Tag Archives: project manager

No Luck Required

“If we always helped one another, no one would need luck.” – Sophocles

‘Good luck.’

How often has someone said this to you? How often have you said it to others?
Of course, you mean well.

Sometimes saying ‘Good luck,’ it is an automatic polite response. Not unlike, ‘Have a nice day.’
You might say it to someone who is going through a difficult situation, especially when you do not know how to help that person. It might be your parting phrase to someone as you walk away from them.

There is nothing wrong with wishing someone ‘Good luck.’ We probably all have times in our lives when we would accept all of the good luck in the world.

When you are saying ‘Good luck,’ to a team member who is having a difficult time with an assignment; or to a team member who has just told you they are running late with their assignment, you have an obligation as the project manager and leader to help.

It is your job to help move obstacles out of the way for your team member.
When a team member tells you about a challenge, they do not necessarily need luck.
They need you to act like a leader. To listen to them discuss the challenge, to brainstorm with them, to enlist others to assist them.

When you have a team member facing difficulties and you say ‘Good luck,’ and then walk away,
it is as-if you are washing your hands of them and their difficult situation.

Do not just wish your team members luck, work with them to change their luck.
Instead of wishing this vague thing called luck, bring them help. That is part of your responsibility to them.
It does not mean you solve every problem; it does not relieve them of their responsibility.

Stop wishing your team members ‘Good luck’ and make sure that you bring them good help.

ITIL?: A Project Manager?s Perspective

If you are a Project Manager working in an IT environment, you may have heard the acronym ITIL? (IT Infrastructure Library, a set of books similar in nature to PMI?s PMBOK Guide) or ITSM (IT Service Management – the concept of IT as a ?service? to the business). If you haven?t heard of ITIL, you will.? Why?? Simply put: in terms of industry adoption, ITIL is one of the fastest growing frameworks in the IT industry today.

ITIL helps organizations increase IT efficiency, improve quality, and control costs.? In fact, AMR Research reports that IT organizations that have implemented ITIL best practices have saved up to 10% in IT costs without sacrificing the quality of service delivery.? That is why U.S. Computer Economics has projected that approximately 45% of all organizations, both large and small, in the US and Canada will have adopted ITIL best practices in some form by the end of 2008.

High Demand for ITIL Expertise
Companies are turning to ITIL, and the demand for individuals with skills and expertise in this area is increasing.? So much so, in fact, that ITIL certifications rank as some of the highest paid certifications in technology, along with PMI?s CAPM and PMP credentials.? In recent salary surveys from ZDNet?s Tech Republic, PMI and ITIL credentials consistently rank in the top three IT certifications industry wide.? With ITIL?s continued growth in the United States, the demand for IT Project Managers with expertise in ITIL will continue.

Focus is on Process, not Technology
The most compelling and interesting similarity between PMI?s PMBOK Guide and the ITIL books is that both are descriptive frameworks centered around process, not technology.

What this means to you is that both are extremely approachable standards.? For example, the PMP exam does not ask how you would go about creating a milestone task within Microsoft Project.? Rather, it makes sure you understand the importance of creating milestones.

The ITIL books are the same way.? In order to really understand IT Service Management as a practice, you do not need to understand servers or switches.? Rather, you need to understand things like the importance of controlling change, defining service levels, and maintaining a catalog of all your services to the business in terms the business can understand.

Both are bodies of knowledge covering simple principles that are drawn from deep industry experience.? They both detail concepts that are scalable and adaptable to each organization.? For example, the Project Plan for a small, simple project is going to look very different for a large, complex one.? In the same way, the process for managing a minor software patch release is going to have a different scale of requirements compared to a brand new, enterprise-wide software release.

Frameworks on a Similar Mission
In the PMBOK Guide, the goal is to provide project results, on-time and under budget, that meet the needs of the customer.? In the ITIL best practice set, the goal is to provide IT ?services? that provide value to the business in an ongoing and cost efficient manner.

Both the PMBOK Guide and ITIL guidance have the same mission, to elevate the profession by adding structure and rigor around what is done. ?Both strive to create a common language and deliver predictable results in a repeatable manner.

For example, in projects, there is a tendency to compress planning and/or testing under the pressure of an aggressive timeline.? However, a good project manager knows the importance of planning to alleviate rework later.

In the same way, businesses want IT to be agile and quick to make changes, while avoiding unforeseen consequences.? This is done by putting processes in place to prevent unauthorized changes to the IT infrastructure.? By having the discipline to develop and follow a formal Change Management process, IT organizations can handle more changes and lessen the risk to the production environment.

My Own Experience
I found ITIL to be a great compliment to my Project Management skill set as it covers topics in Change Management, Knowledge Management, etc. ?I really wished I had become certified when I first got involved in technology as it would have set me up with an understanding?of how IT processes work (or should ideally work) and would have allowed me to better “speak the language” early on with others in IT.

Getting certified has also given me a greater appreciation of the importance of effective Service Management. I would highly recommend that other Project Managers working in (or with) technology look into ITIL certification as a way to compliment the PMP. In today’s competitive market, it sets you apart from the pack and provides you with an expanded toolset for successfully managing projects.

Erika Flora, PMP, ITIL Expert
Principal, Beyond20
[email protected]

5 Tips on how to present projects successfully in project management

Your ultimate goal in rendering a project is to finish on time, below budget and with a happy client. But how do you perform it? Here are five tips to assist you.

Be Honest

As the saying goes “Honesty is the Best Policy”.You have to be honest all the time in dealing with your customers. Tell them if their project is not feasible or if you don?t acquire all of the resource, cash and time involved to carry it out successfully from the start. Set their anticipations by saying to them what you will carry and by when. And if it eventuates that you can?t render on your promises, then state to them about it directly. By having an ?open book? policy, you?ll have your client’s confidence. And if you involve them early enough, they will be a lot supportive to your cause.

Hand it over
Managers oftentimes fall into the trap of believing that they can manage things much efficiently than staff. Of course in a lot of cases they may be right, but the problem is that they don?t have the time to perform everything themselves. So a bright manager always tries to delegate as much as possible to staff. It presents them the time needed to supervise the project and support their team. It?s a delicate task, but even if you recognize you can do a job more expeditiously than others, delegate it anyway.

Become a leader
When you economize time by delegating your jobs, you have?? time for? leading and motivating your group. Make this by regularly communicating the project? to your team, honoring them for progress and accrediting their accomplishments. Have their respect by showing them you care. Build Up team liveliness by bringing them to lunch on a daily basisand uttering about what they accomplished unitedly. Remember, there is no ?i? in ?team?.

Expect the unexpected
Always expect matters to change and be ready for it when it comes. People have ideas, your client may require changes, and the industry and technology change over time as well. It?s not the change that?s significant, it?s how you react to the transformation that weighs. Always handle change, but be suspicious of it. Question it, double-question it and only when you?re positive it?s for the greatest, apply it.

Work smart, not hard
Attempt not to begin from scratch. Give yourself a head-start wheresoever feasible by using tools like project management guides. These templates encourage the quality of your deliverables, while keeping you time and effort.

Jason Westland has been in the project management industry for the past 15 years and is the author of the book “A Project Life cycle”? if you would like to find out more information about Jason or his project management software you can visit projectmanager.com.

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How to not choke your business analyst

business analyst - project manager

by Aoife city womanchile via Flickr

Guest post by Laura Brandenburg of Bridging the Gap.

In an ideal world, the business analyst and project manager work seamlessly together to help the business achieve the most valuable solution. The Business Analyst owning the scope of the solution and the Project Manager owning the scope of the implementation. ? The ideal world is dependent on your organization having standard roles, clear project sponsorship, and every individual understanding their role and being perfectly qualified to fulfill that role.

The ideal world rarely happens.

I know within the Business Analyst profession, we often find professionals with a varied background that may or may not have had the opportunity to learn about how to do the role. We come from the ranks of SMEs, QA, and sometimes even PM. We find our way into business analysis because we are good communicators and learn the techniques of business analysis as we go. On the other side of the fence are formally trained BAs (and PMs) who know how everything should work and nearly nothing about how things happen in real organizational life.

To top things off we Business Analysts are a fairly idealistic bunch. We have some great ideas and a passion for our products but we can also wreak havoc on a nice little project with a specific estimate and a set-in-stone target date.

What follows are a few frustrations I’ve heard about business analysts from my project manager cohorts and a few ideas for how you can help the Business Analyst in these situations. No choking allowed. Work your PM magic.

No estimates

My BA has no idea how long the requirements will take!

We are hard-pressed to provide an estimate, or provide estimates for such a broad range with so many assumptions that they do little to help you plan the project.

How you can help

Recognize that we often start a project from an ambiguous hole of muck. “Defining scope” and “gathering requirements” sound simple but in reality are mucky processes. Some stakeholders know exactly what they want, others are difficult to work with and eliciting the requirements is like finding a needle in the haystack. Others are unavailable for our meetings, cancel at the last minute, or send someone in their stead who knows nothing about the project.

When you ask “how long will it take to gather requirements”, first we get frustrated because you said “gather” instead of “elicit” and then our mind goes into a tailspin trying to think of all the factors and tasks we need to do and all the things we do not yet know because we haven’t had the time to ask. We want to provide you with a number that we can deliver on. And very often the factors are complex and the details to hang out to scarce.

Instead of looking for a hard number at the outset, agree to talk through the factors, list out reasonable assumptions that you’re willing to help us realize, securing commitments from stakeholders, and giving us an appropriate amount of time to dig into the project before coming up with a detailed plan and meaningful estimate.? This is often the starting point of a new project and a great time to start with a collaborative effort. After all, we’ll be in this together for quite awhile…

Analysis takes a seemingly long time

“We are still discussing it.”

We go off into a hole to “analyze” for weeks on end, producing nothing that fits into your WBS charts and generating a lot of meetings and discussion.

How you can help

First off, did you ask us for a plan before you set us off to do requirements? Were we given full license in our discovery process or did you explain the project constraints so we could help you manage them?

If the answer is yes, and you did not get an answer, recognize that you are probably not working with a senior Business Analyst. Help them set milestones, break down the work they need to do, and track toward some intermediary goals.

If the answer is “no” then what were you doing while we were off analyzing? We are probably just as frustrated with you for not starting a plan and providing input on project boundaries. In fact, we probably think we’re doing part of your job while you are “waiting for the requirements”.

Dig in and start the conversation. A senior Business Analyst should be able to give you a plan for what they are doing in this analysis phase. The plan will probably have a lot of “if/thens” meaning that as we go through discovery and make preliminary decisions, the plan takes different paths. A senior BA will appreciate your help in aligning the rest of the team at the appropriate touch points and helping drive the key decisions that will keep the analysis moving.

We like perfect solutions

“No, you can’t cut scope. We absolutely have to do….”

We tend to be perfectionists. We spend a lot of time understanding what the business wants and we can get invested in our ideas about the solution. We can gold plate the requirements.

How you can help

Trust that we are committed to delivering value. Expect that we’ve already done some work to separate out the truly low priority requirements (if not, again a sign your working with a junior analyst that may need a mentor). Given that we’re working from a defined set, tell us what it will take to achieve our requirements. Help us help the business make informed decisions about priorities at a more granular level by providing some idea of the cost of implementation. (Like it or not, it’s really difficult to prioritize a list of “must haves” without having a general idea of the cost of implementation.)

Just three ideas. I’m sure there is more.? I’d like be interested to hear your comments or additional frustrations…

Agile Project Manager Confessions, Pecha Kucha Style

What the heck is Pecha Kucha?

That’s what I asked the first time I heard about it too.

Check out this guest post from Dave Prior and find out, even if you’re scared of the sound of “Pecha Kucha”.? It’s actually kinda cool.? I’m looking forward to viewing the entries!

By Dave Prior, PMP, CST

Whenever I tell people that I am both a PMP and an Agilist, many look at me as if this had to be some deep, dark secret.

by by Anonymous9000 via Flickr

How could one study and practice a formal project management methodology and also use Agile?

The first time one of my coworkers and I went to go speak before a PMI Chapter about Agile, we were led to believe the audience may throw tomatoes. But a funny thing happened, not only was almost everyone receptive, but many people told me, “yeah, we’ve been using some of this for years!”.

Indeed, I have been surprised with the number of PMI members who have run Agile projects – perhaps not in name – under the radar of some large organization. This was very similar to some of may earliest experiences using Agile project? anagement.

by Anonymous9000 via Flickr

I recall when working with a large financial firm, we were told we have a very strict process if we were doing projects of over 400 hours. But if we were below that threshold, there was a much lighter process. You wouldn’t believe how many “396 hour” projects that team executed.

Working with the PMI Agile Community of Practice (CoP) has been a validating experience.? So many project managers are committed to the profession of project management and interested in using Agile practices to improve their craft. In fact, over the past year we within the virtual community have been thoroughly impressed with the number of people using Agile practices in spite of circumstances.

It is with that in mind that we would like to let you know you are not alone, and we want to hear from you. The Agile CoP is hosting an online video contest, “Confessions of an Agile Project Manager”.

Submit your own video in a Pecha Kucha format telling us your story.?? Perhaps it was a guerrilla project conducted quietly so as to deliver value without attracting too much attention, or maybe it was an organizational? transformation. Whatever your experience, we want to hear from you, the community, about your experiences using Agile.

by Anonymous9000 via Flickr

We will be asking the community to provide their stories and evaluate those that they like most. Most importantly, we will have cash prizes for the three best submissions!
Submissions can be made to the PMIAgile YouTube group.

Rules
Dates:
– March 5th: Contest officially begins
– May 10th: Last day to submit videos
– May 17th: Last day to vote on videos
Prizes
– 1st Place: $1000
– 2nd Place: $750
– 3rd Place: $500

Participation
Anyone is eligible to submit and vote on videos

Video Format
Submitted videos should be in formatted as pecha kucha presentations. This is a power point (or similar presentation capability) showing 20 slides that auto-advance every 20 seconds, for a video that is 6:40 in length. Videos that deviate from this format significantly, while impressing us with their creativity, will not be considered for the competition.

Do you praise your teams enough?

Guest post by Erika Flora

Years ago, I heard this great quote that has really stuck with me and become somewhat of a mantra. It is as follows:

There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.

General of the Army George C. Marshall

Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye recognized for bravery under fire in Afghanistan - by US Army Africa via Flickr

Staff Sgt. Conrad Begaye recognized for bravery under fire in Afghanistan - by US Army Africa via Flickr

What a fabulous concept! Often, we are so worried about our own jobs and careers that we don?t take the time to think about those around us and make sure we help them get what they want. Ever since I started making a conscious effort to really ?let go? of who gets the credit, my work attitude has completely changed. In addition, the way my team and others around me view my work has completely changed. They realize that I am their champion, and they work hard to perform to the best of their abilities. Rather than spending time worrying about whether executive management sees all the great things I am doing, and position myself accordingly for that next great promotion, I focus on mentoring others and helping those around me get recognized for their hard work. I actually spend part of my work week thinking about how I can bring visibility and kudos to the efforts of my teams.

Too often, when employees are surveyed in their companies, many of them say that they feel their work is not valued or that no one has told them in the last six months that they appreciate them. How terrible! The best thing we can do for our coworkers, direct reports, colleagues, and project teams is to find creative ways to show them our thanks and make sure everyone in our company knows that they are making a valuable contribution. We all love to get praised for our hard work. Make sure you are taking the time to proactively do that for others.

Many companies have put great examples of this concept in place. When I worked with Pfizer, they implemented something called a Pfish program where you could send a Pfish card to a colleague for a variety of reasons (being a team player, going the extra mile, or even just making your day). Every week, the people that had received a Pfish card were entered into a raffle for a gift card. However, the very best thing about the Pfish card program was that the recipient?s boss was copied on the email that they received. It was a really fun program and one that made employees feel special and appreciated.

However, you don?t need a company program to show your appreciation for others. Here are some really easy things you can do to make a big difference in the lives of those around you ? Submit your project team for an internal company award, external ?Project of the Year?, or other award. There are lots of professional organizations that look for a variety of award submissions and, many times, are excited to get new submissions from companies or people they have not heard from before. Log onto LinkedIn and write unsolicited recommendations for people you have enjoyed working with. Send a short email to a coworker?s boss thanking them for going the extra mile on a difficult project. Start a ?Thanks a latte!? newsletter that thanks your team members by name and post it up at work, maybe even leave a small Starbucks gift card on their desk before they get into work. The more creative and silly, the better! You will be surprised by the results. It seems counter-intuitive, but we as project managers end up shining the brightest when our teams shine. What other examples have you seen or done to brighten the day for those you work with and help them get the kudos they richly deserve?

Erika Flora, PMP, ITIL Expert
[email protected]
www.GoBeyond20.com

Functional and Project Manager?s Duel

I receive many questions from the pmStudent community, and one of the highlights of my day is reading and responding to these.

This morning I received a fantastic question, and I would like to share it with everyone.

[Note: As a general rule, I will exclude first names and countries from now on.? Your privacy is very important to me.? If you want me to refer to you by name and country in a blog post, please let me know.? Otherwise I am going to keep things anonymous so everyone is comfortable!]

Hello Josh,

I would like to thank you for your hard work. All the information you send to us is extremely helpful and educational. That being said, I have a question that confuse me. My question is regarding the relationship between project manager and line manager. Especially when it comes to project driven organization, what is the purpose of line manager. I read a book regarding this, the more I read about it the more I see the conflict and confusion between project manger and line manger. Do you have a chance to explain how line and project managers work together effectively.

Thanks.

Functional and Project Manager's Duel - by uwdigitalcollections via Flickr

Functional and Project Manager's Duel - by uwdigitalcollections via Flickr

In a matrix organization, you are going to have at least two types of managers.? Line or Functional Managers, and Project Managers.? (I will use functional manager and line manager interchangeably).? There are different types of organizational structures along a spectrum which companies can be highly projectized or highly functional.? Along this continuum the project manager role and line manager roles change.? Their roles are also highly dependent on the organizational culture.

It is important for both line and project managers to understand their roles and how they relate to each other, regardless of the organizational structure.? In a perfect world, they work together to manage projects, people, customers, etc. to the benefit of all.? They are collaborators.

If any given organization does not adequately define roles and ensure harmony, it WILL result in territorial struggles and other foolishness.? For instance, both managers may feel it’s their role to give a performance evaluation and fight with each other.? Approval for various things like replacement equipment, forms, etc. may become contentious.

People will fight over stupid things, even (perhaps especially?) managers.

If the interface between project managers and functional managers are not clearly defined, they WILL spend time nit-picking each other and stepping on each other’s toes.

Functional or Weak Matrix

  • Project Manager: Very little role or authority
  • Line Manager: Full management role and authority

In this organization type, project management is usually not seen as a formal discipline.? Functional managers run their own “projects” which are usually not much more than telling their own direct reports to go do something.

Very similiarly, in a weak matrix you have functional managers who “authorize” projects, but the management of the projects may be done by staff leads and you may also have pseudo project teams that span across multiple functional teams or departments.

Balanced Matrix

  • Project Manager: Part-time and little formal authority, provides some input to performance reviews
  • Line Manager: Full management role, does performance reviews with input from project managers, resources usually spend most of their time on operational work and a little time or temporary full-time on projects as they occur.

This organizational structure introduces the role of project manager.? MANY companies are close to this point on the spectrum.? A project manager is responsible for project(s) but does not have any formal authority over the staff that work on these projects.? In order to gain resources, the project manager will need to negotiate with functional managers for resources, and hopefully she has a good sponsor (who is usually a director or middle manager) who can negotiate for resources and participation before the project begins.

Strong Matrix

  • Project Manager: Full-time and at least as much formal authority as line manager if not more.? Staff report to project managers for years at a time for technical direction and project managers usually provide the bulk of the input and many times deliver performance reporting.
  • Line Manager: Role is mostly to support project staff.? You may see line managers being split out by job skills…engineering team, software development team, support team, etc.? Focused more on developing their specific skill sets and caliber of employees.? May arrange for group training sessions related to their discipline’s focus.? May still do administrative management functions like time cards, vacation time, sick time, etc.? Staffing coordination and planning, taking input from projects and ensuring staff are covered (have full allocations across one or multiple projects) adequately in the future.? Partner with project managers on recruiting and new hires, etc.

With a strong matrix you see the formation of something like a PMO.? Many project managers report to one functional manager.? That person is the functional manager for all the project managers.? Here you can start seeing some effective sharing and implementation of best practices.? Although that is possible in the other matrix models too, it becomes much easier when you have an organizational structure that supports project management as a discipline.

Projectized

  • Project Manager: Employees report directly, full authority.
  • Line Manager: Role may be transferred to the project manager.? If they still exist, they are focused mostly on staffing coordination and planning, taking input from projects and ensuring staff are covered adequately in the future.? They may also coordinate recruiting and new hires, but project managers have the most influence on hiring decisions.

In this environment, project managers are responsible for their projects AND their own staff.? Staff who work on their projects also report to them in a functional/line sense.? These are truly project management organizations.? They make their money by doing projects.

This structure is advantageous if there are long project life cycles or other form of consistency where resources can be working for the same project manager over an extended period of time.? The project manager knows what the staff are doing and can coach and mentor them effectively.

This obviously puts more pressure on the project manager to be effective in managing projects AND all the aspects of people management.? I’d argue that every project manager should strive to be effective in both regardless of the organizational structure, but in a projectized environment it becomes even more critical.

Don?t Try This Alone! Whacky for Wikis and Crazy for Collaboration

kimberlyfrostyHappy New Year everyone!? I live in California, so my snowmen have to been made of something besides snow, as you can see.? I do hope you are not succumbing to the temptation to sink into doom and gloom due to rampant forecasts of imminent and long-lasting economic disaster.? Resist the urge!? It’s a mood disorder that is perpetuated by the downward spiral of negativity.? Keep hope alive!? In December I got a boost to my hope for the planet when I attended a conference called the “Program for the Future” in honor of Doug Engelbart?best known as the inventor of the computer mouse, but more accurately described as a champion of technology and tools that increase our collective intelligence.? (Ever notice how a collection of really smart people can still have the approximate IQ of an insect?!!)? Continue reading

Practice Project Management at home

As a Mom, it is important to know exactly where everyone is at any given time, how long they are going to be there, and what they are doing while they are there.? Other than that, it’s pretty simple.

As a Project Manager, it is important to know exactly what task each project resource is working on?at any given time, how long they will be working on?that task?, what they are doing and why they are doing it.? Other than that, it’s pretty simple.

A Mom is?the “boss” of the house.? They make the rules as they go along and everyone just does what they are told.? If they decide to change the process, they don’t need to clear it with anyone, they just announce that expectations have changed, then everyone complies with the new rules.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this actually worked?? But, that is not the case.? A Mom/Project Manager must earn the respect of their team whether the team is their family at home or their colleagues at work.? The first step in earning respect is giving respect.? When you respect the team, they will respect you.

Flickr Attribution:  cambodia4kidsorg

Flickr Attribution: cambodia4kidsorg

When Mom decides to change the rules, she should get input from her team (the children) before imposing her new rules.? This doesn’t mean that the children get to make the rules, but by feeling that they are a part of the process, they will embrace the upcoming changes and they will be more willing to adhere to them.? Likewise, a Project Manager should seek input from their team before making any process changes.

Exactly how should a Project Manager introduce a process change?? First, they need to examine the existing process to determine where and if a change is actually needed.? Take the time to map out the current process and share it with the team.? If the process was not previously documented, the team may not have fully understood what was required of them.? This may solve the process issue at hand.

Once the process has been documented and shared with the team, ask for feedback on where the team feels there are inefficiencies or room for improvement.? The team may be doing more or less work than is required at any point in the process.? Understanding and following the now clarified process may solve the issue at hand.

When the current process has been documented, reviewed and discussed, try it for a few weeks before examining where changes should be implemented.

If a change is required, the next step is to brainstorm with the team on areas for improvement.? This will satisfy two requirements for change: 1) The team becomes engaged and ready to accept a change ; 2) The Project Manager is not on their own to create the new process.

In extreme cases, a Change Management consultant should be brought in to facilitate the process change.

We are operating in a world where change is the new normal.? To succeed, we need to manage change in a way that people who are adverse to it, will embrace it.

Fortunately for the Mom, children are very adapable and will readily accept of change; however, the Project Manager is usually dealing with adults who are not as open to following the “new” rules.? By soliciting input from the team, everyone will feel that they had a part in creating the new process thereby motivating them to embrace it.

Successful Projects: It’s Not Rocket Science

Project Management is not rocket science

Project Management is not rocket science

There is no worse person to be than the project manager at the end of a failed project. As an IT project manager, I have experienced that feeling and I can tell you it’s not nice. IT projects are particularly difficult to manage. In fact there really aren’t any IT projects, just projects that have elements of IT in them.

The trouble with these projects is that often you are doing something that hasn’t been done before, is unproven or cutting edge. Customers expect a good result not excuses, even though these projects are frequently a journey into the unknown. If we take the construction industry, building a new bridge for instance, we have been building bridges for hundreds of years and know how to do it. We understand how things are going to happen, in what order and the expected result. This is rarely the case with IT projects.

Avoiding the common pitfalls of IT project management is not rocket science, it is simply a case of taking some sensible measures. Identified here are five killer mistakes of project management:

Who Owns the Project?

The Mistake:

The nature of projects is change and change often encounters resistance. People don’t like change so they need to know it is necessary and what benefits it will bring. In order for a project to deliver change it needs the backing of senior management. Without it the project will proceed very slowly. The sponsor (senior management) is the person that drives the change forward and the project is the mechanism for change. A project without support from senior management will struggle.

The Solution:

Make sure you have the top down backing from senior management. There must be direct communication from the sponsor to the stakeholders. The message must be, “we are serious, this thing is going to happen so you are either with us or you are not” and beware those that are not.

Be careful as project manager to make sure the sponsor does not take the project over and become the de-facto project manager.

Getting Users Involved

The Mistake:

Lack of user input and involvement is the recipe for a bad project. This can either be because of the “we know what you want” mentality from the IT department or lack of interest from the customer. Either way it must be avoided.

The Solution:

The IT department must take time to understand the customers requirements before proposing any technical solution. Often IT is blinded by the latest, newest thing available and try to shoehorn the requirements into it. On the other hand, customers must devote the time and effort necessary to ensure a successful project by interacting with the IT department and making sure all requirements have been fully defined. Ensure you have spoken to all stakeholders to gathered their requirements and that they continue to work with you for the duration of the project.

Stopping Scope Creep

The Mistake:

Scope creep is the cause of more project failures than anything else. Not knowing exactly what a project is aiming to deliver or setting off in a fit of enthusiasm but little else, is a recipe for failure.

The Solution:

Ensure that the business case, requirements and scope are clearly defined and documented. Make sure the stakeholders understand them and sign them off. Stick rigidly to the scope and if changes are required then put them through a change management process where they are documented, justified and then agreed.

Managing Expectations

The Mistake:

Often there is an expectation that IT is like a magic wand you wave and suddenly a miracle occurs. During a technology project expectations can inflate to a ridiculous degree. It is the role of the project manager to manage expectations to a sensible level.

The Solution:

One way to avoid this is to break a project into smaller pieces or phases. I equate this to a sausage machine, where you feed in the raw material at one end and out it comes as small, perfectly formed, packages or sausages at the other end. The same can happen with IT projects where you take small packages of requirements and push them through the machine, producing several deliverables over the life of a project. This way you manage expectations by making frequent deliveries to demonstrate what the technology can really deliver. This approach ensures the project delivers to the customers expectations by giving them early visibility of what you are building.

Understanding the Lingo

The Mistake:

Have you ever stood next to a group of IT professionals and wondered what on earth they were talking about. It is like a whole new language and to non-IT people it often is. The pitfall comes when the customer and IT think they are talking the same language when in fact they are not. This leads to a problem when the IT department delivers what they understood the customer wanted and it turns out to be something different.

The Solution:

Communication problems are the hardest to resolve as often it is only looking back that the problem is identified. Regular communication and a close working relationship with the customer will help. What you really need is a person with a foot in both camps. Someone who understands the business and the IT equally well. If you can identify this person make sure you keep hold of them, they are hugely valuable. If you are unable to find this person, the next best option is to have two people, one from the business and one from IT. By working closely together and sharing information they can minimise any communication problems.

Finally

In 1995 The Standish Group surveyed IT executive managers for their opinions about why projects succeed. The three major reasons given that a project will succeed are user involvement, executive management support, and a clear statement of requirements. Concentrating on these three aspects alone will give your project a good chance of success.

Don’t become the victim of a failed project, put measures in place that will ensure your success. After all it’s not rocket science!

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