Are You Taking the Right Approach to
In the modern business environment, the pace is incredibly fast. Because of the flexibility and mobility requirements placed on daily business operations from customer demands and an increasingly remote workforce, organizations today rely heavily on technology to secure their place in the market.
Newly developed tools and advanced features have made optimizing daily efficiency easier for organizations everywhere. But taking advantage of these new offerings can often mean updating or upgrading existing IT infrastructure to maintain compatibility requirements with new systems, and to keep pace with growing business needs. Whether it’s a cloud migration, implementation of new IT services, software development, or others, changes to your IT infrastructure are likely. In any case, there can be many IT projects associated with necessary business-critical changes, and effectively managing IT projects is an exceptionally important factor in the success of those changes, as well as the overall business itself.
There can be a lot of moving parts involved with IT projects. Depending on the parameters of the project, they can be time-consuming, multifaceted, complex, difficult, and burdensome to say the least. Compound that over multiple projects needed for multiple changes to your environment, and they can be simply overwhelming if not managed well. Furthermore, poorly managed IT projects can have a significantly negative impact on the health of your business. Given that the purpose of nearly every IT project is to improve productivity, enhance customer satisfaction, optimize daily operations, increase security, or other progressive intentions, failing to complete them within scope impacts the bottom line.
With the proper approach to managing IT projects, however, you can help ensure that your projects are completed on time and on budget, and are ready to make a positive impact sooner rather than later.
But before we explore any potential management approaches, let’s first define what projects and activities those approaches would be guiding to completion.
IT Projects Defined
An IT project can be any sort of project that involves IT infrastructure, computer technology, information systems, and the like. In a general sense, managing IT projects includes planning, organizing, and defining tasks assignments to align a project’s completion with specific organizational or IT goals.
While they certainly are woven into the fabric of daily operations for IT and software development organizations, they’re also not industry-specific. Managing IT projects is an essential function for marketing companies, construction companies, engineering companies, and basically any company working with technology to do business – regardless of industry.
IT project management can include overseeing projects for:
- Hardware Installations
- Data Management
- Web Development
- IT Infrastructure Design or Modification
- Needs Assessments
- Network Upgrades
- System and Software Deployment
- Cloud Computing
- IT Security Modifications or Upgrades
- And more!
IT Project Management Activities
Ultimately, leading teams to achieving project goals that are aligned with organizational goals is the core of any project management activity. But effectively managing IT projects is more than just setting a timeline. While staying on time is certainly a key component to a successful IT project, there are potentially many more details to consider and actions to handle, including:
- Project Assessment
- Strategizing Project Parameters
- Project Planning
- Scope of Work Determination
- Task and Resource Assignment
- Managing the Workflow
- Task Prioritization and Management
- Producing Project Deliverables
- Setting Expectations
- Assisting Team Communication and Collaboration
- Results Measurement and Analysis
- And more!
IT Project Management Methodologies
Managing IT projects can be difficult even under the best circumstances. By selecting the most appropriate project management methodology, you can help simplify the process by leaning on proven best practices and guiding principles to influence your path to completion. The methodology choice defines how your team works and communicates throughout the project, and is dependent on factors such as the makeup of your team and the scope of your IT project.
Here are a few types of project management methodologies commonly used for IT projects, along with some advantages and disadvantages of each:
The Waterfall method is quite dedicated to meeting requirements, and is sequential in nature. In this methodology, work is split into isolated stages that are self-contained. In order to proceed with the next stage, the previous stage must be completed, so the project’s demands must be clear and easily understood before beginning – because there’s no turning back once you start.
The sequence is started by collecting and analyzing the requirements, then determining an approach, designing the solution, applying the solution, testing, deploying, and finally, correcting any issues that may have occurred.
As the Waterfall methodology was first developed to manage software development projects, it’s still prominently used in software development today. It works best for quick and easy projects that have clear and static requirements, or projects that are reliant on documentation.
- Rigidity: The clear separation of stages can help organize and divide tasks more easily, and the inflexibility of having to complete a stage before moving on requires near flawless execution, which often yields better results.
- Usability: The stage separation is easy to understand and easy to use. The methodology is simple and comprehendible regardless of experience with managing IT projects.
- Fewer Corrections: Because so much time is spent in the earlier stages of the project, and because you can’t move on until each stage is fully complete, it’s typically easier to ensure that a project’s needs and requirements have been met – allowing for less time and effort to be spent in post-deployment corrections.
- Resource Flexibility: Documentation is essential to this methodology due to the correlating need to gain a clear up-front understanding of a project’s needs – and that dependence on documentation makes it much easier for new resources to jump into a project and continue to push forward without missing a beat.
- Rigidity: While the separation of stages can be a strength, it can also be viewed as a problem.
- Overall Lack of Flexibility: The method is greatly dependent on the correct and accurate assessment of the project’s requirements. If the requirements change, or if there was an error in analysis, the project must effectively start over.
- Increased Risk of Failure: If an error occurs along the way, the project must be re-started – which can increase the risk of the project running outside of its scope, and of eventual failure.
The Ultimate Tip Sheet for Picking the Right IT Project Management Method today.
Where the Waterfall method fails at appropriately managing long and complex projects, the Agile methodology excels. Truthfully, managing IT projects in the Agile method is the opposite of doing so in the Waterfall method. The Agile approach is flexible and quick, without the up-front demands of collecting and identifying project requirements. It’s designed to perform small changes to align with modifications to a project’s scope.
As with the Waterfall methodology, Agile was originally developed for use with software development projects, and although the methodology can be adapted to various types of projects because of its flexibility, it’s still very commonly used in the IT space. It works best for projects with a general idea, but without a predetermined objective, or for a project that needs to accommodate quick changes. It’s also a good choice if the driving force behind a project will be real-time collaboration and communication, rather than forecasted planning.
- Lack of Restrictions: With little focus on requirements, and no static stages to complete, your teams are allowed more flexibility to make changes along the way, and experiment with more creative solutions.
- Reduced Risk of Failure: Because changes are made gradually and in real-time based on feedback provided by key decision-makers, the risk of project failure is considerably reduced.
- Teamwork Challenges: Each organizational department must be dedicated to being on task and ready to work collaboratively to deliver the desired results. With no set plan in place, decision-makers will need to be available for nearly immediate feedback to keep the project on track.
- Difficulties of Not Having a Set Plan: Without a plan in place, many other elements of managing IT projects become more difficult; such as resource management, scheduling, and more.
Scrum derives its principles and processes from the Agile methodology, and while it isn’t necessarily a full-bodied approach to managing IT projects, it does have its own set of particular methods and strategies for project management.
In a Scrum approach, a skilled and organized project team is the core driving force behind a project. They utilize 30-day “sprints” in which the team works through various project end-goals in short bursts of 30-day periods that include daily collaborative meetings.
Because of Scrum’s reliance on project teams to mostly self-manage through the workflow, this approach is best suited for organizations that have motivated project teams in place, and that have complex projects that require an Agile approach. Ideally, you would want the team itself to be reasonably small, but with large amounts of experience and discipline.
- Agile: Because Scrum’s principles and processes are derived from Agile, all of the advantages of an Agile approach are applicable to managing IT projects with a Scrum approach.
- Speed of Development: The 30-day sprints and daily collaborative meetings encourage a faster pace with quicker development times.
- Simplify the Complex: By breaking down project goals into the 30-day sprints, management of large and complex IT projects becomes easier – as does your ability to meet and achieve those goals.
- Clarity: Because the project team is so heavily relied on in a Scrum approach, the entire team should have a clear understanding and unimpaired visibility into the requirements and tasks needed to achieve project goals – making prioritization easier and collaboration more effective.
- Risk of Low Motivation: If the project team is not wholly engaged with the process, or not disciplined enough to self-manage the workflow, there is an increased risk of project failure.
- Lack of Experience: If the project team lacks the necessary experience and knowledge needed to complete tasks effectively and efficiently, this can also increase the risk of project failure.
- Lack of Management: Without an assigned project manager, or an assigned end due-date, schedules and budgets can drag out, and task assignments can linger.
- Resource Reliance: Because of the reliance on the project team, if a team member or resource is lost mid-stream, it can have a damaging effect on the team’s performance – and to the success of the project.
As the name would suggest, the Hybrid approach is a mixture of the Waterfall and Agile methods.
In a Hybrid approach, emphasis would be placed at the beginning of a project on collecting information and analyzing a project’s requirements, as would be done in a Waterfall approach. From there, however, focus would be placed on providing flexibility so that changes may be made as necessary in real-time, as would be done in Agile.
Managing IT projects with a Hybrid approach allows you to utilize the best elements of both the Waterfall and Agile methodologies – offering a flexible and structured approach that can be advantageous for many IT projects.
As you would probably guess, a Hybrid methodology is best used for projects that aren’t suited for either a Waterfall or Agile approach, but could use a bit of both. In these projects, you would probably have the end goal in mind, but are open to exploring how to get there – with planning and outlining requirements up front, and intuitive collaboration along the way.
- A Better Waterfall: While the planning stage of the Waterfall method typically results in fewer required corrections, the inflexibility of the approach creates issues if there are errors or changes needed. A Hybrid approach allows for a rigid planning stage with flexibility the rest of the way.
- A Better Agile: If there are criticisms of the Agile approach, they would be centered around the lack of structure and planning, which can lead to more errors and corrections, as well as increased time to completion. By utilizing the planning stage from Waterfall, a Hybrid approach gives Agile some structure where it could use it the most.
- Limitations: When schedules and budgets are built around utilizing both Waterfall’s rigid dependability and Agile’s accommodating flexibility, it leaves little room for movement with respect to either.
- Compromise: Using two very different approaches alongside each other and toward the same end goal will require compromise from both approaches to get the most out of the relationship.
Choosing the Right Approach
As you can see, choosing an improper IT project management approach can lead to challenges and difficulties that can easily push a project out of scope, or even completely derail it. The methodology you choose is basically an outline for managing IT projects, so when deciding on which approach is the right one for your project, there are a few things you can evaluate in depth to help aid in your selection:
- The Project Itself: Factors such as budget, timeline, expectations, complexity, and others can help in your choice. Consider what the deliverables are, whether or not you have a clear understanding of the end goal, along other requirements that can help you identify specific needs that you can tie to a methodology.
- Your Tools: In a perfect world, your software tools would work with any approach to managing IT projects – but in many cases, they don’t. Preferably, you want to choose a methodology that works with your existing tools, rather than having to purchase new tools to align with your chosen approach.
- The Team You Have in Place: If your team does not have experience with a particular approach, it may take longer for them to gain an understanding of that approach than it would be to simply choose another. The team’s experience, capabilities, organization, preparedness, and resource availability can all be vital factors in the decision.
- Decision-Makers: An Agile approach, for example, requires regular involvement from key decision-makers within your organization. If those decision-makers can’t be readily available as necessary, an Agile approach may not be best-suited for your project.
- Past Experience: If your organization has previously utilized a particular approach to managing IT projects and they’ve failed, it may be in your best interest to not repeat history. You may find out that a particular approach simply doesn’t fit with your organization’s culture.
A Key to Success
By recognizing how each methodology creates positive impact on your organization, you can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how your projects are implemented – which is a major factor in determining project success.
While there is no one overall best approach to managing IT projects, the advantages and disadvantages of each methodology can significantly impact an organization’s ability to maximize project potential by running projects more quickly, smoothly, and efficiently
The Ultimate Tip Sheet for Picking the Right IT Project Management Method
These easy tips can help you avoid a bad fit that can impede your progress.
Your No-Nonsense Guide to Project Management for IT.