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A Basic Guide to IT Project Management and 9 Best Practices

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A Basic Guide To Using Best Practices in IT Project Management

IT projects are becoming more and more complex as technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Because of how dependent organizations are on IT in general, the scope of many IT projects is quite large as well. As a result, effective project management is an absolute must for your IT project to achieve your company’s goals and to be completed on time without exceeding your budget. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a guide to some of the best practices that you should implement to ensure effective IT project management.

What Is IT Project Management?

The goal of IT project management is the successful delivery of new technical capabilities and automated business functionality. This should be accomplished in a predictable, repeatable manner that ensures projects are implemented on time, with the appropriate scope, within budget, and with appropriate quality.  IT project management involves everything required to meet the IT goals of a project, including planning, organizing, and holding those working on the project accountable for the tasks they are responsible for. An IT project manager is also responsible for solving challenges that arise throughout the development of an IT project, such as dealing with technology changes, vision changes, and interdependent integrations. IT project managers must oversee every stage of a project, from beginning to end, to ensure all deadlines are met and that the project is successfully completed on schedule and on budget.

IT Project Management Process

All IT projects consist of a number of different stages. Here are the four main stages of the IT project management process:

Initiation

The initiation of a project refers to the goal of the project. The goal is established as a result of a specific need or problem that was identified. Once the goal of the project is established, a project manager is assigned and a project charter is created. A project charter is a document proving the existence of a specific project and that provides the project manager with the authority to begin work.

Planning And Execution

Once the project has been initiated, the project manager will work with their team to plan out the steps that need to be taken to finish the project. Once the plan is in place, the project team will begin working on the tasks assigned to be delivered by the deadlines established by the project manager. Keep in mind that project planning processes are iterative, and project managers may continue to work on the planning process throughout the course of the project’s life cycle.

Monitoring And Controlling

The project manager will monitor their team and control the work for a variety of factors, including time, scope, quality, cost, and risk throughout the entire process. Monitoring and controlling the work being done by the team ensures that the targets for each project objective are being met.

Closing

Once each stage of the project has been completed and approved, the work will be transferred from the project team to operations. This is known as the closing. It not only occurs after every planned stage of the project (according to the initial project plan), but also at the very end of the project when it has been completely finished.

Categories Of IT Project Management

IT projects can be classified as any type of project dealing with IT infrastructure, information systems or computer technology. The three main types of IT projects that require project management include:

  • Software Development – Businesses often develop software applications to improve their customer reach. For example, creating a mobile app that customers can use to make access to the company’s services easier and more convenient. Developing software applications of any kind will require project management.
  • System Deployment – System deployment involves the installation and integration of new systems to your network, like installing a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) or CRM (customer relationship management) system. This can require a lot of work integrating it with all existing systems and applications.
  • Infrastructure – Changes made to the infrastructure of a company can end up being incredibly large in scope; for example, adding new computer systems to a legacy network. New systems may not always be difficult to install, but integrating them into an existing network with older computer systems can be and will result in changes to the infrastructure of an organization.

Types Of IT Projects

Within the three main categories of IT project management, there are many types of projects that require oversight. Some of the common IT projects that project managers work on within all kinds of organizations across many different industries include:

New System Delivery (e.g., ERP, CRM, eCommerce, EDW)

Delivering new systems, such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), CRM, eCommerce, or EDW (enterprise data warehouse), will generally require a lot of work. These systems need to be customized to fit the needs of your company before they can be installed — then will need to be integrated with your organization’s existing systems and software.

Cloud Migrations (move from onsite data center to a cloud infrastructure)

Many businesses are moving to the cloud as a way to save resources and improve scalability. However, migrating your IT infrastructure from an on-site data center to a cloud platform is a massive task. Not only do individual systems and applications need to be migrated to the cloud, they will need to remain integrated with one another. Additionally, migration to the cloud will likely change many of your processes.

Help Desk Operations

A good help desk is essential to ensuring that employees and customers alike receive the IT support that they need. For example, you can set up a system in which customer queries are generated as tickets that are automatically assigned to agents as they are created. Many companies will also require help desk integration with their social media and ecommerce platforms to provide their customers with easy access to support. Setting up and implementing help desk operations will improve customer service and increase efficiency and productivity throughout your organization.

Software Upgrades

It’s not uncommon for companies to upgrade the software that they’ve developed, whether it was for employee use or customer use. Software typically needs to be updated to address potential security vulnerabilities, address user issues, as well as to add features or functionality. Depending on what’s being changed, software upgrades can be small projects or big projects. The amount of work that needs to be done will also depend on how much technical debt has accumulated.

IT Compliance

IT departments are required to abide by many guidelines and regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or vendor-specific licensing requirements. If you don’t abide by them, your business can be fined. It’s why many companies (especially larger companies) will invest in IT compliance projects that involve the comprehensive audit of their adherence to regulatory guidelines. Such an audit will include evaluations of security policies, the strength of one’s compliance preparations, risk management procedures, and user access controls.

Network Management

In today’s business environment, network management can be quite complex, especially when you consider that many organizations make use of hybrid networks (on-premise and cloud-based) that can be accessed by many different devices ( allowing employees to access their network from out of the office on their computers, smartphones, and tablets). Companies will invest heavily into network management projects to ensure that their networks are properly administered and managed. Network management typically includes performance management, fault analysis, adding new services to the network, and maintaining the network’s quality of service.

Cybersecurity

The importance of cybersecurity in this day and age simply cannot be overstated. Small to mid-sized companies are especially vulnerable to data breaches, which is why businesses will often invest in large cybersecurity projects. This may involve performing a thorough security audit of your entire network to identify potential vulnerabilities and risks, after which a plan must be put into place to address those vulnerabilities and risks (such as through the use of firewalls, anti-virus software, and basic security protocols). Most cybersecurity projects also include the need to set up procedures and protocols that should be followed if a breach does occur.

Elements of IT Project Management

Now that you have a good idea as to what project management involves and what types of projects require IT project management, let’s go into a little more detail concerning the elements that make up IT project management.

Scope

In general terms, the scope refers to the size of a project. But more specifically, the scope refers to everything that needs to be done to complete the objective. It is a defined and documented roadmap that should be strictly adhered to. The scope has to be validated by the stakeholders of the project, which means that edits and changes to the scope cannot be made unless they are authorized. By defining the scope, you help ensure that the project stays on track. 

Timeline

The timeline is the schedule that a project must adhere to in order to stay within budget and to ensure that the project meets specific goals. A project timeline should include several different elements, including the estimated working hours of a project, milestones that need to be met over the duration of the project, and the final deadline of the project. The project manager is responsible for working with their team to identify project tasks and to determine how long those tasks will take to complete to create an accurate timeline.

Order

Different team members may be tasked with working on different parts of the project. It’s important that the tasks required to complete the project are placed in a specific order based on priority. If tasks are done out of order, bottlenecks could prevent some teammates from moving on from completed tasks because they are dependent on other tasks to be finished that haven’t even been started yet. By prioritizing the tasks that need to be completed and organizing them in the proper order, you ensure that the team is able to work as efficiently as possible.

Milestones

Milestones highlight important achievements throughout the project timeline. Setting milestones for the completion of certain tasks can help keep the project on track with the established timeline and will help provide a good idea as to how on schedule you are to meeting the final project deadline.

Stakeholders

Stakeholders are the individuals or groups that either sponsor the project or have an interest in the successful completion of the project. Stakeholders can include upper management, the board, or business partners. One of the responsibilities of an IT project manager is to keep stakeholders in the loop about the project. This means providing basic updates to stakeholders about how far along the project is, whether the project has run into issues, whether it’s behind schedule or ahead of schedule, and more.

Costs

The costs of the project should be determined during the planning stages. The costs of the project should include funds for materials, services, software licenses, hardware, facilities, and anything else required for the completion of the project. The estimated costs help make up the budget for the project. Not only is it the project manager’s job to help develop the budget, but they are also responsible for monitoring and tracking the costs to ensure that the project doesn’t go over budget.

Resources

While there will be some overlap with your budget, the resources you require aren’t limited to software, hardware, and other such materials. They also include how many people are needed on the team to complete the project. Resources required should be listed in the project tasks. The project manager will also need to identify what kind of positions, skill sets, and experience they need their team members to have as well as how long they need their resources for (a project may not require certain team members for the entirety of the project’s development).

Best Practices Of IT Project Management

Effective project management helps ensure that the project is successfully completed. Here are some of the best practices that every IT project manager should follow:

Identify Objectives

Establishing the scope of the project requires first identifying its goals and objectives. The goal is the primary outcome of the project, whereas the objective is the measurable action that you take to achieve your goal. Without a goal, the project has no purpose, and you’ll have no way to measure whether the project is successful once it’s completed. When it comes to determining the goals, objectives, and scope of a project, input must be provided by your stakeholders.

Formalize Project Management Roles

The project manager isn’t the only person with a leadership role within the project. Certain team members should also have project management duties. For example, the project manager may need the senior developer on the team to help create the schedule since they will have a better idea of how long certain milestones will take to complete and whether your timeline is realistic. You will need to formalize such project management roles. Doing so can go a long way in easing the burden of the project manager and can also help to improve performance throughout the project team.

Determine Deliverables

The deliverables refer to the physical items or products that must be delivered throughout the process of completing the project. For a smaller project, there may only be a single deliverable, which would be the final product (for example, a software app). For larger projects, there may be several deliverables that must be submitted throughout the process. For example, you may require a SOP (standard operating procedure) document before deploying a new system. The project manager will need to determine what the deliverables of the project will be.

Run From a Set Timeline

Your project’s timeline is valuable to not only establish your milestones and deadlines, but also to schedule when and how long you need certain resources and team members. It’s a good idea to split your budget up across your timeline as well. This will make it easier for you to see whether you’re on track to stay within budget by the time you complete your project.

Communication

Communication is essential throughout the process. A lack of communication can result in mistakes that can hurt the project and put you behind schedule and over budget. Whenever possible, enable transparency in project communication so that your team can see the progress of your project. Open communication will enable team members to help one another. You should also implement some kind of communication guidelines so that everyone knows who they need to speak to in case there are any issues or if they have any ideas. 

Lastly, identify the best medium through which communication will be most convenient and effective. There are many project management tools that provide excellent collaboration features, such as document sharing and editing features, live-chat features, and the ability to track the progress of the project as a whole.

Create An Escalation Process

It’s not uncommon for issues to develop over the course of a project. Mistakes happen — and sometimes problems arise that nobody could have predicted. Unfortunately, these issues aren’t always reported to stakeholders until it’s too late. Senior leadership can often solve issues that arise if they are notified in time. However, if there’s no process in place for how to report issues to stakeholders or if your team is afraid to report any issues, then these issues can end up going unreported and could delay the project, or worse, derail the entire project.

To ensure that issues are reported, develop an escalation matrix. An escalation matrix allows team members to identify how serious the issue is and whether it needs to be reported to stakeholders. It also provides the project team with different escalation paths for different issue levels. Besides creating an escalation matrix that your team can use as a guideline for reporting issues, it’s also important to create a culture in which your team will be comfortable reporting any problems that occur without fear of consequences.

Progress Report

The best way to keep your stakeholders in the loop is by producing a progress report. The progress report should track and monitor the progress of the project (how far along you are, what milestones have been reached, if any issues have popped up and whether they have been addressed, etc.). Set a schedule so that stakeholders receive a progress report at routine intervals (such as weekly). Stakeholders will feel much more confident in the project if they know that you’re keeping them up to date.

Manage Change

Depending on how long the project is scheduled to take, the project could experience a lot of changes. These changes can come in the form of changes in the project’s scope, changes in the project budget, or changes to the project’s deadline. It’s the responsibility of the project manager to manage these changes and ensure that objectives will still be achieved despite these changes — and that these changes won’t have a negative effect on the end product.

Manage Issues and Risks

Risks, which include any situations, conditions, or events that could potentially threaten the objectives of a project, have to be identified, analyzed, and tracked. While not all risks can be avoided, they can be mitigated with proper planning. The project manager should evaluate the probability and effect of the risk and create a response for the risk event should it occur.

IT Project Management is Mandatory For Growing Companies

As technology has advanced and as companies have become more reliant on the use of IT over the years, the importance of IT project management has increased significantly. Without proper project management, implementing new technologies will become incredibly challenging and costly. If you expect your company to continue to grow, then your IT capabilities will need to scale alongside it, and IT project management is an absolute must.

Ready to grow your business? Contact us and learn how IT project management can help you bring your business to the next level. 


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