Did you know that you’re not supposed to have an IT leader? As a small business owner, you’re supposedly not investing in IT, managing an IT team, or handling IT projects.
For years, tech insiders predicted that IT would go the way of the dodo-yet Gartner forecasts that small and midsize businesses (SMBs) will spend $1.1 trillion on external IT by 2020. (Full content available to clients.)
Of course, each small business has its own unique IT requirements. New small businesses need to research and buy their first IT tools.
By contrast, small businesses with years of experience must assess how their current IT is performing and how it’s impacting their finances. Regardless of which stage your own small business is in, hiring a project manager can take it to the next level.
Project managers play a key role owning and growing a small business’s IT. They act as a bridge between you and clients, sharing updates and owning reports that track projects throughout their life cycles. They can also optimize team workflows, increase communication between teams, manage project portfolios, and help you prioritize tasks.
Ultimately, project managers help small business owners manage risk . All projects carry some degree of risk, including many that arise from project management’s triple constraints: Time, cost, and scope.
Great project managers use the tactics above to decrease risk within your small business and help you scale smart. They’ll maintain your IT as your business grows, assessing its performance and telling you what to improve. They can also help you hire a strong staff to fulfill client projects, from top-tier developers to superb product owners.
But before you can hire that new staff, you must hire an IT project manager first. And that brings its own challenges.
Recruiting, hiring, and onboarding a new employee can cost up to $240,000 per new employee. For a role as crucial as project management, bringing on the right person is an absolute must.
Prioritize people over processes
Emphasize the importance of Agile
Communication is key
Know the nuance of your IT needs
Document the details
YOUR CHALLENGE: In large businesses, stakeholders often place project managers on loan to projects as needed. Those PMs move on to other work once they complete each project life cycle. Since large businesses tend to have more resources, project managers in these organizations are more likely to get the resources they need.
IT project managers within SMBs are more resourceful by default since they often lack the big budgets and large teams that enterprises have. So, you’ll need your IT project manager to have exceptional people skills.
The path from project owner to project manager is much shorter in an SMB. That means every aspect of a project-from keeping a balanced budget to sharing updates with stakeholders-is much more personal. It also means your IT project manager will need to have exceptional people skills.
Working with cross-functional teams is essential for any project manager, but it’s especially crucial in SMBs. Internal requests, favors from friends, and advice from stakeholders play an outsized role in project success when those projects come from SMBs. So, your candidates of choice should have experience leading diverse teams of people from different departments, from marketing to DevOps. WHAT TO WRITE: “Knows how to lead and motivate cross-functional teams (and has the projects to prove it).”
YOUR CHALLENGE: Small businesses don’t have a lot of the same restrictions as larger enterprises-that’s great! There’s just one problem: Small businesses also don’t have a lot of the same resources as larger enterprises.
“Large enterprises can often afford specialized roles like full-time project managers, business analysts, PMOs etc.,” explains Audrey Apfel, managing VP of Gartner’s program and portfolio management team.
“SMBs often have to rely on leaner, more organic approaches where those involved in a project (including the project manager) may wear many hats, their role on the project being only one of them.”
Although you should prioritize candidates with people skills rather process skills, this doesn’t mean that Agile’s not important. The Agile methodology is so common today in large part because it’s so flexible.
Unlike Waterfall’s top-down approach, Agile is built to withstand the unexpected. So, you’ll want your IT project manager to respect the Agile method and adapt it for your SMB’s needs. WHAT TO WRITE: “Understands Agile and knows how to adapt it within SMBs.”
YOUR CHALLENGE: Technology is far more predictable than people. The scope of a project’s technical needs pale in comparison to its communication needs.
Don’t believe me? Poor communication is the reason why one in three projects fail. This starts to make sense when you consider how many project requirements center on clear communication.
Consider the following project risks, and recall if you’ve dealt with any of them:
Not assigning risks to project team members
Sharing contingency plans
Having all project team members use the same software
All of those risks roll up to communication. Even in an SMB (where projects tend to move faster than an enterprise), project progress stalls with poor communication.
Most crucially, the IT project manager you hire will bridge communication gaps between you and your SMB’s clients. That’s why communication should stay at the top of your IT project manager job description. WHAT TO WRITE: “Loves to lead teams and has exceptional communications skills.”
YOUR CHALLENGE “IT” is a term that means nothing without context. An SMB’s IT needs differ drastically from those of an enterprise. Even within SMBs themselves, there’s a lot of nuance that determines each business’s IT challenges.
According to Gartner research, SMBs define their IT requirements based on two key factors: Business size and length of time in business. (Full content available to clients.)
Younger SMBs must make key decisions (such as whether to invest in cloud or on-premise software). By contrast, older SMBs that have been in business for several years must evaluate their IT’s performance and choose whether to invest in new tools or migrate data to the cloud.
Before writing your own IT project manager job description, evaluate your SMB’s current IT needs relative to planned projects in your pipeline. Plans change, especially in SMBs, but the more specific you can be, the more relevant applicants you’ll get. WHAT TO WRITE: “Comes up with creative solutions to define-and refine-project processes.”
YOUR CHALLENGE: Documentation is the task developers love to hate. Since they’re evaluated on the code they ship, documenting their code is often an afterthought. But just as documentation is crucial in development, it’s a must-have for IT project managers.
Charters, status reports, risk assessments, and roadmaps are just some of the documents that project managers own. They’re also an ideal way for project leaders to use the communications skills that are essential for IT project managers in SMBs.
This is an area where software can help. When writing your IT project manager job description, stress that candidates must know how to write documentation and use software to store it. It illustrates organizational skills. WHAT TO WRITE: “Knows how to use project management software as a reporting, management, and collaboration tool.”