What IT Professionals Can Learn from Project Management

Linh Tran, Friday 13 March 2015 | Reading time: unknown

What IT Professionals Can Learn from Project Management

Photo by Flickr User John Ward, Licensed under CC BY 2.0

In a study, the business consultancy McKinsey found that over 40% of IT projects fail. This rate is pretty shocking considering how important information technology has become for a business’ success. Implementing project management methods can help decrease this rate and help IT professionals deliver more successful projects.

What is IT project management?

IT project management is a sub-category of project management. An IT project manager is responsible for planning, monitoring and controlling information technology projects. This role is becoming increasingly important as technology is becoming more and more complex and the delivery times are getting shorter and shorter, thus requiring careful planning to meet requirements.

Why do IT projects fail?

Before identifying the most common sources causing an IT project to fail, the term ‘failure’ itself has to be defined. When is a project considered a failure? Simply put, a failed IT project is one that did not deliver what was agreed on. These projects have missed the deadline and came in well over budget or couldn’t meet the required quality standards. Completing a project is not easy and it is even harder to complete one successfully, but only then does the project generate value for the company.

There are many reasons why IT projects fail. The most common ones are:

1. Insufficient planning and goal setting

The IT industry is moving rapidly and at an ever increasing pace, which makes planning for an IT project tricky. Planning, however, is also vital because only if everybody is on the same page and everybody knows what the project goals and the overall business strategy and objective are, then the project can be completed successfully and on time and within budget. Sometimes the planning is too optimistic, which can lead to time and cost adding up continually and the quality can suffer as the deadline cannot be met.

2. Triple constraint

Many IT projects have an insufficient definition of the scope, cost and schedule. If the project planner defined the time frame it is often an unrealistic deadline that will cause stress and decrease motivation within the project team. When a deadline is not met it also leads to an increase of the costs. Over the course of the project, scope changes can happen and they can change the project completely. Such changes need to be controlled and kept minimal through careful planning as they can disrupt the schedule and cause additional costs.

3. Lack of control and reviewing of progress

Often project managers do not monitor the progress of an IT project or they miss out on setting the necessary metrics to assess the success or failure of a project. Thus, it is hard to identify projects that are not going well and that might be dragged along instead of being cancelled. A lack of progress monitoring also means that any problems are hard to identify and cannot be dealt with on time. Constant reviewing of progress can also be beneficial to team morale, having milestones can give them a sense of achievement and motivate them.

4. Poor Communication

As mentioned before, communicating the goals and objectives of the project and the company is very important for a successful project completion. However, often they are not relayed clearly to the project team, which can lead to miscommunication and an unclear understanding of the requirements and scope of the project.

5. Lack of Risk Management

Even though they sound very promising, big IT projects are a high-risk affair which can be very costly and complex. Despite that fact, in IT risk is often not managed.

How can Project Management help IT projects be more successful?

Implementing project management can help alleviate these abovementioned problems and increase the success rate of IT projects.

1. Have an IT Project Leader

The key to project success is having a competent project leader who can not only plan and monitor the project’s progress, make necessary decisions, but also who can communicate well with team members and who can motivate them. This position is often given to programmers or system analysts who have great technological skills and knowledge, but who often lack the necessary soft skills and the understanding and skills of project management. Greater knowledge of how project management works can lead to greater understanding of how to anticipate, identify and mitigate risks and problems and keep track of the project’s progress and ultimately lead to a better project outcome.

2. More effective planning and setting realistic goals

Every project needs planning, not just IT projects. But as particularly technology projects are running on a tight schedule and ever decreasing time-to-deliver requirements, careful planning is even more essential. A work breakdown structure (WBS) can be used here to split the project into smaller tasks with a clear definition of the requirements and duration of each task. Using agile project management methods such as Kanban boards or the Scrum method can help organizing the tasks. Kanban boards can help keep track of which tasks have to be done, are being done and which have been finished.  Implementing the Pareto principle is helpful to prioritize and identify those tasks that are responsible for generating the most benefits for the project and the business.

3. Keep track of progress, time, scope and cost

One of the biggest problems that can lead to a project’s failure is setting unrealistic deadlines and an unclear definition of the scope. This problem can be solved by planning which tasks need to be done when, in order for the project to be completed on time. Gantt charts and the critical path method are project management tools to track the time and scope of activities. However, even the best plan needs reviewing and reassessing so that problems can be identified and dealt with immediately. Through review meetings, the team can also get a sense of having reached a ‘milestone’ and thus, a sense of achievement.

4. Improve communication and collaboration

Using the scrum method  can help your team work together more effectively in order to deal with complex tasks better. Particularly the daily scrum meetings and review meetings at the end of a sprint can be very effective to communicate any problems and planning the next steps of the project. Most project management software also offer communication tools and many offer a cloud solution so that even geographically disperse or ‘virtual’ teams can communicate with each other even across time zones.

5. Track metrics

Keeping track of metrics is very important to identify whether your project is on the right course and to assess its success. Project management software can also help you keep track of your IT project’s budget and other relevant metrics to measure the success of a project. 

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