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Getting value from IT project management

By Newton Madzikwa

MOST information technology (IT) projects have caused anxious moments for many CFOs, CEOs and CIOs. IT projects are generally considered complex, most

ly due to myths that many have of the IT field. This field is, however, not as mysterious as some schools of thought have us believe.

There are a number other reasons why most IT projects fail, but chief amongst them are project management issues. Many executives would agree that they have had excellent project management methodologies on paper but their implementation was a different issue.

The first major problem with IT related projects is the ownership of the project. There is always a challenge around the ownership — when the project is going well everyone wants to own it, but when things are not going according to plan, the project becomes orphaned and the IT executive is left to pick up the pieces.

Other project management issues include;

Destructive team dynamics

Lack of quality assurance procedures

Haphazard procurement

Lack of sponsorship

Myths around IT

Wild projections in terms of cost and time

Failure to manage risks

Lack of communication

Conflict evasion

Demands of the daily operations

Most of the challenges stated above are not only predictable, but are to a large degree avoidable, or can be minimised, with the appropriate and timely application of strategies and tactics.

All projects have a certain characteristic rhythm or flow from beginning to end, almost irrespective of the project’s nature. These characteristics include technologies, cultures and the personalities of critical stakeholders. People are vital to ensuring the project’s smooth flow, leading to either the success or failure of the project. Some people on projects make the project manager feel like they are herding chickens, flying in every direction leaving a trail of destruction in the process. Team dynamics need to be detected and analysed as early as possible to ensure that teams get to efficient levels of execution speedily.

The level of early successes within a project is critical in determining the level of sponsorship. Getting a buy-in is the first sign of project success. Understanding the different myths and uncovering each one of them also goes a long way in the establishment of a common understanding among stakeholders.

Project costs and time must be accurately projected. Many projects have failed and lost support due to the initial unrealistic projections. Many executives have experienced situations where projects have been initially understated in terms of costs and time, probably in order get management sanctioning. This has led to projects being a near or, in worst cases, total disasters. Understanding and managing project costs and timing involves managing organisational politics as well as some arithmetic and should be approached like any other risky activity.

The need for the management of risk cannot be over emphasised. As stated in Maslow’s law, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” In a project many things can go wrong. If one is not alert and does not take steps to avoid or mitigate risk, the project will fail, even where success was imminent.

Lack of proper communication can be catastrophic to a project. Project managers should identify appropriate communication tools for each set of stakeholders and time such communications appropriately. Communication is the life blood of the project, it makes or breaks it. It assists in keeping the organisation aware of the project and facilitates management of expectations.

In some organisations, when projects go wrong people put their heads in the sand like ostriches in the hope that the problems will miraculously vanish. Conflict must be managed without compromising the project. Most conflicts arise when the organisation’s operations make demands on the resources being employed on the project.

As an American Military General, General George S. Parton, once said: “A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood.”

Quality assurance on a project is critical. While this activity may appear to slow the project down, the benefits of assuring quality far outweigh the setbacks of a failed project.

So, what can be done about it?

Shakespeare stated, in The Merchant of Venice: “If to do were as easy as to say, then I would be one of the twenty to follow my own teachings.”

As with most things, successful project management is easier said than done. Consequently it is important for organisations that do not have appropriate internal resources to team up with the right project management partners at project inception.

In most cases, partners come with tools and techniques that make IT project management easier and more effective. While there are generic project management tools from PMBOK or the Prince 2 methodology, the effective project manager is the one who has an understanding of the organisation’s vision and objectives and is able to apply these tools accordingly for project and business success.

Professional project managers bring great value as they are able to leverage their experience from a wide spectrum of prior projects.

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