The Ultimate Manual for Becoming an IT Project Manager

As information technology (IT) and computing integrate into all aspects of business, IT project managers are critical to making sure that companies meet monetary budgets, time schedules, and quality standards. IT project managers are in huge demand as companies struggle to cope with rapid innovation and constant digital transformation.

What is IT Project Management Anyway?

IT project managers oversee the planning and execution of an organization’s IT goals and activities. They help create budgets and schedules. They delegate responsibilities to members of the IT staff and others involved in specific projects. IT project managers are professionals in the IT field and many hold formal certifications.

IT project managers typically work for small and medium businesses, large companies, consulting firms, IT firms, and software companies, and they are in high demand. Employers advertised more than 280,000 entry-level project management openings across the U.S. in 2020.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) projects that the employment of project management and business operations specialists will grow by 5% between 2020 and 2030. The Project Management Institute (PMI) estimates there will be nearly 88 million project professionals employed worldwide by 2027.

How IT Project Management Works

IT project managers spend a lot of time communicating. There is a lot of planning, assessing, reviewing, and troubleshooting daily. They support specific business initiatives by assigning resources to meet the identified goals. They define tasks, develop schedules, and remove roadblocks. They make sure the project team has all the resources needed – personnel, time, money, technology, and so on – to achieve the project’s goals.

You could say that IT project managers are the cog that keeps all the different spokes of the project wheel turning, especially since a project may involve many people from numerous departments and different locations.

IT project managers are often responsible for projects such as:

  • Backup and recovery
  • Cloud migration
  • Cybersecurity strategies
  • Database management
  • Hardware installation
  • IT budget development
  • Infrastructure management
  • Mobile application development
  • Software development
  • Software implementation and upgrades
  • Web development

Tasks that are specific to project managers include:

  • Assessing and accounting for risk
  • Attending and leading meetings between teams and other stakeholders
  • Distributing project tasks to team members
  • Ensuring employees follow cybersecurity policies
  • Helping with the recruitment and training of IT staff
  • Maintaining project budgets and schedules
  • Managing team personnel
  • Presenting project plans
  • Project planning, including goal-setting, milestones, and completion plans
  • Software license renewals and upgrades
  • Tracking team member performance and progress

Typical day-to-day activities and necessary skillsets for IT project managers include:

  • Plan, execute, and finalize technology projects to scope, on schedule, and under budget.
  • Develop and manage work breakdown structures for large IT projects.
  • Write project plans detailing budget, personnel, goals, technologies, systems, and schedules.
  • Develop project plans that include cost-benefit or return on investment (ROI) analyses.
  • Coordinate project personnel recruitment and assign duties, responsibilities, and spans of authority.
  • Develop and manage budgets (and subsequent budget updates) for technology projects.
  • Understand and implement project management concepts and best practices.
  • Monitor, summarize, and analyze performance and trends to create project status reports.
  • Hold status and implementation meetings with project personnel and upper management.
  • Develop, build, and grow business relationships that are vital to project success.

IT Manager Meetings

For an IT project manager, meetings, calls, and emails take up a big part of their day. Meetings are necessary to keep work moving forward.

Routine meetings

Standing meetings, usually at the same time each morning, to make sure everyone is on the same page and set the tone for the day.

Scheduled stakeholder meetings

Meetings to communicate project status to everyone concerned and address issues that arise.

Ad hoc meetings

Meetings called to clear a roadblock or deal with unexpected events.

One-on-one meetings

Informal status discussions with a team member or other stakeholder.

Project Management Earnings

IT project manager salaries will vary based on such factors as education, work experience, the industry, company size, and geographic location.

According to GlassDoor.com, the average IT project manager can expect to earn a median salary of $81,562 their first year plus as much as $21,089 in additional pay such as profit sharing and bonuses, for total median compensation of $102,651 annually. After four years of experience, the total median compensation averages $103,370.

After the seventh year, that number increases to an average of $108,543. By the 10th year, IT project managers average $102,699 in median salary and $18,325 in additional pay for total average compensation of $121,024 per year.

Payscale reports an average salary for IT project managers of $88,688 annually in the U.S., with a range from $58,000 to $129,000 per year. With bonuses, profit sharing, and commissions added in the average total compensation increases to $139,000 annually.

How to Get Started With IT Project Management

Considered a mid-level position, IT project managers typically have at least a college degree, one or more professional certifications, and work experience.

A survey by Rasmussen University found that 94% of job openings for IT project managers wanted candidates who had at least a bachelor’s degree. About half of the job openings were also seeking 3-5 years of work experience in either project coordination or management, information technology, or both.

Sample Career Path – Starting with College

Step 1:  Enroll in a Bachelor’s program in Business Administration or Project Management

If interested in becoming an IT project manager, your best bet is to get a bachelor’s degree in either business administration, information technology, cybersecurity, or a related field. Some universities offer specialized degrees in project management.

Regardless of your college major, taking one or more courses in the following subject areas can help prepare you for a career in IT project management and help you get hired for your first, entry-level position:

  •       Principles of project management
  •       Managing technology for strategic value
  •       Business and technical foundations
  •       Project contracts and procurement
  •       Business forecasting and planning
  •       Project risk and quality management
  •       Python programming
  •       Technology and innovation management
  •       Project management dynamics
  •       Information technology assurance
  •       Agile techniques and practices in project management
  •       Managing global telecommunications projects

Whether you study business, project management, or something else, a degree can help you develop the management skills that employers seek, such as project planning, budgeting, and team development. Business courses also help you develop “soft skills” such as communication and problem-solving, which are critical to effective project management.

Step 2: Explore relevant internship opportunities

Seek out college internship opportunities that let you gain experience in IT project management, or at least some area of project management. IT project managers can be found in a variety of companies across all industries, from healthcare to marketing. Through internships, you can gain experience in different work environments and determine which ones you find the most interesting.

Step 3: Gain professional experience

Getting hands-on experience is an important step toward becoming an IT project manager. At entry-level, you can expect to work as an assistant to a lead project manager. Next, you will begin taking ownership of small projects or managing specific tasks within large projects. Look for opportunities to gain experience by taking the lead on projects, developing team strategies, and providing updates to supervisors. Eventually, as you gain experience and expertise, you may get an opportunity to lead a project team.

Step 4: Become certified

Proving that you have the knowledge and expertise to succeed in a project management role helps differentiate you in the workforce. Before qualifying to sit for a professional certification exam, you have to work for a period doing a related job or in a related industry.

According to Zippia, these are the most desirable professional certifications for technical project managers:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM): CAPM is for entry-level professionals who want to enhance their skills through a walkthrough of project management fundamentals essential to your first position in a project role. You need to have a high school diploma or an associate degree, at least 23 hours of project management education, and a passing grade on the exam.
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): The PMP program focuses on the key characteristics, strategies, and guidelines project managers can use to oversee successful projects. Certification requires at least 3 years of professional experience as a project manager, 4,500 hours of verifiable experience directing projects, 35 hours of coursework, and a passing grade on the exam.
  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM): A CSM understands Scrum and Agile and Scrum frameworks that help in finishing large projects. CSMs earn how to receive quick feedback from teams, adapt to project deadlines, and increase your speed. Following completion of a 16-hour, in-person course, you must answer at least 37 questions correctly on the exam.
  • Master Project Manager (MPM): The MPM certificate focuses on improving the business and technical skills that lead to faster project completion. For consideration, you submit a resume to the American Academy of Project Management after completing three years of project management experience.
  • CompTIA Project+: This certification demonstrates advanced business and communication skills needed to finish projects. You need to have completed 4,500 verifiable hours leading projects and 35 hours of project management education.

Additional desirable certifications include:

  • Advanced Project Management Certified Professional
  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
  • Certified Manager Certification (CM)
  • Certified Risk Manager (CRM)
  • Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)
  • Certified Scrum Professional (CSP)
  • Certified Service Manager
  • Certified Technical Professional (CTP)
  • ITIL Foundation
  • Managing Programs and Projects with Project Server 2013
  • Master Certified Electronics Technician (CET)
  • PMI Risk Management Professional (PMI)

Step 5: Continue your education

To advance your IT project management career and put yourself in a position for future leadership roles, continue your education if and when possible. An MBA in Project Management prepares graduates for upper-management positions, such as team leader, operations manager, and even a chief operating officer. If you have no certifications, an MBA program can prepare you to sit for the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam as well as the Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA) exam.

Sample Career Path – When College Isn’t an Option

Many IT project management professionals got where they are with no college degree at all. These “accidental project managers” often seek professional certification, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), to validate their expertise and experience. In addition to management ability, they have excellent administrative, organizational, and communication skills.

Rasmussen University also asked IT project management professionals for advice on how to move up from an entry-level role to an IT project manager position. Their recommendations include:

  • When job hunting, look for firms that offer an advancement path into IT project management. You don’t want to have to change jobs to start moving up.
  • Be very reliable. To make sure a project succeeds, you have to be on time, ready to work, and demonstrate that you can get the job done. Show your reliability on the small jobs and the big ones are far more likely to come your way.
  • Find a mentor. Having a career guide helps with any career, not just IT project management. Let your supervisors and managers know what your aspirations are. A mentor may develop naturally as a result.
  • Look at your work as if you were a project manager. Structure your tasks and responsibilities as if you were a project manager whose project was you! Follow best practices. Create a project plan for yourself, determine key milestones, and track your progress.
  • Attention to detail is a must-have trait. Most projects involve multiple moving parts, and an IT project manager has to keep up with all of them to do the job well.
  • Relationship-building skills are also very important. The more likable you are, the more effective you can be as an IT project manager.
  • Gain as much work experience as possible. Work experience helps you become a more competitive candidate and teaches general task management.

Helpful Skills

Rasmussen University also examined 22,000 job openings for IT project managers in 2020 and developed a list of the top skills employers were seeking:

  • Atlassian JIRA®
  • Budgeting
  • IT management
  • Microsoft Project®
  • Project management
  • Project planning and development skills
  • Scheduling
  • Scrum
  • Software development life cycle
  • Stakeholder management

If you enjoy working with people and processes and have good organizational skills, IT project management can be a very rewarding and lucrative career. Demand is very high and is expected to continue to grow as the world becomes ever more technologically advanced. 

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
CIO of GitLab

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