What do IT project managers need to do in order to be successful? This article examines key challenges to successful delivery of information technology projects, and gives tips, strategies and risk mitigations that can be used to structure and manage a project successfully.
A project is set in motion to achieve a result such as a business objective. A custom web application may be written to improve the productivity of a company’s workers. Enterprise resource planning software may be rolled out to consolidate a company’s data and streamline workflow and processes. Servers may be consolidated to achieve cost savings.
Fundamentally, a project changes an aspect of the organization of a business. A number of people have a stake in how such changes are implemented: managers may look for better productivity or higher sales; users of the software would like ease-of-use and time savings; internal auditors could be interested in security, adequate reporting and adherence to accounting and other standards.
Projects fail when the stakeholders aren’t aware of the details of what the outcome will be, or don’t agree on measurements of success after implementation. As a project manager, some of the keys to success include being clear on who the stakeholders are and working with them to agree at a detailed level on what the outcome of the project will be and how success will be measured. This can be done in a variety of ways. First, scope baselines must be documented, and agreed to by the stakeholders. These baselines include detailed requirements, visuals of how screens and reports will look, and descriptions of business rules, data, and process flows. The baselines include the details of interfaces to other systems, report design, data conversion mapping, application security, and application logging and audit requirements. They also include descriptions of software and infrastructure architecture and the decisions related to how these will be designed. Non-functional requirements such as system performance, scalability and maintainability may constitute a baseline.
Once requirements are in place, estimates must be made for performing the work required to realize the objectives. There are different estimating methods including ballpark or order of magnitude estimating; top-down estimating based on rules of thumb, metrics, or past project experience; and bottom-up estimating, by identifying and estimating each task to be performed. Researching this subject will yield additional tips and techniques. Estimate granularity will vary depending on project size and the needs of the organization, but should be linked to how the outcome will be measured. Estimates are not simply numbers of months, weeks, days or hours, but are also assumptions upon which such numbers are based. For example, the length of project phases and the entire schedule is one of the assumptions.
One reason projects do not meet their schedule objective is because the project milestones are set too aggressively. If the business dictates the dates by which a project must be completed, the project manager can do some work to identify the probability of success, and negotiate scope changes if the probability is low that the project can be completed in the requested time frame. How can the likelihood of success be calculated? A tested rule of thumb is that an IT project is unlikely to be successfully delivered if the schedule in months is less than the square root of estimated person-months of effort. For example, if the estimated effort is sixty-four person-months, a schedule of less than eight months is unlikely to be achievable. If the date is unmovable, it is better to reduce the scope and related effort needed, rather than attempting to bring too many personnel to the project and perform too many simultaneous or overlapping tasks.
When beginning a project, the project manager must understand the budget and work to assign personnel to the project, such that their costs and estimated effort line up with the budget for labor. If there are other costs such as software, network or hardware, making sure at the outset that these things can be procured for the allocated costs, and who will supply them and when, is key to successful delivery. If planned costs are not mapped to expected costs at the beginning of the project, a budget overrun will be a strong probability.
To be continued next week.