Project Management Definition and Solutions

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

By Joseph Phillips

CIO


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.

Traditional project management, as it's used in construction or manufacturing, deals with solid, tangible elements. Instead, IT project management is complicated by shifting business needs and demanding stakeholders. Because good IT project management is difficult to execute, we've come up with a list of common questions and answers to explain its importance and make it easier to master.

What are the basic principles of IT project management?

Projects are short-term efforts to create a unique product, service or environment, such as removing old servers, developing a custom e-commerce site, creating new desktop images or merging databases.

All 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 heading for disaster.

All projects, IT or otherwise, move through five phases in the project management lifecycle: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Each phase contains processes that move the project from idea to implementation.

Why do IT projects fail so often?

According to The Standish Group, which tracks IT project success rates, only 29 percent of IT projects conducted in 2004 were completed successfully. The numbers are depressing for a variety of reasons.

IT projects fail because they're just plain harder. 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.

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. Otherwise, the project will be a mess. The IT organization will never complete it on time, on budget or with the required functionality, which are three common factors for project success.

Third, 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.

Finally, IT projects fail because their 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. To learn how JP Morgan Partners made a massive modernization project more manageable, read "A Project Win for JP Morgan Partners."

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