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Listen. Observe. Question. The Art of Complex IT Project Management


By Melanie Haskell, Project Manager, LogicsOne

Managing complex technology projects requires cooperation from multiple resources, spanning different departments and management levels, technology manufacturers, and organizations. Due to the complexity of the modern IT environment, project management in this industry is much more than coordinating phone calls and assigning tasks. The ability to communicate effectively (listening, observing, and questioning) is crucial to positive IT project outcomes.


How do I get a networking engineer to provide me a daily status report? How do I explain that disaster recovery between sites depends on bandwidth between those sites?  How do I ensure the project I’m working to deliver is in line with the customer’s expectations?  How do I know if the customer wants to mitigate the risk of BYOD?

There are three simple rules of effective communication when managing complex IT projects:

•             Listen

•             Observe

•             Question


I was recently attending a webinar on the Importance of Listening and the presenter mentioned an interesting exercise. Ask a person three or four times to recite the word “White,” then ask them what cow’s drink. Nine times out of ten, the person will say “Milk,” not “Water.” This illustrates what happens when people try to solve, rather than listen. If you get ahead of yourself in an IT project, mistakes happen. As an IT Project Manager, my role is to not just watch for this behavior in myself (making an assumption about how a customer will test applications in a VDI pilot for example) but also in other project stakeholders. Perhaps a CTO wants additional storage up and running by the end of the week but the IT Director states he does not have the resources to meet that deadline. What is meant by “up and running?” and what “resources” does the IT Director need to meet the request? Is it a people shortage, bandwidth issues, manufacturer backorder, rack space? A project manager that listens well, can untangle the issue to keep the project on track.


Effective IT project managers have the ability to quickly gauge stakeholders’ level of technical knowledge, area of expertise, level of responsibility, etc. so they can tailor any message to be clearly heard and effectively understood. But another important skill is the power of observation. Project Managers need to ensure all stakeholders are engaged. I was recently in a meeting where I watched someone subtly tune out another person because they thought that person was discussing a topic that was not in their particular “wheelhouse.” But in the modern IT environment, we cannot function in IT silos any longer. Not only is everything connected from a technology standpoint, but all IT projects are also business projects. Effective project managers use observational skills for better project outcomes by minimizing knowledge gaps and ensuring all stakeholders are engaged.


As an IT Project Manager I work with many different customer contacts (at varying levels of an organization) daily. If I am working with a linear and nimble IT environment and I need a port opened on the firewall, most likely all I need to do is ask.  However, if the project involves a customer environment that is layered (maybe ITIL certified)  and has a team of 8 people responsible for network security and I need that same port opened on their firewall, I need to approach the request very differently (and probably have to wait for a Change window).  If  I am working with the Executive Administrative Assistant of a law firm and ask if all equipment has been received, racked, and cabled and is ready for the engineer to arrive onsite, I need to provide a deeper level of detail in my question than if I were asking the same question to an IT Manager.

By employing strong communication skills—listening, observing, and questioning—IT project managers can ensure successful, effective IT project outcomes.


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