If this subject sounds like a piece of string, it can be, all too easily. IT project management can get tangled. Project operations can get messy. We’re going to look at the fundamentals of IT projects, and map a way of ensuring success.
The key to delivering successful IT projects
The keys to success in IT projects are IT skills, structuring, and objectivity. The setup stage is critical to success. At this point, you need to create the working framework of the project.
To set up your project, you will need to deliver:
- Criteria for success. This is a scientific and business principle in one. Success is clearly defined. The basic format for these criteria are based on user acceptance. You need to nail down exactly what the client wants, their expectations, and quality standards. Define the purpose of the IT project, its goals, and practical requirements. Important, please note: This is an in-depth process. You will need to be meticulous in defining all aspects of project objectives.
- Planning. Your criteria will allow you to plan efficiently and in detail, covering all functional issues for your team. This includes management, project oversight, goals, milestones, and a clear audit trail. This is very much a “same page” approach to the project work, and easy to maintain. Be patient with these sometimes complex planning needs. Your planning must clearly address all elements of your criteria as practical operational items. It’s quite easy to simply leave things out of basic planning and be faced with catchup work as a result. That’s expensive.
- Project teams, functions, and roles. Critical in the setup phase, project operations must be clearly laid out and teams assigned. The best approach is to create a simple, meaning uncluttered, management hierarchy with dedicated reporting systems and clear areas of responsibility.
Example IT program – Software project
Software projects are good examples of typical IT projects. They can include a lot of hard work, complex requirements, and often difficult technical issues. Software may also have to integrate with a range of other systems, be standalone, or have multiple operational needs.
Success in software projects can be quite demanding. Simply getting software to run properly can be astonishingly difficult. Different business environments may create obstacles to new software. Functional goals can be extremely diverse, requiring a whole spectrum of software operations.
There are a few inbuilt possibilities in any IT software project. Some software may also be “blessed” with a requirement to upgrade systems and hardware so it can run properly, or even retrofitted to older systems. (That does actually happen. Recently an American company placed ads in all the tech news sites looking for someone who still knew how to write C+ code!)
If you’re somehow getting the impression that these projects can have a lot of baggage to manage, you’re right. A further issue – IT is the natural source of all wisdom, and a place for all blame, for system performance. These IT projects may be conducted under a lot of internal and external pressure. When we talk about success in IT projects, it’s a particularly demanding environment. There’s very definitely no second prize.
Start with meeting your success criteria. For any kind of software project, there are some very basic requirements:
- Operational goals: The specific operations of the software in practical working environments.
- Software development: This is the coal face for your project, the manual work of creating the new software. It has top priority in terms of achieving a successful project outcome.
- System integration: This sometimes thankless requirement may involve working with vintages and variants of working systems. In software development, it’s an “acquired taste”. It’s also absolutely essential.
- Efficiency: Code writers know this issue all too well. Software must run efficiently and well. There are no midpoints. This may include multiple efficiency requirements, particularly in business systems.
- Database management as required. Databases are unavoidable in all areas of software design. All software relates to some sort of database. The goals of the software project must factor in these issues, and sometimes even create a new database.
- Operational backups, fixes, and problem-solving. There’s no such thing as software without developmental glitches. These very predictable things must also be factored into project management and planning.
There’s no guesswork allowed or permissible in any of these extremely basic processes. Technical specifications for a software project may be huge. The planning stage must address all of these issues, with a strong management continuum to ensure proper oversight and timely delivery of stages, as well as the project itself.
Not too surprisingly, the software project is set up with teams to deal with all these issues in a relentlessly structured, time-conscious, way. Everything is mapped out, people are assigned, and progression goals are set.
Now the tricky classic thing in all project management – The critical dynamic in project management is good communications.
A successful project must have extremely effective two-way communications in these fields:
- Efficient, timely, and systematic reporting: This is the moving target for project completion. All information must be accurate and in appropriate time frames.
- Practical management oversights: A range of metrics will provide progress reports, but not much more. Management oversight needs to be able to clearly see issues and allocate resources accordingly.
- A “fix” mechanism for problems and delays. Anyone who’s ever managed a project will tell you to expect the unexpected. Any departure from project targets must obviously be addressed ASAP. These things can derail projects and it’s natural to have a support system to manage any unforeseen or disruptive incidents.
These simple measures can stop problems before they become disasters, avoid cost overruns, and manage emerging situations fast. (Thankfully, modern reporting systems are heavily weighted to ensuring information quality and delivering effective reporting beyond the purely “balance sheet” approach.)
Actual delivery is like accounts in some ways. It’s a balance:
- Operational goals are met in strict accordance with stated specifications.
- Software development as required is achieved with thorough, stringent quality checks.
- System integration is seamless and runs perfectly on all systems.
- Efficiency of the software meets or improves on stated parameters.
- Database management and operations are reliable and not at all problematic.
- Backups, fixes, and problem-solving are completed to required standards.
The success in this case is based entirely on the original structure of the project and the planning stage. The project functions, teams, and roles have delivered as required. There’s a natural match between these fundamental project dynamics and the outcome.
Need some help with your IT project? You might.
So far we’ve looked at IT projects from an operational perspective. That’s not the whole story, though. IT projects originate at the management level. They’re based on real business needs, and degrees of difficulty in IT can vary a lot, even for the most competent, astute, managers.
Best business practice is unequivocal – Get a clear picture of the issues, costs, and time frames. Do you need to outsource? What practical issues are involved in your new project? How do you join all the dots?
Due to the complex nature of so many IT projects, outsourcing some or all of your project is a preferred working option for many businesses. Their own internal IT may not be able to handle the project on top of their own workloads. Some technical issues with IT projects may not be within the bandwidth of their local knowledge base.
There’s another, much less obvious, but tricky issue – Due to the constant upgrading of technologies, the IT project absolutely must focus on meeting future operational requirements. That’s not necessarily straightforward. The advent of Cloud systems, for example, effectively reconfigured many business IT operations almost overnight. Meeting Cloud system requirements is all-too- euphemistically defined as “ongoing learning” for everyone.
Even basic consumer and business systems have their role in this endless progression of technologies. The inevitable new operating systems, hardware, security, and similar considerations can impact all aspects of IT on a minute-by-minute basis. Planning and meeting goals can be truly tough.
Getting help is easier than you might think.
MaxIT is an all-round, all-purpose IT firm. We help Australian businesses with a vast range of needs, from startup-level systems to major corporate systems. We also provide assistance and support for IT projects of all kinds.
Our IT services cover everything, from project setup through all the planning and operational needs. Our friendly experts can help with everything from the absolute basics to the most advanced IT issues. We’re your single contact for your IT project and we can assist with managing all aspects of it.
If you’re looking for some help or would like to engage in a discussion of your IT project needs, we’re happy to assist. Just call us or contact us online for any guidance and support you need.