Managing an Information Technology Project
Whether a project team involves one or more people, there will always be the need to get the help of others within the organization for expertise, information and even encouragement and support. You may think that information systems projects like developing a customer or supplier database are purely technical but this isn’t always the case. Even within a seemingly overwhelming technical information technology project, creativity and innovation can still thrive especially when it comes to aiming for optimal use of the resources at your disposal – manpower, machines, materials, money, etc. Whether big or small, a project has to be properly managed in order for the company to realize the full benefits from its implementation. And this means managing the aforementioned resources, specifically your project team members who bring with them a variety of skills, expertise, roles and responsibilities.
Managing an information technology project involves four major steps:
Let’s look at each of these steps more closely:
Even before you can consider pushing through with a project based on a bright idea, like creating a website to showcase your products and services or a supplier database to keep a listing of our local and foreign suppliers, you need to make sure that you have the available manpower to work on this project. As you start putting together your project team, you need to consider answering questions such as:
v Who will be taking the lead in managing this project?
v What areas of expertise - technological, functional, etc.- will be vital to the implementation of the project?
v What information will be needed and where will these be sourced?
v What roles and responsibilities will the project team members have? Based on these roles and responsibilities, what skills should these team members possess?
Key members of the project team should be identified and engaged based on various criteria, including:
v Expertise in identified areas of the project
v Knowledge of or access to information vital to the project
v Written and verbal communication, research competency and other necessary skills
In terms of leveling of expectations about commitment and participation in the project team, it is helpful to note that team members may not necessarily bring the same level of commitment, participation or reliability. You’d really want to have a project team that would be committed and enthusiastic about making the project a success but, especially in information technology projects, many of the members may also be busy with their primary work responsibilities or may be involved in other projects.
Let’s say you are faced with a situation wherein you want to have people who bring along with them a lot of expertise and competency but may not be enthusiastic about an additional workload (over and above the already heavy workload they may have). What do you do? One, you may have to dangle some incentives (such as rewards (whether monetary or non-monetary), career development opportunities, skills upgrading, etc.) in front of them to convince them that being part of this project team is worth their while. Two, you may have to look into possible scenarios that would result in reallocating their time from ongoing job responsibilities and/or other projects to give them time for this new project.
After the project team has been assembled, it can already decide on when to have the start-up meeting. This initial team meeting aims to create a brainstorming, knowledge-sharing environment where team members can put their heads together to produce a more efficient project plan. Here are some items that should be taken up in the start-up meeting:
v The project's rationale, scope and limitations, organizational benefits, deadlines and milestones, source/s of support (in terms of top management and/or project champions).
v Key elements of the project and associated tasks, activities, and responsibilities and process segments and timelines.
v Individual and subcommittee/team assignments based on the elements, tasks, activities, responsibilities and process segments and timelines.
v Needed resources (specifically funding) and sourcing.
v Potential problems, bottlenecks and obstacles and preventive measures to deal with such.
v Schedules based on the process segments and timelines
v Performance evaluation and accountability criteria for team members on an individual, subcommittee and team basis.
v Reporting mechanisms and timelines.
This meeting establishes who is responsible for what task or activity and allows the team members to establish feedback mechanisms given their assigned responsibilities. It also gives an opportunity for each member to establish ownership and accountability for each of their assignments. Each team member should report on details such as feasibility, risks and potential problems, resources, and schedules (including milestone deadlines) for each task or activity that s/he is assigned to.
Development of the project process is based on the identification breakdown of the identified segments, milestones, and parts (tasks, activities, and responsibilities). Analysis of the interrelationships between tasks identified by the work breakdown structure, which defines the dependencies of each task, can be illustrated in chart form for easy ongoing review and updating.
A Project Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) chart puts together the identified work tasks in the logical, most effective order. PERT charts, often called flow charts, illustrate the anticipated flow of completion and relationship(s) between and among the different activities in the project. The Critical Path Method (CPM) involves identifying the project’s critical activities (i.e., activities that should not be delayed otherwise, the whole project will be delayed) based on the PERT chart. You can use Microsoft Project (a software tool that can be incorporated in Microsoft Office) to create the PERT charts and do the critical path analysis.
Gantt charts, which are named for their inventor, are bar charts that display the project status and results of PERT in a format that can be readily understood by those not involved in the details of the project.
It is the responsibility of the whole project team, not just the project manager, to guarantee that it is able to deliver when it comes to implementation time. The project manager's main responsibility is to guide the team through the project plan and ensure that it stays on schedule and meets the requirements established in the project scope and rationale. When the implementation begins, there should be regularly scheduled progress reporting to determine how much has been done and/or what still needs to be done. Regular review of outcomes for the work being done and an actual vs. projected outcome comparative analysis (including whether project objectives are being met) should be done.
It is crucial that the project manager should be available to deal with issues and conflicts (such as difference in work habits, going beyond budgets for certain activities which may affect allocation for other activities, etc.) that arise among the team members.
When acceptable delivery of the agreed upon outcomes/deliverables (products, services, etc.) has been completed, the project should be formally closed to prevent it from evolving unintentionally into another project. This also means closure for the team members, whose contributions should be acknowledged, and allows them to move on in terms of other work-related assignments.
Acknowledging or recognizing the contribution of the project team members can be done in many creative ways: a lunch or dinner celebration, a write-up in the company website or newsletter highlighting the benefits of the project to the company, or other unique and creative ways to say "Thank You". These forms of recognition serve to strengthen the underlying idea that the company really does appreciate the team members’ efforts and contributions in implementing a project that has resulted in benefits to the company. Such recognition endeavors that are consistent with the amount of time and effort required should be included in the project budget. Often, one or two team members will perform in an exemplary manner (in terms of contributions and efforts) compared to their teammates. It is all right to recognize those efforts. Other team members are usually aware of the amount of time and effort each one is contributing to the project.
There may be times when the project may not conclude as anticipated. Projects get canceled midway through the project duration, take a back seat to more pressing or more important initiatives, or fail to reach completion through no fault of the team. Nonetheless, the members should still be made to know that their efforts are appreciated.
A review of the project, often called a post-mortem or post-project review, offers an opportunity to assess what was learned, what went well and what didn't with every aspect of the project. A brief yet comprehensive project report can provide information to management, including measures of the relative success as well as the lessons learned. This can be used as a guide to other project teams, especially if they are working on similar projects, so that they do not commit the same mistakes.