IT project management

Every IT project should begin with two questions: What business problem are we trying to solve? And does everyone agree it's worth the effort to solve it?

IT project management is the process of planning, organizing and delineating responsibility for the completion of an organizations' specific information technology (IT) goals.

IT project management includes overseeing projects for software development, hardware installations, network upgrades, cloud computing and virtualization rollouts, business analytics and data management projects and implementing IT services. 

In addition to the normal problems that can cause a project to fail, factors that can negatively affect the success of an IT  project include advances in technology during the project's execution, infrastructure changes that impact security and data management and unknown dependent relationships among hardware, software, network infrastructure and data. IT projects may also succumb to the first-time, first-use penalty which represents the total risk an organization assumes when implementing a new technology for the first time. Because the technology hasn’t been implemented or used before in the organization, there are likely to be complications that will affect the project’s likelihood of success.

Managing the Project

 These five process groups comprise the project management life cycle and are universal to all projects. The specific phases within a project, however, are unique to each project and represent the project life cycle.

  • Initiation – the project goal, need or problem is identified. The project manager is assigned to the project and the project charter is created.
  • Planning – the project manager and the project team work together to plan all of the needed steps to reach a successful project conclusion. The project planning processes are iterative in nature and it’s expected that planning will happen often throughout the project.
  • Execution – once the project plan has been created, the project team goes about executing the project plan to create the deliverables of the project. The project can shift to project planning as needed throughout project execution.
  • Monitoring and controlling – as the project is being executed by the project team, the project manager monitors and controls the work for time, cost, scope, quality, risk, and other factors of the project. Monitoring and controlling is also an ongoing process to ensure that the project addresses its targets for each project objective.
  • Closing – at the end of each phase and at the end of the entire project, project closure happens to ensure that all of the work has been completed, is approved, and ultimately transferred ownership from the project team to operations.

Managing the Project Knowledge Areas

There are ten project management knowledge areas. These ten knowledge areas segment different actions completed by the project manager throughout the project. The ten project management knowledge areas are:

  • Project scope management: the project scope is defined, documented, and approved. The project scope is protected from unauthorized changes, edited with approved changes, and validated by the project stakeholders for project acceptance.
  • Project schedule management: the project schedule is defined first by the working hours of the project, any project milestones, and ultimately a project deadline. The project team’s availability throughout the project is documented and planned accordingly. The project manager will work with the project team to identify the project tasks and task duration estimates in order to create a project timeline.
  • Project costs management: the costs of the project are estimated so that a budget for the project can be assigned. Project costs include materials, services, facilities, software licenses, and other expenses attributed directly to the project.
  • Project quality management: what constitutes quality in the project is defined in specific metrics and agreed upon among the stakeholders as early in the project as possible. Quality assurance programs and policies direct the project work, while quality control inspects the project work to confirm that quality has been ascertained in the work.
  • Project human resources management: the project manager works with the project team to verify that each team member is completing their assignments, working well with others, and that their participation and performance is reported to their respective managers.
  • Project communications management: stakeholders will need information from the project manager will need to provide information to the project manager throughout the project life cycle. This knowledge area create a communications management plan that address who will need what information, when the information is needed, and the best modality for the communications.
  • Project risk management: risks are situations, events, conditions that can threaten, and sometimes benefit, the objectives of the IT project. Risks must be identified, analyzed, and a response created for the risk event. The probability and impact of each risk event is evaluated to create a risk score to justify the costs needed to manage the risk event.
  • Project procurement management: should the project need to purchase goods or services, a formal process for procurement will need to be created. The plan should address the project’s selection of contract type, administration of the contract, purchasing audits, and contract closeout. Many project managers do not manage procurement, but defer to the organization’s centralized procurement or purchasing department and processes.
  • Project stakeholder management: stakeholders are anyone that has a vested interest in the project. Stakeholder management is the identification, inclusion, and communication with the groups of project stakeholders. It manages the anxieties and concerns the stakeholders may have about the project work.
  • Project integration management: this special knowledge area is the coordination of the events in all of the other knowledge areas. How well the project manager performs in one knowledge directly affects the performance of the other knowledge areas. Project integration management examines the interactions and contingencies among the knowledge areas to ensure that the project is adequately planned, executed, controlled and closed.

These ten knowledge areas are to be managed iteratively throughout the project.  With the exception of procurement, a project manager will likely encounter all ten of these knowledge areas in every project. There is no set order in which the areas should be managed, but rather the project manager shifts to the appropriate knowledge and processes based on what’s occurring within the project.

IT Project Life Cycle

There are several different approaches to managing an IT project that affect the project life cycle. Organizations can select one of these popular approaches to help reduce the risk of expensive rework, risks from quickly changing technology, or expansive planning at the launch of the project. The project life cycle of a typical IT project moves through iterations of planning, executing, and controlling until the project is ultimately closed and transferred into operations.  However, there are three distinct IT project management life cycles:

Predictive life cycle: this is the most common and traditional project life cycle for IT projects. In this approach the project manager and the project team first define the project scope, project schedule, and expected project costs before the project execution begins. As part of the project planning it’s typical for the phases of the project to be defined (each phase does a specific type of project work). In order for the project to move from its initiation to its closure each phase must be started and completed in the specific order as planned. This type of approach is sometimes called a waterfall approach as the project “waterfalls” down the phases of the project.

Iterative life cycle: this approach to IT project management requires that the project management be defined early in the project, but the cost estimates and activity duration estimating are planned at a higher level early in the project. As the project execution occurs costs and duration estimates are created for the most imminent work through iterations of planning. The iterative life cycle also plans for iterations of benefits released to the organization. For example, an iterative life cycle may create a new software with more features with each new release as part of the project.

Adaptive life cycle: this project life cycle also uses an iteration of planning and executing, but the planning that typically last for two weeks. This approach uses a rolling wave of planning and executing through short bursts of both planning and executing. Change is expected in this approach to the IT project and it’s ideal for software development project. Agile project management and Scrum are examples of the adaptive life cycle.

All of these life cycles use the concept of phases to move the project work forward. A phase describes the type of work that will take place in that portion of the project. The project manager, the organizational requirements, and even customer requirements can influence what type of project life cycle the project manager will adapt in the project.

This was first published in April 2015

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