IT Project Management: Key Differentiators and Best Practices

The project management role spans industries and governs an array of projects, ranging from massive to miniscule and generating intangible and tangible deliverables. In the information technology arena, IT project management oversees IT infrastructure, computer technology and information systems. IT projects may include:

  • Software development
  • Web development
  • IT infrastructure
  • Systems deployment
  • Software deployment
  • Hardware installation
  • Network upgrades
  • Cloud computing and virtualization
  • Data management
  • IT security systems

IT Project Management vs. Project Management

One key differentiator for IT project management is the final outcome, which is often aimed at a company’s technology vision and may not be physically visible at all. Due to its technical nature, IT projects often present challenges when translating successes to stakeholders who lack the same technical prowess.

According to 2012 research from McKinsey and the University of Oxford, half of all large IT projects blow their budgets, and 45% run over budget. More than half of the projects delivered less value than predicted. Software projects have the highest risk of overrunning on cost and schedule.

The key driver of these issues is the dynamic environment – neither business needs nor technology stop evolving while a project is underway, which means IT project management is conducted in a fluid environment. Working on the “bleeding edge” also includes elements used for the first time, which results in a steep learning curve, and very likely, trial and error.

IT Project Managers do not necessarily have to be technical experts. President Andy Jordan of Roffensian Consulting Inc., a management consulting company, suggests that a project manager adept with soft skills and industry-agnostic project management skills could be just as useful as a project manager who possesses expertise in the relevant technology. A project manager with technical expertise is better equipped to define outcomes related to the technology and translate between contributing teams with different specialties. A traditional project manager possesses soft skills that foster communication and compromise, and can focus on business attributes – like quality, scope and efficiency – and facilitate the technical component by leveraging team expertise. Either way, Jordan suggests, project managers are increasingly expected to consult as well, by offering solutions and recommendations as opposed to simply executing an established set of functions.

Best Practices in IT Project Management

Understand the organization

Since the ultimate goal of any project is to further the organization, the IT project manager also needs to view an IT project with an organizational lens. This means advocating for continuous improvement, scalable practices and knowledge management to develop skilled teams – even if team members leave the company. Complying with corporate policy and vision is vital in establishing an IT plan that will successfully support the organization.

Focus the project

The fluid nature of IT Project Management necessitates a structured framework to drive the project, benchmark success and work toward a clearly defined goal. Choosing a project management methodology creates a structure for the execution, which can be followed even when unexpected issues occur.

Motivate the team

The expertise required of the project support team means motivated – or not – team members stand to dramatically impact results. Assembling people with the correct skills for the job launches the project on a path toward success from the beginning. Understanding roles and expectations at the outset of the project equips team members to measure their contributions to the established plan, even when challenges arise. Praise-focused approaches, like celebrating milestones and highlighting individual contributions, positively motivate teams.

Frequent, clear communication across team members ensures each expert understands how her contribution supports the project, and offers insight into where the project could encounter trouble as soon as possible.

Even in an evolving environment, an IT project manager can champion a successful IT project through careful planning, rigorous communication and facilitating expert input.

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