FAQ: Project management methodologies for an on-demand world

Need for speed in project management methodologies

CIOs must adapt their IT project management methodologies while still mitigating risks and resolving business problems.

Just a few short years ago, it was cited as a coming trend: Regardless of company size, IT project management methodologies need to be smaller and faster. That trend is now upon us. Rather than plotting a big project from start to finish before they pull the trigger, CIOs must be comfortable with shorter projects, staying focused on the customer to learn to manage unknowns until they are known.

Project management remains a methodical approach to planning and guiding project processes from start to finish. What's different today is that the five stages of IT project management methodologies (as defined by the Project Management Institute) -- initiation, planning, executing, controlling and closing -- need to be applied to smaller projects. And these projects have to make a difference for the enterprise quickly (but still safely in terms of risk mitigation), because speed is becoming one of the most competitive weapons companies have. With this in mind, CIOs are adapting agile project management methodologies for projects companywide and considering cloud-based project collaboration tools.

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How are CIOs using agile methodologies in IT project management?

Best known for its association with software development, the agile methodology can be applied to IT project management as well. As it is in software development, under agile project management, a project is completed in small sections called iterations. The main benefit of agile project management methods are their ability to respond to problems as they arise throughout the project. Making a necessary change to a project at the right time can save resources and ultimately help deliver a successful project on time and within budget.

Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, is a strong proponent and practitioner of agile project management methodologies for its emphasis on flexibility and interaction with empowered stakeholders.

"Using agile methods, we meet with our stakeholders and have them define their requirements and prioritize which requirements they want to see and use first," Nickolaisen writes. "We then deliver an early version of the product and have them give us feedback -- not feedback on a document, but feedback on something they can actually see and use."

When a traditional project management methodologies are used, Nickolaisen notes, change is met with resistance and seen as a disruption to the plan. But attempts to put the kibosh on change could be ignoring the reality that sometimes changing scope or requirements is the right thing to do. "In practice, we can become more agile if we break our projects into phases. At the end of each phase, we can ask ourselves what needs to change."

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How is risk managed in IT project management?

Traditionally, a project management methodology mitigates risks with a standard set of processes. The rigidity of traditional risk management processes, however, can pose a conflict for those using agile methods for project management. Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University, asserts that under agile project management, risk management should begin during the initial planning. The project's risks are divided into three categories: delivery risks, business case risks and collateral-damage risks.

Once the risks' categories and sources are defined, Nickolaisen will identify the specific project tasks that will mitigate them. Generally, if the source of a risk is uncertainty, Agile or iterative project management methods are applied to reduce it: "For example, we would do a small pilot to define our as-yet-uncertain benefits. If the source of the risk is complexity, however, we decouple and simplify what we can," he explains. "At the end of each project piece or iteration, we then update our risk profile and mitigation steps -- again, anticipating that risks, like everything else, will change."

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What are some pitfalls to avoid in IT project management?

In a recent webcast, Gartner Inc. analyst Audrey Apfel pointed out some things that IT organizations about to embark on projects fail to see and do. These early missteps come off as obvious, but they are repeated time and again in organizations of all sizes.

One of the biggest offenses is putting the cart before the horse. Often, Apfel finds, organizations try to jump into a project without asking two very basic questions: What business problem are you trying to solve? Does everyone agree it's worth the effort to solve it? Too often the "problem" is actually the sought-after solution, she said. She will ask a client what the problem is, and the answer often will be, "We're standardizing our PPM [project and portfolio management] process." That's a solution, not a problem, she noted, and that proverbial cart will go nowhere until the problem is identified.

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What role is cloud computing playing in IT project management?

Managing projects successfully is critical to any company's success. Doing the job right could require a costly server-based project management suite and even the hiring of a project management specialist. It's a high price to pay to bring a project home -- whether it's creating a new product, a new IT system or a new customer service system -- on time and on budget. Many companies, particularly smaller ones, are finding answers in cloud-based project management methodologies.

Studies still show larger companies are steering clear of replacing heavily customized applications or chunks of complex infrastructure with cloud services. However, according to Jeff Kaplan, managing director at ThinkStrategies Inc. in Wellesley, Mass., enterprise shops are getting more actively involved with cloud services through such collaboration applications as project management.

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What is the difference between an IT project management methodology and PPM?

Simply stated, IT project management dictates how to do a project right and PPM dictates which projects are right to do. Project management methods involve setting schedules, budgets and milestones for specific activities and tasks, as well as assigning resources and mitigating risk. PPM aims to standardize the management of projects, provide real-time visibility to the project data and streamline the administration of reporting.

A successful PPM strategy requires more than the basic approaches to leading teams or planning future IT projects. A CIO must be prepared to establish both long- and short-term goals with regard to strategy; research the methodologies that best fit the organization; and when necessary, purchase the tools that will help meet enterprise goals.

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