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How to Manage an IT Project Effectively

With digital processes transforming the way we work, companies are constantly looking to make their IT infrastructures better and more efficient. IT project management is the planning and implementation of these technology goals. From updating legacy systems to overhauling a company's hardware, the purpose of these projects is to upgrade services and streamline operations.
16.02.22 AAG Digital

The importance of an IT project manager

The role of an IT Project Manager is to oversee the entire IT Support project during its life cycle. Effective project managers ensure their team completes all tasks and reach all goals. As such, they have several responsibilities:

  • Achieving the project’s objectives
  • Establishing and managing the project team
  • Planning, monitoring and documenting all aspects of the project
  • Setting up the initial budget plan for each aspect of the project, including any additional costs out of the original budget
  • Providing regular reports regarding project status to relevant stakeholders
  • Hiring staff members when necessary
  • Keeping abreast of technological advancements which may be beneficial to the project and potentially working them into the project.

Project success is dependent on the manager. For this reason, it’s essential to find someone who has ample experience in the industry and the required skillset. The project manager needs to have a firm understanding of business processes and how they can be improved through technology infrastructure. They need to be both a technical expert and effectively communicate with everyone from end-users to top executives.

How to Manage an IT Project Effectively

Waterfall

As its name suggests, the Waterfall model of project management is a linear process that progresses from one phase to the next in a sequential manner. All planning is done at the beginning, and progress flows in one direction; the team must complete each task before going on to the next step.

The Waterfall methodology is useful if the project objectives are clearly defined and will not change. This method favours consistent and predictable projects, so those that require continuous testing are better suited to using a different type of management.

Agile

Agile project management is a methodology that gained popularity due to dissatisfaction with the traditional ‘Waterfall’ style linear project management styles. This methodology is based on cyclic planning. The start and end of each phase are defined, but continuous testing informs how the project progresses.

The fundamental principle of agile project management is that it is collaborative, with the team testing elements to ensure all aspects of the project work seamlessly. The nature of this methodology means it is best used for projects that are likely to face change, for instance, software development.

Scrum

Scrum is a subset of agile project management. The aim is to create short development cycles, called ‘sprints’. These sprints typically last for up to two weeks, and during this time, teams work to complete specific tasks. The sprint’s progress is measured against the set goals, and the team discuss any setbacks.

The advantage of such short development cycles is it makes it easier to identify problems early on, rather than waiting until the end of the project to discover issues.

Lean

Lean project management has roots in manufacturing and focuses on minimising waste by streamlining resources into an optimal workflow. The aim is to complete the project quickly without compromising quality, maximising value while minimising waste – in the case of IT projects, time and money.

The philosophy behind this methodology is that each team member maximises their work output, so it is best suited for skilled employees familiar with completing the tasks needed for successful project delivery.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a technique used to highlight deficiencies and eliminate waste in businesses and projects. For IT project management services, it helps eliminate inefficient processes, ensuring a project is completed to a high standard and project managers, and their teams are working to the best of their ability.

The key concept at the heart of Six Sigma is DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. This acronym represents the five phases involved in making project process improvements.

  • Define – Establishing clear, measurable goals.
  • Measure – Identifying the current situation.
  • Analyse – Identifying root causes of problems and challenges and collecting data that will help uncover specific metrics.
  • Improve – Developing multiple ways to address issues uncovered in previous stages and selecting the best solution based on a cost/benefit analysis.
  • Control – To ensure successful delivery every time, implementing a process that will maintain the improvements made during previous DMAIC cycles.

As six Sigma is a set of principles, it can be applied alongside other methodologies, improving project management processes and ensuring success.

General steps of an IT project

Project initiation

The team identifies the project’s main objective. A feasibility study is conducted, evaluating the project’s goals and timeline against the cost. Should this be acceptable, the project progresses to the planning phase.

Project Planning

The project manager decides the tasks needed for successful project delivery, creating a timeline and allocating resources. It is the project manager’s job to prioritise critical tasks and prepare, as much as possible, for changing priorities due to testing issues or technological advancements.

Project Execution

The project plan is executed. The project manager guides the team through the planned tasks and ensures key deadlines are met.

Project Monitoring and Control

This is an ongoing process throughout the project lifecycle. Using project management software, the project manager can monitor key performance indicators that show whether the new hardware or software is integrating into the existing infrastructure.

Project Closure

Once the final deliverable has been completed and approved, ownership is transferred from the project team to the clients. The project outcome is determined by success metrics; completed tasks, timeline and budget are all evaluated to determine whether the project has been a success.

What factors contribute to IT project failures?

The project management process is complicated, so it is crucial that a project manager has experience in their field and deals with issues quickly and efficiently. Several problems can disrupt IT projects:

Lack of communication

Poor communication across a team can cause misunderstandings about tasks and lead to delays. Ensuring every team member understands their assignments is critical for success, so the project manager needs to communicate clearly, providing training for those that require it.

Speed

Technology is subject to rapid change, so a project may become obsolete if a better version of that technology becomes available. Reviewing specifications can cause significant delays, and any changes to the project risk incurring additional time and costs.

Changing priorities

Testing can reveal large-scale issues that can change the scope and force additional requirements into a project. These changes may require reprioritisation of tasks and allocation of additional resources.

Security

Critical infrastructure can become vulnerable when being upgraded. Deploying third-party software during a project, for instance, a project management application, can interfere with existing infrastructure and potentially cause vulnerabilities. Security and data management must be a priority for every project.

Incompatibility of parts

This is especially true of larger projects, such as large-scale upgrades across a company. Differing hardware models or software versions can unearth previously unknown issues when integrating new services, forcing changes to the project that can delay completion.

How to manage IT project risks

Plan thoroughly

The planning phase of an IT project is critically important. Understanding the initial project requirements help project managers accurately delegate tasks and allocate resources. However, there should be contingencies in place for when issues inevitably arise; setting aside some additional budget and preparing backup plans can help in the event of a crisis.

Communication

Project managers must communicate clearly with their team and stakeholders. During planning, this means establishing a timeline for each role and identifying potential risks and issues that may delay the project. Frequent updates ensure everyone is aware of what is happening throughout the process.

Define milestones

Defining milestones helps the team track project progress. The stakeholders understand the value of their investment, and it provides a base from which to make corrections when needed. For instance, if issues arise in any part of the process, milestones can help identify where changes need to be made.

Identify strengths and weaknesses of the team

To manage a project effectively, it is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of the team; members should be working to their strengths for successful completion. For instance, one department may excel in software engineering but lack skill in deploying new services, so assigning this task to another team helps complete the overall assignment on time.

Test

Testing is a critical part of the project management process. Throughout the project, the team should test every aspect of the new services to ensure any risks are identified and addressed; stress-testing systems before final delivery ensure everything will work as expected when deployed into a live environment.

Conclusion

Managing projects, especially involving technology, is a daunting task. Project managers have a challenging role in ensuring projects are delivered on time, on budget and to specification. Excellent project management skills are needed to ensure the project is completed with minimal disruption. Beyond technical ability, project managers must be clear communicators and delegate and prioritise tasks effectively.

Projects must always be assessed against their benefits; if the new services are not worth more than the resources needed as part of the IT project implementation, the project should not be considered.

With proper planning and thorough testing, managers can complete projects efficiently and effectively.