Project management is a difficult undertaking, often more complex than you might realize before taking on the responsibility. It requires strategic and tactical planning, as well as time, task and team organization and oversight — particularly for complex, long-term projects with many moving parts.
Project Management Principles
To start, it’s important to understand two widely accepted principles of effective IT project management: the project management triangle and the project management life cycle.
The project management triangle, or triple constraint, states that the success of any project is reliant upon its balance of scope, time and cost. If any of these elements are changed, the other two will be affected, which will in turn affect the project’s outcome.
These three elements are essential for any project manager to understand before launching a project. Ask yourself: what is the scope of the project, what is the time frame for completion, and what budget is available?
Sometimes, you may find that the scope isn’t possible to complete within an expected time frame, so expectations must be adjusted before project launch. Or, perhaps you could complete the project by the expected deadline, but more people (and thus, more money) will be needed.
Effective IT project managers evaluate the triple constraint, and ensure that it is reasonable, before beginning a project.
The project management lifecycle is typically understood as having four main phases: initiation, planning, execution and closure. It is the job of the project manager to map out key components of each phase before project launch, assign tasks to project team members, and keep track of the activities within each phase throughout the duration of the project.
Organizing the project upfront requires a balance of strategic thinking and practical, tactical planning. But once you have the structure in place, it should be smooth sailing, right? Not necessarily.
Ongoing Project Management
If you’ve ever been in the role of project manager in the past, you know that a key aspect of your job is ensuring that the project is moving along effectively, and that everyone on the team is pulling their weight to ensure an on-time, on-budget and quality deliverable.
This is the topic addressed in a recent Advice Line blog post from InfoWorld’s Bob Lewis, Tasks and Time lines: The Keys to Successful Project Management. In it, one of Lewis’ readers asked how to keep track of a project’s progress, without coming across as a micro manager.
The problem: “When I check in with project team members to ask them whether they’re on track, they tell me they are — and that’s all they tell me. I’m concerned that if I push them, it will come across as a lack of trust, which will damage our working relationship. But if I don’t push them, I don’t really have any evidence that they’re actually on track?”
Sound familiar? If so, read on for key takeaways from Lewis’ response, as well as how work management tools may enhance his recommendations.
Lewis tip #1: Projects should take no longer than you’re willing to have the project slip without knowing about it.
Rather than asking employees for status updates every few days, you can improve oversight and reduce the need for active status updates by employing work management software.
An effective way to outline expectations and deadlines is with an interactive Gantt chart, a feature available in leading IT work management platforms. Using this tool, you can lay out anticipated time lines and due dates for each individual task within a project, and assign responsible parties. This way, there is no ambiguity as to who is in charge of completing a task, and by when.
Lewis tip #2: There is no such thing as “on track” or “percent complete” when the question is progress on a single task.
In my opinion, with all due respect to Mr. Lewis, the reality is that some tasks do take a bit of time, and keeping track of progress can offer valuable insight to project managers. For instance, if you know a project should take about ten hours, and it isn’t even started the day before it’s due, you know there is a problem. Conversely, if it’s 50% complete, the responsible party likely has the time available to complete the task on time.
This is an area where work management software really comes in handy. Using time-tracking functionality, along with the interactive Gantt charts mentioned above, project team members can update their activity in real-time, tracking progress on their tasks by percentage complete.
As the project manager, you can check in at any time to see the progress of each task, and only touch base with employees or colleagues when something isn’t being completed within a timely manner.
Lewis tip #3: If a team member lies to you, telling you a task is finished that in fact is still in progress, it’s probably time for a personnel action
This is a scenario no one really wants to deal with. As Lewis says, “Tasks slip. It happens. Deliberate deception doesn’t just happen and you can’t allow that to be OK.”
Hopefully, you have a team in place with strong ethics, and won’t have to deal with this situation at any time. However, with work management software in place, it’s much more difficult for team members to deceive one another about their progress. This is because time tracking, email communications and status updates should all be routed through the platform, giving you the high-level insight you need to know that your team is actively working toward their collective goal.
Do you have any project management horror stories? How did you deal with them? Are there any project management tips you have to share?