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Change is a way of life in IT organizations. New technology adoption, automation, regulatory compliance, and outsourcing initiatives can only be accomplished through projects, which need to be properly planned and controlled.
It is no surprise, then, that after two years of decline, the number of project managers as a percentage of the total IT staff increased in 2018 and 2019. As shown in Figure 1 from our full report, IT Project Management Staffing Ratios, project managers in 2019 made up 5.4% of the IT staff at the median, the highest percentage in five years.
Although the project manager is not responsible for the direct creation of project deliverables such as systems design, program code, or documentation, he or she is responsible for ensuring that these deliverables are completed according to plan. IT projects are known for costly overruns, if not outright failure. Good project management can mitigate such risks. As such, project management staffing will always be volatile as companies react to project successes and failures. But for the most part, we expect growth in this role.
In today’s world, much of the work in IT organizations is project-based, and IT leaders realize that project management is a critical element in delivering successful projects—and thus, value—to the business. So companies appear to be doubling down on project managers. While project managers do not guarantee successful projects, they do improve the odds.
“Another factor in project manager staffing is the expansion of outsourcing application development work,” said Tom Dunlap, research director for Computer Economics, an Avasant company, based in El Segundo, Calif. “As difficult as it is to successfully implement new systems, the difficulty is compounded when service providers are brought into the mix.”
The increase in project manager staffing is consistent with the changing nature of IT work. As we see in our other IT staffing reports, the percentage of personnel in so-called soft skills roles is increasing while many support staff roles are declining. IT managers, IT finance, and business intelligence specialists, as well as project managers, are increasingly in demand, as IT is reducing its infrastructure burden. Support roles (with the exception of network support) are declining with the use of software as a service (SaaS), public cloud, automation, and other tools that reduce the data center footprint. This trend is far from over, as most businesses are not far along in their cloud transition.
In our full report, we examine the question of how many project managers a typical IT organization requires. We present five benchmarks: project managers as a percentage of the IT staff, project managers as a percentage of the Application Group, users per project manager, applications per project manager, and application programmers per project manager. All of these ratios are presented by organization size. In addition, we look at the influence of sector on the key ratios. We conclude with recommendations on assessing the performance of the project management function.