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Introduction to Outsourcing for the Project Management Professional

~ By John Reynolds

A team of people working together in a computer lab

Business globalisation, combined with the relentless change of new technology, continues to challenge our ability to adequately manage enterprise computing activities. Past efforts used to control the various aspects of system integration are no longer effective in today's diverse and complex information environments. The need for more competent project management techniques is paramount to the survival of those organisations who rely heavily on the benefits of computing technology.

Effective project management is a formidable effort, and in comparison to other IS related tasks, it is frequently shrouded with perceptions rather than viewed as a set of adjacent management principles. It is still surprising to find that many IS professionals often ignore basic concepts in an attempt to formalise a single approach that can handle the various facets associated with technical projects.

Successful delivery of most IS applications requires a solid understanding of principles which are germane to the project management process. Experienced IS professionals have learned how to apply the basic concepts regardless of the project. At the same time, it is equally important to acknowledge differences in project scope without blind adherence to the rules. The cost of ignoring sound management principles is typically disastrous, and in many cases occurs well into the schedule of a given project. Many professionals who fail at project management are either victims of rigid discipline or reckless experimentation.

A crucial component of project management is the ability to utilise human resources in meeting application goals. Historically, acquiring the skills needed to manage people had been less emphasised than having the skills to handle technical details. Although this may explain why IS professionals struggled with human relationships, it is no longer acceptable to remain as merely the technical agent. Clearly, the most successful project managers have mastered the art of working with diverse organisational types, including vendors, contractors, and consultants. These important skills are not easily acquired and often need years of experience to cultivate.

The shortages of skilled professionals, as well as the need to focus on core competencies, has prompted many, if not all, organisations to seek expertise beyond traditional boundaries. While the promises of outsourcing have been well identified, there are many issues that still require the experience of project management. Merely outsourcing technical tasks does not guarantee successful completion, nor does it automatically ensure that the best interests of the project will be accomplished. Unfortunately, some IS professionals abdicate their responsibilities when using external resources. This has caused numerous organisations to re-evaluate procedures when engaging in outsourcing activities. However, outsourcing will remain as a strong complement to internal resources needed in applications development. Understanding the appropriate risks and rewards for using outsourcing is now a mandatory part of any project management strategy.


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