What is IT project management?
All businesses have information technology goals, and IT project management helps achieve them. IT spans the whole landscape of a modern enterprise, and it’s up to IT managers to plan, organize, resource, budget, execute, and be accountable for its functions. But it’s more than simply using knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to complete projects; management also handles the various upgrades, version changes, issues and integrations that occur during project lifecycles.
Increasingly, with cloud-based IT solutions becoming more and more sophisticated, project managers are being brought in as strategic advisers at the beginning of projects – sometimes even before they’ve formed as projects. The role of IT project management is now as integrated into business practice as finance, operations, marketing, and communications.
And IT project management now recognises the importance of employee experience in the overall IT experience. By harnessing user feedback in real time, IT support teams can spot, jump in and fix problems before they become incidents.
Who are IT project managers?
Some would say superheroes during the 2020 pandemic – getting workforces up and running remotely, while keeping the regular systems functioning optimally.
Projects they’re responsible for can include:
- Hardware installation
- Software development
- App development
- Cloud computing and virtualisation
- Systems upgrades
- Change management
- Employee experience initiatives
- Data management
- Business analytics
- Security and compliance
It’s even more crucial that IT project managers get involved and hands-on with all the various teams within an organisation, particularly where IT plays a critical role, such as:
- Helpdesk support
- Contact centres
- Service management
- Web development and maintenance
- Data security
What do IT project managers do?
IT project managers are likely to be at the forefront of a project from conception to implementation. Savvy businesses will involve IT at every stage, as these are your professionals who are keeping up with ever-changing technology. They:
- Initiate:A goal gets identified, and a project conceived in consultation with IT management, for achieving that goal
- Plan: A project plan is generally done in cycles to allow for updating at every stage
- Execute: Everyone works on the task in accordance with the project plan (which may change) to deliver the goal
- Monitor: It’s the IT project manager’s remit to control and monitor every aspect of the project: team, quality, timings, budget, scope, risks
- Close: The IT project manager checks that all work has been finished, approved, signed off, and transferred from IT to the operations area where it will sit.
How do IT project managers do it?
Time was, every company had their own bespoke systems, created by their own IT departments. Often, each department then had their own system, which worked in isolation, not across all business functions. The move nowadays is towards cloud-based systems that integrate the whole IT landscape, linking all the key drivers – revenue with customer experience with employee experience, and constantly monitor each in real time.
There are several methodologies and approaches that IT project managers can use:
The waterfall methodology
This project management method doesn’t just work for information technology – it is a tried-and-trusted approach for any linear project that has a beginning, a middle and an end. This six-stage model consists of:
- Requirements: What’s needed? Once needs are analyzed and identified, a requirements document that outlines what needs to be done and how gets written up and run by stakeholders for approval.
- Design: Once requirements have been recognised and approved, a solution to meet those needs is designed. A design document that details everything necessary to complete the project (personnel, resources, procedures, budget, timelines) is drawn up.
- Implementation: The IT project manager and their team assiduously carry out the works detailed in the design document.
- Testing: An essential part of the process: project deliverables are measured against the design document’s specifications, and run past stakeholders. If the work isn’t up to scratch, it’s back to the (virtual) drawing board.
- Installation: Once the solution has passed all the testing and compliance, it should be fully operational and ready for release to users.
- Maintenance:IT projects invariably require maintenance, support, updates and upgrades after they’ve been installed, so in a way, IT projects rarely come to an end. The IT project manager usually signs this stage over to specialist maintenance teams.
Typically, Gantt charts are used to organize waterfalls.
Agile can’t really be called a methodology, because that makes it sound more structured than it is. Instead, it’s a collaborative, iterative, cross-functional, constantly improving approach to IT projects.
Agile uses a framework called scrum to bring a team together and deliver projects. A scrum is a safe place for experimentation, discussion, collaboration and even failure, as it’s all about learning from experience. Within the scrum framework are sprints – short, well-managed, timeframed work phases that (usually) get completed before moving onto the next. Any sprints that are not finished are put into a backlog to be picked up at a later stage. Kanban boards can be used to keep track of agile.
Feedback is an essential part of agile, as scrum managers need to know what is happening in real time to iterate and solve problems.
For teams that want the narrative of waterfall but the freedom of agile, a hybrid methodology combining the best of both is often the solution. Hybrid uses both Gantt charts and kanban boards to organize the workflow, but the true workhorse is a real time dashboard that tracks the most important metrics and filters relevant data.
Rethinking IT project management with X-data
IT projects, particularly large scale multi-year transformations, are a huge resource investment for any business. In order to make a success of these costly implementations, it’s not enough to rely solely on operational (O) data. To take IT projects to the next level, managers need to combine it with experience (X) data:
- Operational (O) data: This comes from traditional project management methods and tools which focus on things like milestones, project status, timelines and cost. While O-data is important to the success of a project, we recommend providing an additional layer of required insights not captured by traditional project management processes:
- Experience (X) data: This monitors the human experiences and behavioural elements that can contribute to or inhibit a project’s progress. Understanding team confidence, communication, collaboration and even burnout risks, helps project managers avoid significant blind spots. These elements also serve as early warning indicators that the project is on track for success, or potential failure.
By embedding feedback touchpoints at deliberate stages during an IT implementation, they provide insights into the behaviours and attitudes of the team throughout the project:
- At the start: Ask core project team members whether they believe they are on track for success, providing a valuable opportunity to course-correct at the beginning of the project, as opposed to halfway through.
- In the middle: Monitor wellbeing and burnout to ensure the teams are staying afloat whilst on track to hit tough timelines.
- Towards the end: Expand feedback to get the views from a sample of end users who are testing and using the tool, to track early adoption and success.
Managers and teams can then discuss the feedback and be debriefed to close gaps in project team expectations and minimise risk to the project.