Much to the dismay of network engineers, our projects do not exist in a vacuum. In an organization of any size, IT silos separate technology ownership into groups of subject matter experts who are responsible for a small piece of the technology pie.
Any time we undertake a sizable network project, we will need the cooperation of other teams. We will need to clearly explain the purpose of our project, enumerate the tasks that need to be completed, and assign owners and timelines to each task. Once tasks are created, followup is required. You’ll need to know if your colleagues are on track, if they’ve run into issues, and how any delays will impact the project as a whole.
In short, you cannot implement a successful network project without a clear understanding of all the work required to make the total implementation a success.
Even a project that is straightforward from a technical perspective, for example creating a new wireless SSID, may require significant coordination. Has the new SSID been tested on the various clients that will connect to it? How will the SSID be distributed to clients? Will users be notified of the change and if so how, when, and by whom? Who will users contact for help? What are the boundary use cases?
You may see all of these questions and respond with, “But I’m just the network engineer.” Or, “Don’t we have project managers for that?”
I understand the sentiment. But in the reality of IT project implementation, no one understands the intricacies of the work to be accomplished more than the technologists doing the work. While your PM may be familiar with organizational structures, paperwork requirements, and communication channels, they likely will not know the tasks that need to be performed or the duration or potential impact of those tasks. Project managers can contribute to the success of the project by following up, managing communication, and keeping an up to date task list. But as a network engineer on a network project, you must take the lead to keep all moving parts of your project well-oiled and in sync.
I’m not suggesting you pursue project management certifications or spend hours learning project management tools. Simple tools you use every day, like spreadsheets, Evernote, documents, and text files, can provide a simple framework to keep track everything you need to be successful. Most importantly, you must own your role in the project.
Ultimately, when a network engineer is the technical lead on a project, the network team will receive either kudos or chastisement based on the overall success of the project — regardless of how or where problems occur. You cannot argue that all of your configurations were correct and your implementation was flawless from a network perspective when the user experience was poor. Leadership simply doesn’t care. It is therefore in your best interest, and the best interest of your organization, that you learn to manage your projects effectively enough to ensure their success.