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Why Women Succeed in IT Project Management

Project management plays a significant role in a variety of industries, with IT being no exception. And if you’ve worked in IT, you’ve probably come across a few project managers. While some are good, only a few are exceptional and make everything look effortless. Those are the ones we all aspire to be as practitioners.

IT projects involve a lot of technology and a lot of change. Change itself is difficult, especially when those using the technology have been accustomed to the same process for years. Transitioning to something new can be a huge learning curve. It takes the comfort out of the process by starting all over.

Some of the best project managers out there are familiar with the challenges in IT project management and know exactly what to do to combat those effects (mitigate risks, build lasting relationships). They’re natural born leaders and leverage some of their innate abilities as women to make these types of transitions more doable and less scary. But how?

Reason #1: Risk Management

Because there are gender differences in brain activity involved in measuring risk, women often think twice before making decisions. They are naturally very risk-averse which makes them better at risk assessment in a project environment. Even with added stress, they continue to make more thorough decisions when the scope and budget are under concern. Evolutionary speaking, it’s an innate ability for women and comes almost naturally. According to CIO, a 2007 survey of experienced U.S. project managers shows that female PMs significantly outplay their male counterparts in meeting schedule and budget. Female PMs also tend to give up fewer projects than men.

“To be fair, it is the lack of clear-eyed risk assessment that derails so many projects, and not men in particular. It’s just that we men display this kind of bravado-induced blindness way more often than women. The good news is that this difference between genders seems to decline as men age.” – Ronald Bisaccia, CIO

Why this skill matters

The Project Management Institute, the governing body of project management certifications, places an emphasis on risk as one of the core knowledge areas a project manager should master through the PMBOK.

A lot of emphasis is placed on determining potential risks, assessing the impact and game planning how to prevent the risks from being realized leading to a more successful project. Making rash decisions and/or not spending enough time to thoroughly evaluate project risks can impact the projects time, cost, resources, scope, etc. as the project progresses through the project life cycle.

Reason #2: Building Relationships

Nurturing relationships is another innate ability of women. Their natural warmth and empathy towards others is a strong suit that can make project stakeholders more comfortable in times of change, and women do it instinctively.

Cornelius Fichtner, a professional in the industry, says, “The P in ‘PM’ is as much about people management than it is project management.” Probably, anyone who has worked in the project management in a general sense believes this to be true. Even more so when working in IT project management and introducing new technology, processes, and change.

Why this skill matters

As mentioned above, the same governing body, PMI, also touches on managing or engaging stakeholders and developing project teams. While this is a skill covered in the material, it’s also a soft skill that can become a challenge for many. Naturally, it’s a given only for few. The art of project management can be summarized, in my experience specifically, as mastering the people aspect of managing projects.

It is important to note that the male counterpart is equally as capable of mastering risk management and relationship building skills in project management. These key skills are simply more instinctual for women. Women can easily leverage them in the workplace, compared to other learned skills.

How to Fill the Gaps in the Two Areas

1. There is always room to improve and become better coaches and leaders to the teams we manage. One way I’ve added to my success in the field was finding the PM network connections that were great at what they did. Work with them in order to learn from them.

2. Find out what they do differently. Think outside the box. It can be a project manager, or maybe a support or account manager that is great with people. Start to develop your own secret sauce seeing what has worked for others and finding out what works for you.

3. Have you heard the saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”?  That’s what this is about. Find someone better at the skill you’re looking to improve and study from them executing those skills in the workplace. Finally, work with them when you can.

4. Another approach is to take on the work no one else wants to. Your skills will be leveraged and challenged on a whole new level. Maybe there are higher risks and difficult stakeholders. Facing the areas with the biggest challenges often lead to the biggest rewards. As a project manager, these real-world skills are best gained and refined through work as a practitioner.

It takes a lot to be a thought leader in project management. In general, there are a ton of skills to master to separate yourself from the good project managers, in order to become a great one. If you can play off your natural strengths as a woman in IT project management, you’re halfway there.

Fill in the gaps by shadowing the one-of-a-kind professional out there or taking on the challenging work. As a result, having those around you’ll most likely think, “how does she do it all so well?” And soon, you’ll find yourself making the work you do effortless.

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