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