A Publication of WTVP

One question that inevitably arises whenever a project manager is brought into a group for the first time is, “Won’t this add time and cost to the project?” It is hard to grasp the concept that adding processes to a system that so far had been productive will shorten the life cycle and reduce costs. Yet that is what a good project manager can bring to a project—the fine-tuning of work efforts, management of scope, the voice to and from the customer, and being able to bring the team together to look at the project in new ways.

The second biggest concern with introducing a formal project management practice to an organization is the loss of control that functional managers and employees experience on the project. Most IT people whose professional careers did not include project management processes have grown accustomed to owning their portion of the project and tend to struggle when that ownership is transferred to a non-technical person. Managers struggle the most—they see a loss of control over their reports and may feel threatened.

The project manager, or Project Management Office (PMO) if it exists, needs to work to gain the trust of the internal members of the organization to allay those fears and highlight the positives. The manager will have more time to focus on the strategy of the organization from a higher level, instead of being bogged down by minutia. The engineers will have a clearer picture of the work they need to accomplish and when it needs to be done, and will have more time to focus on that work while the project manager handles the communication back to the customer.

Education becomes critical when rolling out a project management practice within an organization. The practice should be introduced slowly, with a few quick wins, to gain the trust of the team and show them what to expect when it is applied to larger projects. When working with the project team, it is important to introduce the concepts at a high level, and then get more granular as the team becomes more comfortable working in a “projectized” environment.

Fast Company magazine recently published a great article explaining four key points of project execution at a level that everyone can understand and get excited about. By showing how project management was vital in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, they walk the reader through the thought process that should go into creating a project plan and executing it.

  1. Plan backward from the goal. IT projects often start before having a well-defined final product. While some methodologies allow for some flexibility in the project plan, if you can’t define when something is “complete,” you can never actually be finished. Gather the requirements, create the scope and then develop a change management plan if that scope has to change.
  2. Disprove your own theories. As the project team starts to define how they will complete the tasks on a project, they should be able to explain why their recommendations will provide the best outcome. If they spend some time poking holes in their own theories, they are more likely to either cement their original idea, or find a new solution that may increase the likelihood of project success.
  3. Every team member must know the mission. A strong communications plan is vital to the success of the project, especially if team members are located in disparate locations or are working simultaneously on pieces of the project that will ultimately need to be joined together. By knowing the end goal and the current status of the project in relation to that end goal, the team is better prepared for any hiccups that may come up.
  4. Know your most important question, and who can answer it. This will vary depending on the stage of the project, but the project manager will typically be the person who either knows the answer or where to go for that answer. Communication again becomes paramount to the success of the project as the members of the team need to get their questions answered quickly and accurately so as to not fall behind or make bad assumptions on a work item that was not well-defined.

Ultimately, the only way to truly get buy-in on the benefits of project management is to demonstrate the productivity gains brought about by a faster and tighter development cycle, less rework brought about by misunderstandings in the execution process, a more stable final product, and happier, more satisfied customers. Just as the assault on Bin Laden’s compound would have failed had it not been well-defined, well-planned and well-executed, so will your IT initiatives fail if there is not adequate project management in place. iBi