turning point in our industry. The rapid digitalization of society is dramatically changing the business landscape. The methodologies that have been used until now are becoming obsolete, and there is a need for us to come up with new methods that can keep up with the times. There has, however, been progress. The elimination of software restrictions and the rapid developments in hardware have allowed a shift towards microservice architecture, which with its small, modular systems makes it so that issues in one system do not necessarily affect the others.
――What kind of changes are happening?
Progressive Internet companies in the U.S. release several thousand to tens of thousands of software per day and continue to update their services, taking advantage of the microservice architecture, which allows them to release independent updates regardless of changes in requirement definitions.
To survive in these kinds of circumstances, project managers must work on their engineering skills as an SE, and learn new methods that go beyond the usual methods, like agile development.
I believe the mission and greatest joy of being a project manager is being able to provide even better systems to their clients, by building management methods that combine the strengths of both agile and waterfall development.