5 IT Project Management Best Practices to Improve Efficiency
May 19, 2022
IT projects can be a massive undertaking for any business—especially one that isn’t centered around delivering technology services. In any tech project, it’s all too easy to encounter problems such as scope creep, resource shortages, IT skill gaps, and even some change resistance amongst your internal team.
Effective IT project management can often prove to be the key to keeping your IT initiatives on track. The question is: “How can you ensure that your project management is effective?” Let’s take a look at IT project management, some of its different stages, methodologies, and best practices to help you make your next IT project run at peak efficiency.
What Is IT Project Management?
IT project management—sometimes abbreviated as ITPM—can be loosely defined as the process for planning, overseeing, executing, and reporting on IT projects.
Another definition for ITPM offered by app provider Smartsheet is “the process of managing the plan, organization, and accountability to achieve information technology goals.” This definition turns IT project management into anything that is tied to your overall IT goals into project management.
Whether you more narrowly define ITPM as a specific type of major initiative or as anything that relates to managing processes that aid in achieving your IT goals, it’s important to have a well-defined approach to your project management.
4 Stages of the IT Project Management Lifecycle
The project management lifecycle is typically broken down into four distinct phases:
- Initiation. The first step in the ITPM lifecycle is initiation. In this step, the organization typically focuses on defining what the project’s goals are, assess its feasibility, and define key roles and responsibilities (at least on a high level, bird’s-eye view style). This will often end with the creation of a document that is presented to whichever decision-makers in the organization have the final say on project approvals.
- Planning. After the project is approved by the decision-maker(s), it moves to planning. Here, the overall goal of the project is broken down into discrete tasks that are assigned to individuals within the organization to complete on a smaller timeframe that aligns with the overall completion date set for the project as a whole. The method by which tasks are assigned and visualized may vary depending on the IT project methodology leveraged by the organization.
- Execution. This is the phase when IT engineers and other staff execute on the tasks set during the planning phase to attempt to bring the IT project to completion. This phase often involves not only task execution, but regular meetings/briefings to address any issues identified as the project moves along, budget management to avoid cost overruns, and quality assurance/monitoring to verify the suitability of the completed work.
- Closure. This is where any deliverables created during the execution phase are finalized and delivered. IT project managers will also review the project to assess how well it met the project’s goals, assess overall project performance (often based on if the project completed on-time and on-budget), document the closure of the project, and run some analyses on what did or didn’t work to improve future IT project management efforts.
While many organizations keep to these four phases, some may add an extra phase (or more) to this list.
For example, Kissflow Project adds a fifth phase called “monitoring and controlling” to the mix. However, this phase actually runs concurrently with both the execution and closure phases and is primarily concerned with measuring performance, tracking project progress, and keeping an eye on costs.
IT Project Methodologies/Frameworks
Your IT project methodology (sometimes referred to as your project framework) is the specific way in which you organize your IT project throughout the initiation, planning, execution, and closure phases. There are many different project methodologies that an organization might use depending on its size, resources, and the preferences of the organization’s leadership.
Some common IT project methodologies/frameworks include:
1. The Waterfall Methodology
For many, the Waterfall method is the traditional IT project methodology that the organization will default to. This methodology is known for being a linear process where you start with higher-order tasks and proceed in a clear, pre-mapped fashion from top to bottom.
Productivity platform provider Teamwork notes that the typical stages of the Waterfall method are:
- Deployment & Maintenance
Because everything is carefully mapped out at the start before work begins, this method of organizing an IT project tends to be very structured. However, it also tends to be inflexible and does not deal with unforeseen situations well.
For example, if a critical IT goal changes because of a new technology, an IT team lead leaves the company, or an important software license wasn’t budgeted for at the start of the project, it could create some chaos. This could affect the organization's ability to complete the IT project on-time and on-budget.
2. The Agile Methodology
The Agile methodology is very different from the Waterfall method in that it is an iterative process that builds in room to change IT project priorities and tasks as needed to meet new goals or respond to unforeseen events.
While this improves the flexibility of IT project management, it isn’t all sunshine and roses. This increased flexibility can also increase the risk of cost overruns and project delays if it’s abused too much during the project. However, when handled correctly, Agile can be incredibly valuable for helping get more value out of a project by being responsive to ever-changing needs.
For organizations that expect to need to deal with changes and volatility beyond what a more traditional Waterfall IT project management methodology can handle, Agile can be an invaluable tool.
3. The Scrum Methodology
As a project management methodology, Scrum is closely related to Agile and borrows heavily from Agile concepts. Within a Scrum methodology, the primary focus is to improve teamwork and collaboration on the project to help ensure that all team members are fully informed of developments in the IT project and are able to adapt as needed.
Work in a project managed using Scrum is organized into distinct “sprints.” A sprint is a short period of time (typically a week or two) wherein project team members are assigned tasks that they need to “burn down” to keep the current project on schedule.
Sprints often start with a team-wide meeting where everyone discusses what tasks they completed during the previous sprint, challenges they faced, priorities for the upcoming sprint, and any major course corrections that are needed for the project. Daily meetings between team members who frequently work together are also common in between larger team meetings.
Here, the team is largely self-managing. So, instead of a top-down authoritative structure, leadership roles and responsibilities may be more decentralized as employees are empowered to set priorities. However, many teams still have a “Scrum Master” or equivalent who is responsible for leading the Scrum meetings, sprints, and reviews to help the team continuously improve and stay on track.
Sources such as Digital Project Manager state that “Scrum was originally designed for software development,” so it’s a natural fit for IT projects that involve creating a new software solution or platform. However, the flexibility that having a self-managing team demands may not be the right fit for IT projects that have a fixed scope, schedule, and budget.
5 IT Project Management Best Practices
Knowing the basic outline of an IT project management workflow and some of the methodologies of these projects is only the first step. To ensure that your next project is carried out in the most effective and efficient manner possible, it’s important to identify a few best practices that work for your organization and consistently apply them to your IT projects:
1. Set Realistic Goals for Your IT Projects
When initiating an IT project, the goals you set can mean the difference between succeeding with ease and struggling to stay on-time and on-budget (or even completing the project at all). It’s vital to ensure that any goals set are realistic for the resources that are available to your organization.
For example, if you’re operating with a small budget and don’t have extensive IT personnel with the right programming skills on your team, building a new IT platform that combines the functions of a half-dozen different enterprise applications within a six-month deadline may not be the most realistic goal.
So, during the initiation phase of the project, it’s important to get an accurate estimate of the resources the IT project will require and compare that to the resources you have available. If your initial project outline isn’t feasible given the resources and timeline you have, then it will be necessary to revise your expectations or to add more resources as needed.
2. Establish a Strong Business Case to Present to Key Stakeholders
Before starting a major IT project, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and what you expect the impact to be for your organization. Without a strong business case to present to your key stakeholders, it can be difficult to get buy-in to any major initiative. This, in turn, can make it harder to secure the resources needed to complete the project.
So, it’s important to assemble a brief document highlighting the expected project costs and the return on investment the organization can expect to see from it. These returns don’t have to be strictly monetary. Some IT projects don’t directly impact revenue, but help the organization achieve other goals, such as:
- Increasing cybersecurity to prevent losses.
- Improving employee training and engagement (which can have a wide variety of benefits).
- Eliminating one or more obsolete resources to reduce IT expenses.
- Helping the organization meet its own service level agreements (SLAs) with internal or external users.
By presenting these expected outcomes to key stakeholders and decision-makers, you can improve the chances that the IT project will be fully supported.
3. Plan for Setbacks and Build Some Extra Room in the Timeline/Budget
Even the best-laid plans can go awry. A key IT engineer might leave the company, a critical piece of software might fail to work as expected, there might be a catastrophic cyberattack on your company’s main datacenter during the middle of the project timeline, etc.
Whatever the cause, setbacks are almost inevitable on any major IT project.
So, it’s important to leave room in your project planning to account for potential cost and schedule overruns. This way, you have room to address issues in the IT project as they occur. While more agile-focused project management methodologies lend themselves naturally to adapting on the fly, a Waterfall-style project management methodology needs to have this built into the very start of the plan since this methodology is inherently less flexible.
4. Keep an Eye out for Scope Creep
Scope creep, or the increase in the resources (time, money, etc.) needed for an IT project vs what was originally budgeted for is an enormous problem. In many cases, scope creep happens because the requirements of a project are altered partway through completion.
For example, a key stakeholder in the organization may realize at some point after the project’s launch that there’s a feature that they want to add to the new software platform being built. However, adding that feature means diverting resources to build it, integrate it with the platform in development, and test it to ensure its stability. This will cost extra labor and complicate the entire project workflow.
So, it’s important to keep an eye out for situations that may cause scope creep and to actively try to limit creep when possible. It could help to assess the potential costs and benefits of any changes to the overall IT project as if it were another mini-project being added onto the existing one.
If a change wouldn’t be expected to produce tangible results, then it can be refused so the project stays in scope. If it would be a benefit to the organization, then it may be worth taking the time to request additional resources to enact the change.
5. Work with an Experienced IT Management Team
There are countless situations and conditions that can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of an IT project—far too many to cover every possible situation in a single blog article of any reasonable length. So, it can help to seek expert advice from a team of IT specialists who have managed numerous major IT projects for a variety of organizations.
Take, for example, a fully-managed IT services provider. Managed service providers (MSPs) like IT Proactive have a large team of IT experts who have worked with many different kinds of IT projects over the years. This gives them extensive experience with different IT management tools and methodologies to help them identify potential issues in your own IT projects and provide the appropriate advice and support as needed.
Partnering with an MSP for IT project management services can be a great way to quickly acquire the experts you need to complete an IT project without having to expend a lot of time, money, and effort on recruiting an internal IT team to manage the process from start to finish.
Need help with a major IT project right now? Reach out to IT Proactive to get started!