Last month wasn’t one of Hewlett Packard Co.’s finest. The company is being sued by the state of Michigan, which claimed that the company failed to deliver on a $49 million 2005 contract to update the state government’s IT infrastructure.
Although no judgement has been reached and no blame yet assigned in court, this certainly isn’t the only IT project to run into trouble with a client. IT projects can be difficult to manage, especially at that scale, but even smaller ones can lead to trouble if improperly governed. What makes an effective IT project, and how can project managers avoid disaster?
Chris Ward, a trainer at training firm CBT Nuggets, is in the final throes of launching a new training program for the company focusing on IT service management using the ITIL framework. “In the past, IT was the orphan stepchild when it came to project management,” he said.
One of the biggest problems for IT is that project management methodologies and technology move at different speeds, said Ward, who was handling Y2K remediation projects at the end of the last millennium, and who has authored several books on the topic.
“IT has the amazing capability to be light on its feet and always innovative,” he said, adding that as a discipline with its roots in construction and manufacturing, project management doesn’t always allow for such agile thinking. In short: some people within IT might want to fly fast and loose, experimenting with the latest tech, whereas many project managers focus on certainty and locking down parameters.
In this sense, IT service management and project management have helped each other, said Ward. It treats IT as a service provider, with accountable service metrics and customers. By bringing the two together, organizations can inject fresh thinking into project management. “At the same time, you provide a safety net for the IT folks.”
He hopes that certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) will become more important for IT project managers. Offered by the Project Management Institute, this is an internationally-recognized certification that Ward said usually applied to other sectors in the past.
This will carry IT specialists a long way in their careers. but it isn’t the only necessary requirement, said Mary-Lynn Manton. She co-chairs the School of Information and Communications Technology at Toronto’s Seneca College, which has an ICT project management program.
“They must have exceptional written and oral communications,” she said. Project managers must also be good problem solvers, with the analytical capabilities to weigh a variety of approaches and choose the best approach to a problem.
This analytical process is key to estimating and allocating the available resources on a project. Getting this wrong is one of the biggest slip-ups, which will inevitably lead to disaster. “One of the biggest mistakes is not estimating project costs and resource needs accurately, resulting in cost and time overruns in project delivery,” Manton said.
This includes being able to honestly and accurately articulate the progress on a project, through regular and frequent communications with clients and the project team. Project managers should be prepared to own their mistakes, keeping upper management abreast of problems.
“When projects start to run into trouble, it is a mistake not to escalate the issues to upper management, so that the impacts can be assessed and decisions made on how to proceed,” she concluded.