IT Project Management – Setting Up and Delivering IT Projects

Once upon a time, 30 years ago, I accidentally got involved with IT Project Management. I didn’t know it at the time, I was just in a place, at a time, and my work became a project. I didn’t even realize it was IT Project Management that I was doing then, I just had a job to do and did it.

Over many years and many continents my work has become much more formalized as a project mgr. Not that many years ago, I decided to get some proper training and took a Prince 2 course, and certified. Of course, I thought I knew it all. I knew enough to be dangerous and a little more to stay on top of things and no more than that. Taking a Prince 2 course 25 years after I started working was an eye opener. I recommend it to everyone!

Don’t under estimate the value of good training in IT project management, but just as importantly, don’t over estimate its value either. Too many people that pass through project training are never guided into the real-life application of their new found knowledge. Certification is not proof of a capable IT Project Manager.

Just Good Common Sense?

I always thought basic IT project management skills were little more than good common sense. I still believe that. Over the years I’ve become a little jaded and have come to realise that one of the rarest things in this world is good old common sense, especially in the world of IT Prj. mgt.

IT Project Management is NOT a black art, contrary to public opinion. It’s a simple process of gathering requirements, developing a solution or road map to deliver that solution and then delivering it.

Obviously there’s a bit more to it than that. The devil is in the detail as they say, but in principal that’s it. Imagine being asked to go out and buy some milk because you’ve just used the last of it at home. The requirement is easy to understand – a new bottle of milk should end up in the fridge.

But you have to know where you’re going to get it, how much it will cost and roughly how long it will take you to get it. IT project management, indeed any form of project work is just an elaboration on this process. This elaboration is a necessity when it comes to complex projects and projects where significant amounts of money are to be invested.

So what’s in the road map? The basic road map looks something very similar to this;

  1. Scope – get the requirements and agree them with the customer
  2. Plan – Sequence of tasks, timing, resources needed and costs – get these agreed by customer too.
  3. Control – manage the delivery according to the plan, within the schedule and budget.
  4. End – make sure your customer agrees what you have delivered is what was asked for.

Methodologies

Years ago I worked for a consulting practice and they had their own methodology for IT project management. They called it PACE – Plan, Activate, Control, End. They later updated it and called it EPACE – Engage, Plan, Activate, Control, End. In essence this and all the variations of IT project management methodologies – PMI, Prince etc., all cover the same ground. IT Project management is a well defined set of processes combined with common sense and experience. Applying these processes in IT Project Management is what most Project Managers fail to do well.

What was interesting then, was that the this IT Project Management methodology singled out the “Activate” stage as a special attention task. Having done the Prince 2 course and having written several professional development courses for PMI in the past, the “Activate” stage is one of those steps that often get insufficient attention, if any, in the real world. More on this in another article.

Each of the 4 main areas is a skill to manage in its own right.

  1. Understanding exactly what the customer wants. Developing a clear and concise scope of work, and getting it agreed can take a lot of effort and time. Sometimes it’s very quick and relatively easy, for example, a number if investment banks I’ve worked for have templates for new offices, data centres, trading floors etc., so when it came to developing a scope and associated costs and schedule it was quick, accurate and easy – “just tell me how many people as our spreadsheet tool will do the rest..”. On other projects – getting any form of agreement on the customer’s scope has been almost impossible – all the way to the end of the project. Life is never simple, projects are about people. Period.
  2. Producing a schedule, budget, risk assessment, communications plan, quality plan, reporting templates, and engaging the right resources – internal and external staff, is time consuming but vital if the project is to run smoothly.
  3. Managing the delivery or controlling the project delivery is where 75% of the IT Project Management time is spent. This phase also includes having a process and procedures for incident management, change management, inventory or configuration management and resource management. If you don’t do any one of these you’ll be in deep trouble.
  4. Closing out the project – making sure you get agreement on the quality of deliverables – i.e. they meet the customers expectations. Reporting final spend, carrying out a handover to operations and closing down the project  – invoice payments (or accruals), contracts for external resources, configuration management (inventory and documentation) all passed to the customer.

Can you start to see that within each of these phases there is a world of potential for confusion, disagreement, problems and sleepless nights of stress and worry? When you’re managing millions of dollars of a customer’s investment in a project – you better believe it.

Some projects can take several years to complete and managing the challenges of basic IT Project Management responsibilities becomes something you “live”. It’s not always fun, enjoyable, or pleasant. But there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had if the job is done well and the customer gets what he asked for at the end.

IT Project Management is a real life challenge. Projects are about implement change and managing people to make that change happen. Never under estimate the true value of a good project manager. They never earn their real value compared to the effort, experience and skill they bring to a job. Few people outside the IT Project management industry understand what they do.

IT Project management is “the application of common sense and pragmatism to facilitate people to make defined change”.

Construction Companies Benefit From Project Management Professionals (PMP)

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another 18% joining their ranks in another three years.

There are various reasons that lead to a construction company going in trouble, including general economic conditions, not being competitive, heavy operating expenses, poor accounting system or even high employee turnover, but none impact a construction business as significantly as lack of project managerial expertise.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is for project managers with extensive experience. Qualifications and testing criteria are rigorous, making it a widely respected certification. Generally speaking, construction projects are run by contractors, not by certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs).

The contractors would say that they’re the only ones who truly understand construction, because they’ve been there and done that; but, is that viewpoint valid? Where does the need for hands-on experience end, and the need for rigorous and structured project management ability begin?

Most contractors, whether general contractors or specialists (plumbers, electricians, etc.), worked their way up in the construction business. That means they started out as an apprentice, became a journeyman, possibly were promoted to being a crew chief or jobsite superintendent by the company owner, then eventually stepped out on their own to start their own company and be a contractor.

Here are 5 basic areas in which these contractors and Professional Project Managers think differently. These areas can make or break a project, specially when it comes to maintaining the project on schedule and on budget:

1 – Bidding Strategies and Change Orders

The world of construction is highly competitive, especially in today’s economy. Each job out there has a number of contractors bidding on it, driving prices down and all but eliminating profit margins. A common strategy which many contractors are using today is to bid the job with minimal overhead and negligible profits, depending on “Change Orders” to make their profits.

While this strategy works, it may not be working quite as well as many contractors would like. The very fact of bidding a job in that manner means that there is little room for error. Even a slight error in scope management, cost estimating or scheduling can take a project from profitable to being a loss.

If the project is being provided under a contract, then some advance thinking has to go into how to deal with “Change Orders” when they occur. Project Management Professionals approach Change Orders with a different mindset, since they see this as a change to the original “Plan” and seek to integrate the change into the overall plan instead of “tacking it on top of” work that is already being done.

Approved change orders can require revised cost estimates, new schedule updates, revised activity sequencing, additional risk analysis and even calculation of cumulative impacts. Therefore setting up a “Configuration Management” process with integrated change control provides an effective way to centrally manage and document change orders, while providing opportunities for increased profit margin.

2 – Claim Management

Although this may seem the same as the change orders (mentioned above), it is actually a separate area. “Change Orders” deal with changes for which both the owner and contractor are in agreement. “Claims” deal with areas where there is disagreement. These are extra charges due to unforeseen problems on the project, which the contractor wishes to recoup from the owner at the time of project closing. What makes these claims challenging is the difference in interpretation of the project scope. The owner may feel that these unforeseen situations are part of the scope of the contractor, while the contractor may see them as extra costs he incurred, for things outside of his control.

Effective claim management requires thoroughly documenting the problem, sending on-time notifications to the owner, including estimates of cost and schedule impacts, along with creating a convincing justification for the charges. This is one of the most challenging communication problems on a construction project. Project Management Professionals are trained in dealing with claims, whereas the typical contractor is usually at the mercy of the owner.

3 – Thinking “Tasks” instead of “Processes”

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another eighteen percent joining their ranks in another three years. It’s not the lack of knowledge in construction, but the lack of knowledge in how to manage their projects. This article describes how construction companies benefit from Certified Project Managers.

A contractor or construction superintendent usually becomes such because they know how to do the job. But, that isn’t the same thing as knowing how to manage the job. They see the project as a series of separate tasks; get all the tasks right and the project will come together.

However, Project Management Professionals (PMPs) are trained to think in terms of “processes.” Thinking this way creates a more global approach to the project, seeing the individual tasks as only part of the processes. This drastically changes their approach to managing a project, seeing how things fit together not so much by a “gut feeling,” but as a continuing path, filled with measurable risks and challenges, towards a specific goal. There are parts of this PMP mindset, such as Communication Management, Risk Management and Time Management which are not directly related to the ability to swing a hammer:

– Not knowing how to set up a “Communication Plan” to clearly define how to communicate the right information to the right stakeholder at the right time can cost a company that just got off the ground heavily.

– Not knowing how to create a “Risk Management Plan” or “Risk Register” for the project, including how to deal with those risks, whether by mitigating them, eliminating them or transferring them, could become fatal.

– Not knowing which tasks on your project are on the “Critical Path” could extend your schedule (hence costs) by enough to make your profits marginal or non-existent.

4 – Managing Technical Changes

Integrating, communicating and managing technical changes, such as changes to a building’s blueprints or equipment drawings requires thorough action, which is properly documented to ensure that everyone is made aware of the change. These technical changes can be as minor as a change in paint color to something major enough to cause a skyscraper to fall down in high winds. Regardless of the size of the change, each one is important to the owner, requiring proper integration and implementation.

As part of their training, Project Management Professionals learn that change requests should be subject to a thorough process that may require analyzing estimated impacts on cost, quality or schedule before the change is approved. Coordinating changes across the entire project, and documenting the complete impact or technical change should be a second nature to any project manager who seeks a successful and profitable project outcome.

5 – Managing Suppliers and Subcontractors

A major part of managing a construction project is ensuring that the work crews and supplies are on the job site when they are needed. A typical contractor deals with their suppliers at the last minute, calling in their orders and expecting delivery the same day. Their way of dealing with subcontractors bears a closer resemblance to browbeating than any accepted management philosophy.

When a construction project is properly managed, a project schedule is created before the first person shows up at the job site. This schedule is maintained and adjusted as needed, be it due to adverse weather, construction delays or other problems on the job. With an accurate project schedule, there is no reason to deal with suppliers and subcontractors on a last minute basis. Everything can be pre-planned and communicated to the proper people well in advance.

Another problem with managing sub-contractors is that when problems occur, the buyer (contractor) has little leverage for claiming the incurred costs due to seller’s (sub-contractor’s) fault. A procurement contract should include terms and conditions that contractor specifies to establish what the sub-contractor is to provide. By including the right terms and conditions into the sub-contracts, many typical problems can be avoided.

As part of the Project Management Professional training, “Procurement Management” is discussed within the perspective of buyer-seller relationship. This relationship exists at many levels, including sub-contractors performance evaluations. These processes indicate if the sub is performing the work according to plans, rate how well the work is being performed, create the basis for early termination of the sub’s contract, and application of penalties, fees or incentives.

Understanding Project Management and Its Relationship to Program and Portfolio Management

In this article we will discuss the activities involved and the relationship between portfolio management, program management, project management and organizational project management.

In addition, we will look at the role projects have in strategic planning and finally we will discuss the project management office and its importance.

Portfolios, programs and projects are all related and aligned to organizational strategy. In the same manner, portfolio management, program management and project management all contribute to the achievement of the strategic goals of the organization in different ways.

The various activities of these three areas all relate to the organizational project management (OPM). Organizational project management is the systematic management of projects, programs, and portfolios in alignment with the achievement of strategic goals. The PMI concept of organizational project management is based on the idea that there is a correlation between an organization’s capabilities in project management, program management, and portfolio management and the organization’s effectiveness in implementing strategy.

A program is a group of projects that are similar in scope, activities, and have similar subprograms. The purpose of a program is to manage the projects in a coordinated way.

Not all projects conducted within the organization will fall into the same program. however, programs will always have projects.

Program management involves providing the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to the program in order for program requirements to be met.

Program management focuses on the co-operation between the projects to determine the optimal approach to managing them. Usually these projects are interdependent, for example having the same resource requirements, governance structure and similar strategic organizational direction along with this they may face similar issues and change management considerations.

Portfolio Management

The portfolio includes all programs, projects, and subprograms that meet a strategic objective of the organization. Programs and projects do not need to be related in order to be in the portfolio, the only requirement is to contribute the same overall strategic objective(s) of the organization. Portfolio management is the centralized management of one or more portfolios that will help the organization achieve its overall strategic objectives, it is concerned with all projects and programs, part of the management process is to ensure that all projects and programs have the proper resource allocation and that all programs and projects are aligned and support the overall strategic objectives of the organization.

Now we will look at projects and strategic planning

Projects should be created to directly or indirectly assist with the achievement of an organisation’s strategic objectives

Some strategic considerations which lead to projects include:

  • Market demand – Many industries are facing a time of change and great competition. It is important for organizations to recognize the needs of the market and respond appropriately. Because of the importance of responding quickly, effectively and cost efficiently projects are often initiated to address these issues or opportunities
  • Strategic opportunity or a business need – A project may be initiated to develop new product or service in order to expand the organization, increase revenue, or solve a problem that company is encountering
  • Social need – Projects are initiated to help a community or group of people solve issues the people may be facing.
  • Environmental considerations – Companies today are continually looking for new ways to improve their operations to be more “environmentally friendly”.
  • Customer request – Organizations are always looking for new ways to satisfy the needs and wants of the customers, so a project may be setup to meet a specific customer need.
  • Technology advances, technology continually changes, as a result the products, services, and operations of the organization must be continually improved to stay in line with trends, opportunities or threats caused by these developments
  • Legal requirements, organizations are required to follow and meet certain legal guidelines for their industries, project are often developed to meet these requirements.

The Project Management Office

A project management office (PMO) is a management structure that is used to standardize project processes and also allow for the sharing of resources, methodologies, tools, and techniques.

The PMO can be supportive in nature. In this role, the PMO takes on a consultative role to projects by providing templates, best practices, training, access to information and lessons learned from past projects. In the supportive role, the control level the PMO over the specific project is low

The PMO can also have a controlling role, in this role, the PMO would provide support and require compliance through various means. They include having standard project management practices and methodologies, using similar templates and tools. In the controlling role, the control level the PMO has over projects is considered moderate

Finally, the PMO can have the directive role. In this role, the PMO takes direct control of the projects in its remit. In the directive role the control level the PMO over the projects’ processes is considered high.

The PMO can provide a great benefit to the organization through sharing information, identifying and implementing common methodologies, training new project managers and coordinating across different projects.

The role of the PMO will be determined by the organization and the level of structure considered to be necessary

In general project managers are still in charge of their individual projects and PMO is concerned with establishing guidelines and providing support to all projects