Doctor Bill Miller is a CCIE (Number 23009) with fifteen years Consultancy experience ranging from Project Engineer to Network Architect and Technical Project Manager. He has worked in a wide variety of networking arenas both within the United Kingdom and internationally including Telecommunication Operators (Telcos), Mobile Operators, Power Companies, Pharmaceutical and Banks. He has a Doctorate and MSc Degree in Telecommunications and Information Systems Engineering and has published work in the United Kingdom and the United States of America (IEEE). He is presently specializing in Network and Network Security Architecture.
I was reading this article by Ethan Banks referenced in the March issue of the Flyer http://packetpushers.net/successfully-managing-talented-technical-people/ when it got me thinking – should network project managers be technically qualified or will anyone do? Does being a CCIE make us good network project managers or are we too close to the technology. Now I know the theory of project management and I hope the practice, I am a Project Manager Institute Project Manager Professional, that a good project manager should be able to manage any type of project, but I also know network technology as a Cisco CCIE of good standing, and I am not 100% convinced that any project manager can manage and run network projects, or any other IT projects for that matter.
Is managing network projects different to managing other projects? Yes and No. All projects are similar in terms of that they are of finite length, need to be planned, have budgets, have business objectives, and need manpower. But network projects, in common with most other IT projects, have a level of complexity, especially international ones, that does not exist in other “administration” type projects – for example creating a new financial process. Have you ever met a non-technical project manager who knows enough really about OSPF routing, VPNs, redistribution, VLANs to ensure the smooth running of a network project. There are in my experience very few such network project managers.
So do CCIEs make good network project managers. As a CCIE myself I am afraid the answer in most cases is no (I was managing network projects before I became a CCIE). In my opinion most CCIEs became CCIEs because of a love of network technology and very few are interested in actually managing network projects themselves. Is this short sightedness on the part of most CCIEs ? In my opinion the answer is yes. Career progression in any sphere has to be a goal – with the odd exception of the lifelong technocrat who will always be a technocrat – and very few CCIEs see beyond the Lab exam and their subsequent careers.
We have discussed this before in other articles but is being a CCIE at 45, 50, or even 65 years old still the ultimate goal of most network engineers. Do CCIEs still want to be racking and stacking, cabling, configuring at pensionable age or do CCIEs want to stop moaning about the perceived incompetence of their network project managers and take up the mantle themselves.
I believe some, but not all, CCIEs should be progressing to become network project and or program managers. We are doing the network community, business and ourselves no favours by not progressing in these fields. Why?
In some ways the companies like Cisco, HP, Huawei, and Juniper have the technical side well covered in terms of skills, training and certification but there is a critical requirement for skilled technical network project management in global governments and organisations, as well as the need for dedicated network (and IT) technical project management career paths and educational programmes. How many CCIEs have actually the managerial skills along with the technical skills and could actually cost, budget and run a project successfully. Try it guys it is easy to be critical of network project managers until you have tried it yourself. Project management has a lot of people management involved and most CCIEs interact with technology better than they do with people. A router doesn’t answer back when you enter the wrong configuration – people do.
Dr Bill Miller QGM C.Eng CITP CCIE