Six questions in IT project management to help weather any storm

Project Management can be like putting together a puzzle in the middle of a hurricane. Before tackling any project, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re building on a stable foundation, because failure in any of the key factors could potentially cause everything to come tumbling down.

At Mtech, we understand that projects are rarely defined or executed in completely calm weather. By considering the following six questions in advance, combined with a high level of professionalism, it is possible.

1. Do we have a plan and what is it?

The answer to the first part had better be yes, otherwise you’re already starting off on the wrong foot. Taking time to discuss with your customer their needs is only one aspect of planning. We also need to have a clear initial vision of how the project should be implemented, what common principles, processes or technologies should be used, roles and responsibilities, etc.

Most important is that the team needs to be aware and understand “everything” in the plan. When we are all pulling in the same direction, it is easier to reach our destination together.

2. Who is in our team?

Although having a strong project manager is very important, even the best project managers will struggle to keep everything in order without a strong team to back them up. Having the right people in the right roles is a good start, but everyone in the team should understand the project as a whole, not just a sum of its parts.

A team with a good understanding of the project leads to a more motivated team, which then produces a better project delivery.

3. How do we communicate?

Another very important factor is communication. Whether it’s upwards, downwards, inwards, or outwards, how the project team communicates can many times make or break a project. It’s normally understood that it is very important that the communication from the project manager in relation to the customer’s needs must be clear to everyone in the team, and many times the team’s communication is just as important.

Honest and active communication concerning status, difficulties, uncertainties, etc., from the team to the project manager helps ensure that both parties have the same understanding about where the project is and where it’s going.

Furthermore, the development team needs to be encouraged to communicate internally. Knowing what others are doing, what challenges others are facing, or what solutions have been decided is important in keeping everyone’s work aligned, and points out areas where members could co-operate.

When the customer’s wishes have been clearly communicated to the team, it is possible for the team to work towards a common goal. We always do our best to make the tools the best possible for our customers’ needs.

4. If something changes, what do we do?

Perhaps a more appropriate question would be: “When something changes, what do we do?” Often in the course of projects, new needs are noticed or needs change. In nine projects out of ten, the needs of a customer will change. Our agile way of working enables such changes.

Ideally, we would like changes to have a minimal effect on our original estimates, planned design or technology selections. Even when maintaining daily communication with a customer or demos after a short sprint, we need to be observant when any request changes our original expectation. Very much related to feature creep, sometimes even the smallest suggestions can affect a project in a big way. Being observant of these changes, having clear communication practices when these situations arise.

Since there are always changes in projects, we work according to the agile development model in order to help guarantee customer satisfaction. Of course, simply relying on a development model can never be a silver bullet.

5. What is our project vision?

A project vision is much more than just asking what our customer wants. It involves high levels questions such as: “What is our budget in both time and money?” or “What kind of development process should we use?” as well as lower level questions such as “What kinds of design principles should we all be using?” or “What is our exit criteria?” (i.e. “When do we know we are done with a task?”). Without the answers to these questions incorporated into our vision, everyone’s interpretation of the vision becomes more personal and less coordinated.

An unclear vision quite often leads to an increased need for in-depth project management, more robust testing, de-motivated developers and unhappy customers.

The suggested questions are not the only ones we should be asking ourselves, but they are a good set to start with and build upon. It’s harder to reach a destination together if everyone takes their own path.

6. What happens if/when something goes wrong?

There’s a very appropriate saying that goes “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. That is to say, no matter how well we plan everything, something may still go wrong. It’s how we deal with it that’s important.

Risk Management is a good process, but it normally focuses on known or expected risks. What usually messes things up more is those unexpected issues that arise: someone/something important is suddenly not available, understanding about a particular part of the project was incorrect and needs to be corrected, etc.

The needed corrective actions are not always invisible and need to be communicated transparently to all the relevant parties. The absence of a key person or resource might cause delays or even increased effort if they are replaced. Even minor misunderstandings might result in major rework across the project and additional work for the future.

In all of these cases, it’s important to raise these issues and deal with them together. It might just be that the budget we are trying to protect is not as important as we thought and a delay or increase in cost is acceptable. It might just be that other aspects of the project could be dropped or simplified to compensate for the additional effort needed.

Without properly communicating the problem with all the relevant parties, we end up making decisions based on assumptions instead of facts.

When others give up, we roll up our sleeves

At this point, you might be sadly wondering how any project could ever succeed. In most cases, to various degrees, they don’t. Most projects are not formulaic so that everything is both known and controllable. Hopefully, by taking into consideration the answers to the above questions, this should help everyone focus on what is known and can be controlled but still allowing the unknown and uncontrollable to be handled with as little negative impact on a project as possible. It’s a big challenge for sure, but one definitely worth undertaking.

If you would like to see how Mtech can help you and your company with its IT needs, please contact us and find out how we can work together and achieve great things!

Mtech is known as a long-term and committed partner in the implementation of our customers’ IT projects. Would you like to join us?

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Image of: Corey Lashua, Team Leader Global

Corey Lashua, Team Leader Global

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