IT Project management is one of the one of the most in-demand skills today. There is a big demand for project managers who can deliver projects successfully, on schedule and under budget. IT projects can be very complex. Project Management in IT ranges from strategy change management, to design of information systems, to software implementation, to building and running the IT infrastructure. Project Management in IT has many other complexities especially when related to software development and implementation.
Project management has three big phases: project selection, project planning and project execution. Project management begins with selecting the right projects with the best pay-offs for the organization. There are many competing projects that can deliver benefits to organizations and their stakeholders. Multi-criteria cost benefit analysis can bring a comprehensive examination of the benefits, costs and risks for every project, and lead to selection of projects with the highest return on investment and time.
Project planning begins with understanding the vision of the project, the scope of work, and the resources and time available to make it happen. For example, ERP implementation projects today involve a large amount of organizational change management, over and above technology implementation. Many large-scale ERP implementation projects have failed because of the inability to understand the organizational change implications of implementing such large pieces of software systems.
A useful first step in project planning is to break down the work into a structured set of activities. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a hierarchical inverted-tree model of breaking down the total work into levels of work elements, till they can be decomposed no more. Each work element is assessed for its resource and time requirements. The dependencies between work elements are also identified. The entire set of work elements, along with the resources, time, and dependencies, is arranged in a project plan, or simply entered into a project management software system to develop a project plan. Alongside the start and end times for each activity, the project plan also helps determine the total resource requirements. A risk analysis of the project plan is done to examine its sensitivity to certain risk factors, such as resource availability. A critical path is identified, which is the list of all activities that must be completed in time, without delaying the entire project. A crashing program can also be initiated if the project needs to be completed in a shorter time period.
Project execution commences with the acquisition of resources, and the beginning of initial project activities. The project manager keeps an active interest in the completion of all activities in time and under budget. They develop a project status chart regularly, and communicate it to all the key stakeholders. This also includes alerting resources on the status on their current activities and alerting them about their upcoming activities. Project status reports are also periodically reviewed with senior leaders for their approval and support for any changes or interventions. If the project begins to slip, certain corrective mechanisms can be instituted, such as cutting the functional scope of the project, or add resources and time to the project.
Here are some of the key best practices for good project management.
- Obtain senior management support for your projects and keep them involved and engaged. This will help weather any storms about scope change, resource availability, etc.
- Pay attention to the organizational change management efforts in project execution, as IT projects often impact business processes and their owners.
- Avoid mid-stream changes in project scope and design, as it can add cost to the project and change its net value-add, and be disruptive to the project execution team and the end-users.
- Pay attention to availability to resources in time, especially when project timelines slip
The typical duration of an IT project is 3-6 months. However, some complex projects like ERP implementation, or Data warehouse development can take 1-3 years or more. Projects tend to be successful if they are properly funded and carefully managed.
IT project managers should develop their many capabilities to deal with the logical as well as people elements of project management. They need to have expanded awareness to include not only the entire set of activities of their own project, but be aware of the other projects simultaneously going on in the organization, and the potential for synergies or conflicts. Regular practice of Transcendental Meditation® (TM) would help developing their consciousness so they can manage the many urgent and important activities without stress. They can thus deliver huge benefits to themselves, the project team, and the entire organization.
About the Author
Dr. Anil Maheshwari is an Associate Professor of Management Information Systems at MUM. He directs the new MIS Graduate Certificate program at MUM. He completed his PhD in MIS from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. He has taught MIS at many universities, including 3 years at the City University of New York. He also brings 20 years of rich IT industry experience including 9 years at IBM and a few years at fast-paced start-ups. Among other adventures, he successfully ran a marathon.
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