IT training: Fiascos fuel demand for soft skills

IT techies may be great at creating and tweaking code, but they tend to fall down when it comes to soft skills. This helps to explain the rise of project management training and its importance to successful IT implementation.

Such training is vital if IT personnel are to deliver programmes on time, on budget and in line with original specifications. A recent worldwide survey of 500 IT directors by CIO Magazine found that more than half listed project management as the skillset they require most from the IT professionals they hire.

“Before the bursting of the internet bubble, companies were more interested in ensuring that their IT staff had the latest technical skills, and it was assumed that this would see them through,” says Richard Chappell, managing director at IT training provider Learning Tree. “But today, techies must work within the rigours of basic project rules.”

And that is putting it mildly. Poor project management skills were primarily responsible for many high-profile IT fiascos: the 1999 Passport Office IT shambles, the 2004 Child Support Agency disaster, and the recent NHS Connecting for Health programme, where costs have doubled from 6.2bn to 12.4bn.

Not surprisingly, a 2004 report by the British Computer Society found that only 16% of IT projects were truly successful. If that is bad for IT’s image, it is good for project management training providers – for example, IT training supplier Learning Tree says one-quarter of its products are non-technical courses aimed at teaching IT people business disciplines. Its two most popular courses are project management-based.

Project management skills for success and project management for software development are four-day workshop-based events costing 1,640 per delegate, and will suit any one who wants to run IT projects, from aspiring project team leaders and project managers to business users involved in IT projects.

According to Chappell, there has also been a rise in the number of people with non-IT backgrounds enrolling on these courses: many general project management skills can be applied in business generally.

Darren Ley, a consultant at learning and development provider Helmsley Fraser, has also picked up on this trend. “A project is a project, is a project,” he says.

Helmsley Fraser, which offers a two-day introduction to project management workshop at venues around the country ( 849 + VAT), has gone so far as to shelve its IT-specific project management courses. It now puts IT personnel in with people running a whole range of projects in sectors such as construction, public sector and finance.

Ley says the advantage of this is that IT people are working with people from other parts of the business. This helps them to break out of the IT department mentality and see the bigger picture.

He does, however, acknowledge that IT projects do present managers with specific challenges. Areas such as setting objectives and detailing technical specifications are notoriously problematic in IT projects, because misunderstandings between techies and users are common and technology changes so fast. For this reason, IT people who attend the Helmsley Fraser course are given additional tuition on these subjects.


As project management skills have become more important, so the demand for courses that offer project managers recognised certification has grown, says Garry Ingram, a training consultant at IT training company QA.

Increasingly well-thought-of is the PMP (Project Manager Professional) credential awarded by the Project Management Institute (PMI). A number of providers, including QA and ESI International, run courses that offer credits for the PMP.

The de facto standard for project managers, however, is the Prince 2 (Projects in controlled environments) practitioner certificate. It is relevant to IT and non-IT employees and offers a structured method for effective project management endorsed by the Office of Government Commerce. QA offers a five-day Prince 2 practitioner workshop for 1,695 at venues in London and Edinburgh, which culminates in an exam on the last day.

But, says Mike Harding Roberts, founder of IT training company HRA Consulting, trainers sending IT professionals on Prince 2 courses should ensure there is adequate interaction and input from experienced practitioners. Some courses, he says, are merely drawn-out exam prep sessions that don’t get to the nub of managing projects. “A course that teaches you how to pass the Highway Code theory test does not necessarily teach you how to drive,” he says.

On the IT job

Learning and development professionals struggling to keep track of the IT skill requirements within their organisation may be interested in a new product developed by the British Computer Society (BCS).

Called the IT Job Describer and costing from 995 + VAT, this browser-based software enables users to create IT job descriptions, match them against the skills that exist in-house and identify training requirements and experience, against the BCS’s recognised benchmarks.

As it is hosted, minimal set-up is required to get going with IT Job Describer and technical support is available should there be any hitches.

BCS head of professional development Malcolm Sillars says: “For any professional, working to industry standards and employing best practice are key elements in the smooth and efficient running of business. By using IT Job Describer, businesses can demonstrate their commitment to professionalism in IT.”

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