Project management is critical. Project management is complex. There’s a reason why organizations value their project managers — it’s a tough job.
Within the information technology universe, there are inherent challenges that make project management all the more complex and exciting. Virtual teams, shrinking project delivery timelines, frequently changing technology landscapes, attrition — you get the idea.
In the fast-paced world of IT, project managers work as enablers, gatekeepers, facilitators, problem solvers, mentors, and translators. Juggling all these roles and responsibilities in the backdrop of all the grand challenges we mentioned earlier — that takes some doing. If project management has been weighing you down, let this guide help you out.
Build the right project management team
It’s not uncommon to hear about project managers locking horns over acquiring people for their team. Projects demand teams that possess a large portfolio of skills. Amid these challenges, and the skill demand-supply gap within enterprises, IT project managers have to build empowered and enriched teams. Here’s how you do this:
- Prepare a mega-list of skills you need for successful project delivery, along with the headcount.
- Don’t stop till you get all your requirements tick-marked.
- Look to build mini-teams with people who complement each other’s skills.
- Build evaluation mechanisms that help you identify skill gaps, and look for help in training and support from your organization’s HR function.
- Whenever you feel that a particular element of the project deliverable plan is unhealthy, look to get the support of people who can apply their skills to make the situation better, irrespective of their team.
Balanced documentation —critical for success
Too much documentation and too little documentation — both can be addictive behaviors for project managers. Both approaches have their downsides. The answer — balance it out, document it if there’s value, and leave it if documentation becomes just a background process without any implications. Here are some sound practices to get you started:
- Give due importance to your project scope document and sign off. This alone could prevent a mid-project change in scope and prevent unsavory friction between you and your clients. No one wants issues with their clients — we have all seen “Breaking Bad”! How did that turn out!?
- Go ahead and invest time in a project plan, though it doesn’t need to be too complex or layered; every unnecessary detail you add to it will be discussed for dozens of weeks to come!
- Create a hierarchy of dashboards and report cards so that data flows logically from one level of representation to the other, helping you maintain a single version of the truth and reducing reporting effort.
- Promote the idea of a known error database (KEDB), particularly for new projects, to help document problem resolutions and derive repeated benefits.
Be a master communicator
Goes without saying. Deadlines will be missed. Project scope will shrink or expand. People will come and go, and bring or take mission-critical skills and knowledge with them. Communication keeps things transparent and keeps your project afloat. (Gen. Patton in WWII knew how to communicate as well — he was a master at building morale. And Optimus Prime in “Transformers 5.” How many amazing speeches did he put out? Two for sure!) Communication brings context to the work people do, and context brings involvement and focus.
Weekly status update meetings, monthly town halls, occasional video conference, impromptu short meetings, informal coffee conversations (it is amazing how much gets done at a Starbucks) — all these communication channels serve specific purposes. Explore them, experiment with them, and master them.
To a great deal, communication is also about keeping the clients aware of progress without waiting for them to ask. Build robust mechanisms of showcasing progress to clients in such a manner that they’re able to quickly highlight anything that’s off track from their expectation.
Don’t take a myopic view of communication, though. Look to build new channels of communication for intrateam communications, if the old ones are not working. Consider seeking budget for a new age SaaS solution such as Slack, a tool that brings together major communication channels under a digital roof, topping things up with project management functionalities.
Managing project schedules via frameworks and workflows
IT projects get off the highway and are exposed to severe delay possibilities primarily because of ineffective communication and operational inefficiencies. We covered communication, let’s talk about operations. Here’s what you need to do as a project manager to be able to keep projects on track:
- Eliminate obstacles from the paths of your team members by connecting them to the right people, providing them the right tools, and helping them see how their work is contributing to the project goals.
- Build in some buffer time in all project timelines to be able to manage defects, 11th-hour problems, and last-minute requests.
- Build a mechanism to accurately measure the gaps between the “desired” and “actual” project state, and act quickly to bridge gaps.
- Leverage the right technology to set up automatic reporting and workflows, freeing up labor hours for your team to do the more value-added work.
Be a leader, and then a manager
IT project managers can get caught in the rut of management models, tracking and monitoring, and PM frameworks. All these are tools meant to help you perform the arduous duties of a leader. So, think of yourself as a leader first, before seeing yourself as an operations and quality management ninja. Here’s how you can do this:
- Establish personal connections with all your team members.
- Take spectacular care to make your virtual team members feel included and valued.
- Look for opportunities to solve your team’s problems.
- Adopt an empathetic approach towards people when they get caught up in issues arising because of unavoidable circumstances.
- Look to make the project a great learning experience for your team.
Understand the special talent and strengths of your people and help them build upon these skills for personal upliftment (it does not have to be a church experience when a stellar sermon is heard but all wonderful leaders need to know how to motivate people on a consistent basis – Vic Mackey in “The Shield” knew how to do this).
Stay in control
Project managers are the key that unlocks the door to success for enterprise IT projects. Considering the large number of variables that build the IT project equation, it’s essential that project managers widen their field of vision.
The approach discussed in this guide helps project managers stay in control throughout the project life cycle, help teams explore their potential, and prevents leakage of money and labor hours. The big bosses don’t want that!
Featured image: Pixabay