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Practical project management tips, tools and software for midmarket IT

Improve your project success rates (on time and on budget) with these soup-to-nuts project management tips -- including Gantt chart how-tos and practical software options.

How do you manage your IT projects? For many midsized organizations, projects begin and end with an Excel spreadsheet. Others have invested in more robust project management software to keep their IT shops humming and even project management offices (PMOs) to lead the charge. But one thing's for sure, we're all looking for ways to get our projects completed faster, better, cheaper -- and more successfully.

No matter how your organization tackles projects, we have some project management tips to help beef up your status quo -- no expensive or complex IT overhaul necessary. From practical software recommendations to planning templates and other free resources, learn a few quick tips to sharpen your project management skills.

This guide is part of SearchCIO-Midmarket.com's Midmarket CIO Briefings series, which is designed to give IT leaders strategic management and decision-making advice on timely topics. For a complete list of topics covered to date, visit the Midmarket CIO Briefings section.

Table of contents

  Simple project management software alternatives
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For many midmarket companies, finding project management software that isn't too pricey or an overkill in terms of functionality can be a challenge. While they want to manage projects, they don't want to invest in a suite of portfolio management software or ERP-like financial planning tools.

Instead, Microsoft Excel, the spreadsheet entrenched in offices and firms worldwide, tends to come out on top for project management in small and medium-sized businesses. The main reasons being:

  • Licensing costs.
  • User familiarity.
  • Lack of suitable alternatives.

Learn more about some practical midmarket project management tools in "Simple project management software options when Excel isn't enough." Also:

  • Optimizing project management using text messaging, IMs and Skype
    Project management consultant Michelle LaBrosse describes best practices and useful tools like instant messages, text messages and Skype to manage remote workers.
  Preventing IT project failure
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Projects are the lifeblood of IT -- playing a crucial role in IT Service Delivery and serving as the only way to administer change. Why, then, do IT projects fail so often? Many IT pros have yet to learn how to effectively communicate with project stakeholders.

According to research from The Standish Group International Inc., while about 32% of IT projects succeed -- finishing on time, on budget and actually delivering the required features or functions -- more than 24% fail. Moreover, 44% of the IT projects analyzed were considered challenged, or projects that suffered some form of failure along the way.

IT projects are usually temporary endeavors that organizations engage in to deliver new features, functions or services within their computing environments. But for a project to be successful, it must begin with a clear understanding of the needs or requirements to which it is designed to respond.

Learn more in "Communication with IT project stakeholders is key to success." Also:

  • Prevent IT project failures with business analysts, project managers
    Business analyst roles are re-emerging in 2010 as a way to avoid IT project failures. Learn how business analysts and project managers contribute to an IT dream team.
  Project management tips, templates and resources
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When kicking off any IT project, getting from beginning to end can be a challenge. Requirements change, budgets are tight and staying on schedule always sounds easier than it actually is. But project management templates can help.

These free project management templates come from all over -- consultancies, government organizations and universities -- and offer a range of approaches. We've also included some informative how-tos, such as how to build a Gantt chart and how to craft a business case for your project.

Check out some of these free project management templates, resources, checklists and even software in "Free project management templates for IT managers." Also:

  • Project management tools and strategies: Gantt charts, PERT charts and PM planning tools
    Project managers often use Gantt charts, PERT charts and other graphics to schedule tasks, organize resources and gain a greater understanding of their projects. These tips and articles explain how to use these project management tools.
  • How to design project management plan templates for large projects
    Managing several projects with large teams? Find out how many project management templates you should use to best control each.
  The pros and cons of creating a PMO
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Sharon Gietl is CIO at The Doe Run Co., the largest primary lead producer in the western world, with annual revenue that fluctuates from $500 million to $800 million. To call her business environmentally volatile might be an understatement. From 2008 to 2009, the price of lead plummeted from about $2 a pound to 45 cents.

"We had to lay people off and cut budgets -- and that meant cutting projects," Gietl said in a phone interview from the company's headquarters in St. Louis. More recently, a sister company in Peru filed for bankruptcy. Then there are the ever-present and mounting compliance requirements associated with mining a heavy metal.

Her anchor in these rough waters? A tiny, two-person project management office (PMO) Gietl began pushing four years ago..

Learn more in "Project management office helps CIO navigate rough financial waters." Also:

  •  Beware the dark side of the IT PMO
    The great virtue of an IT PMO is that it aligns technology and the business and makes IT more transparent -- but can it be fatal to your career?
  • Virtual PMOs expand and improve on project management resources
    Companies with limited resources and staff are now using virtual PMOs to improve project management skills and implement project management best practices.
  Agile project management tips
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Tight budgets and limited resources are leading CIOs to introduce agile IT best practices designed to reduce waste and realize faster IT response times.

Project portfolio management and IT Service Management are two approaches that CIOs are employing either in conjunction or separately to achieve agile IT.

Learn more about agile IT in "The road to agile IT runs through IT services management and PPM." Also:

  •  Agile tutorial: Agile project management, tools
    In this section of SearchSoftwareQuality.com's agile tutorial, learn tips for successful agile project management as well as how to choose the right agile tools, for tasks ranging from requirements management to bug tracking.
  • Scrum Master or Scrum project management, is there a difference?
    A Scrum Master is commonly mistaken for a project manager who works in a Scrum environment. Learn what distinguishes a Scrum Master in this expert response.
  More resources
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