Project Management Definition and Solutions

IT Project Management topics covering definition, objectives, systems and solutions.

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Managing an IT project is like juggling chunks of Jell-O: It's neither easy nor pretty. Because good IT project management is difficult to execute, CIO.com has put together this guide to understanding IT project management.

Traditional project management, as it's used in construction or manufacturing, deals with solid, tangible elements. Managing an IT project is like juggling chunks of Jell-O: It's neither easy nor pretty.

Information technology is especially slippery because it's always moving, changing, adapting and challenging business as we know it. IT project management is further complicated by shifting business needs and demanding stakeholders.

Because good IT project management is difficult to execute, CIO has put together this guide to understanding IT project management that includes an overview of what's required for successful project management as well as additional technology resources to learn more about it

What Is an IT Project?

An IT project is any information technology project that has an assigned start and end date, often with specific milestones and goals to be met during the development cycle. These are temporary, short-term efforts to create a unique product, service or environmentsuch as removing old servers, developing a custom ecommerce site, creating new desktop images or merging databases.

All IT projects are constrained by three factors: time, cost and scope. For a project to be successful, these three constraints (often called the Triple Constraints of Project Management) must be in equilibrium. If any constraint is out of balance, the project is headed for disaster.

All projects, IT or otherwise, move through five phases in the project management lifecycle:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

Each phase contains processes that move the project from idea to implementation.

Successful IT Project Management Requires a Standard Approach

To be successful, organizations should create or adapt a standard approach to managing projects. A standard approach provides the following benefits:

  • It establishes ground rules and expectations for the project team.
  • It provides project managers, functional managers and the operational staff with a common language that eases communication and helps ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  • Managers can quickly determine which ones are preceding smoothly and which are not when all projects follow the same processes and approaches, and use the same metrics for measuring project performance.

Not using a standard approach is the biggest IT project mistake a business can make. It makes it possible for an organization to measure the success of its projects to determine which processes and methodologies are working and which ones need to be improved.

Why Do IT Projects Fail?

IT projects fail because they're just plain hard. They include the usual project-management challenges, such as deadlines, budget constraints and too few people to devote to the project. But they also face unique technology challenges, from hardware, operating system, network or database woes, to security risks, interoperability issues, and the changes manufacturers make to their hardware and software configurations.

The three most common reasons projects fail is due to a lack of planning, because the projects are rushed and because the scope is too unwieldy.

1. IT projects fail at the beginning not the end due to a lack of sufficient planning.

An IT organization must consider the resources it needs to devote to a project, the skills required and the people who need to be involved, and realistically consider the time it will take to create, test and implement the project deliverables.

2. IT projects fail because they're rushed.

Because so many companies today rely on IT for a competitive advantage, they speed through development efforts and systems implementations in order to be first to market with new, IT-based products, services and capabilities. Organizations often feel that, to remain competitive, they must cut costs and maintain business operations, but that adds to the pressure on a big, expensive project such as an ERP implementation or a platform upgrade. A project with inadequate planning, risk assessment and testing is doomed from the start.

3. IT projects fail because the scope is too unwieldy.

A project with a large scope can usually be better executed by breaking it down into a series of smaller, more manageable projects. For example, a project to convert all of an organization's historical records, forms and transactions from paper to an online digital database can be incredibly complex and time consuming. A series of smaller projects allows for more manageable endeavors, such as first converting the existing records to digital, and then a second project to use the digital database internally, and then a third project to bring the database to the Web. These smaller projects can be completed sequentially and with more flexibility than a large, complicated and cumbersome project.

During the project's initiation, you should establish the criteria for success and failure. For example, to be considered successful, a project may have to adhere to certain quality standards (such as Six Sigma or an ISO program), fall within a certain budget, meet a particular deadline or deliver specific functionality.

Another approach is to use an indicator such as the "15-15 Rule." The 15-15 Rule states that if a project is more than 15 percent over budget or 15 percent off schedule, it will likely never recoup the time or cost necessary to be considered successful.

What Strategies Get IT Projects Up to Speed?

Slow and fast are subjective terms; what may seem slow to your organization may be entirely zippy somewhere else. It's important to determine a reasonable time frame to complete an IT project based on the scope of the work, the expected deliverables and the conditions of the project.

That being said, you can determine if your projects are, in fact, moving slowly. Do you have historical information against which to compare current projects' speed, or have your projects always taken this long to complete?

Second, ask if your projects are effort-driven or of fixed duration. Effort-driven projects can be "crashed" by adding more resources to reduce the project's time line. Crashing a project, however, adds costs. If your project is of fixed duration, like testing software for two months before releasing it, there's not much that can be done to reduce the project's time line without increasing risk.

Regulations, Laws and Standards to Consider

Projects that must comply with laws and regulations require more up-front planning. For example, in the age of Sarbanes-Oxley, you have to do a lot more documentation when you're developing a new business application or implementing new supply chain software. When project managers consider the regulations that govern their industry, from manufacturing to health care, the regulations become project constraints and result in more overhead. Factoring laws and regulations into projects also expands their scope and adds to their costs.

>> To jump to the list of IT Project Management terms and phrases click here.

>> To jump to IT Project Management resources, articles and reference guides click here.


Joseph Phillips, PMP, Project+, is the director of education for Project Seminars. The author of numerous books on project management, Phillips has served as a project-management consultant for organizations creating project offices, maturity models and best practices. He can be contacted through jdp@projectseminars.com.


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