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Investigation of Project Management Skills

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An investigation was done to find out which skills are desired by employers for project management positions and what it takes to be successful as a project manager. Results of the investigation which was done on behalf of Udemy are published in the power of project management.

InfoQ did an interview with the project manager Amanda Milligan about the skills that are important to manage projects, likability of bosses and leadership skills, why people feel miserable at work and what can be done to prevent it and the need for project managers when organizations migrate to agile.

InfoQ: Why did you do this investigation on the project management role?

Milligan: The project management role is a crucial one, and because Udemy strives to help people become better employees and managers, they decided to explore this position more thoroughly to see what was necessary to succeed and pass this knowledge on to others.

InfoQ: What made you decide to use job listings as input for the investigation. Did you consider any alternatives?

Milligan: Job listings offer great insight into what employers are looking for in a particular type of role, and getting a glimpse of these expectations can help applicants prepare for the role they’re aspiring to fill. We ended up pursuing the other alternatives we considered, which involved surveying people who had worked with project managers to see if their expectations aligned with what we had discovered from the job postings. We decided offering multiple perspectives would be the most enlightening.

InfoQ: Communication skills are the most requested skill in job ads (40%) over interpersonal skills (12%) and organizational skills (10%). Can you explain what makes communication so important in managing projects?

Milligan: In general, communication skills are highly valued, but project managers in particular need to be able to communicate effectively because they’re responsible for maintaining the quality throughout entire projects. If each step in the process operates individually, cut off from the rest of the project, it won’t contribute as effectively to the overall result. Project managers must have both the intelligence to see how the project should develop but also the communication skills to make sure every member of the team fully understands how to accomplish this goal.

InfoQ: As 75% like their current boss but only 28% regard their boss as a good leader you concluded that "a boss can be likable without demonstrating strong leadership skills". Can you explore this further for the InfoQ readers?

Milligan: We found it interesting that we received these results from the survey, and while we don’t know for sure why people responded this way, you can speculate that people may like their bosses without actually thinking they’re being as productive, inspirational, or helpful as possible. For example, if a boss gives you some slack or doesn’t offer a lot of guidance, you may like this freedom and lack of responsibility, but that doesn’t necessarily make the boss an efficient leader.

InfoQ: One of the results reported in the investigation is that 47% of people have had a boss that made their job miserable. Can you elaborate how this impacts the software industry?

Milligan: Feeling miserable at your job often means you no longer feel comfortable and respected at work, and you’re bound to produce at a quality lower than you’re capable of. Low morale is a problem for the individual and the company itself -- the person doesn’t feel he/she is reaching his/her potential, and the company isn’t seeing the results they would if their workforce is content and appreciated. The software industry isn’t immune to these issues (if some people are in fact miserable in their jobs), which is why it’s important that leadership is encouraging and professional; employees respond to respectful attitudes and will be more productive accordingly.

InfoQ: Many IT organizations are adopting agile as their way to manage software development. Do you think that there will still be a need for project managers when organizations migrate to agile?

Milligan: I’m not very familiar with Agile, but based on my limited knowledge, I do think there would be a need for project managers, because while Agile can add a level of efficiency, projects benefit from someone being involved in every facet of a project and taking responsibility for each component's success, even if the process is no longer traditionally executed.

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