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What are the core IT project processes?

What are the core IT project processes?
19/10/2020

Probably everyone at some point in their career has been the witness of an IT project that didn’t deliver all that was promised. According to a 2019 survey by the global consultancy firm McKinsey, only 14% of corporates have managed to achieve and sustain the desired performance improvement through their digital transformation projects. And only 3% report a complete success! While following a proven IT project management methodology is certainly not a guarantee for success as the McKinsey survey clearly demonstrates; not following the basic IT project management processes on the other hand is a good recipe for failure. This article covers the core IT project processes and techniques for robust IT project management. The key IT project processes are: • Phase management • Planning • Control (change, risk & issues and progress) • Communication • Team management and leadership • Procurement and supplier management • Integration with other projects and systems

Reading time: 8 minutes Process #1 - phase management Projects have a definitive beginning and an end, and a high level of activity in the middle. In order to manage these activities, they are divided into phases which make up the project lifecycle. Phases are important when managing an IT project because: • They provide a set list of activities the project must go through before it can move onto the next phase. • The set activities provide structure and clarity. This means everyone involved knows what to expect and understands what needs to be done and why decisions are made. If you have adopted an agile methodology, the importance of phases still apply as structure and clarity is just as important with Agile, if not more, when deliverables are separated into bite-sized chunks. • Moving from one phase to another when complete ensures that the deliverables have met their purpose and milestones have been achieved. • Phases help to prepare the Project Manager and Project Team for the next phase as they understand the activities that next take place.

Whether your project is small and simple or large and complex, the lifecycle provides the basic foundation of the actions that have to be performed. The number of phases and activities within them may differ depending on your organisation, project manager, type of project or methodology employed. But they must be defined and must be followed throughout the project. A clear project lifecycle facilitates communication and change management. Issues will quickly arise if stakeholders and team members cannot see a clear structure to the project. This will cause a headache for the Project Manager and confusion for everyone else.
Find out more about what activities we include at each phase… Process #2 - planning In the Project Management world, planning is arguably the most important component. Planning can seem like an excessive amount of time to spend before the project has even really begun, but if you plan well in the beginning, you will reap the rewards later down the line. A project plan allows the Project Manager to design all aspects of the project: • Phases of a project (as mentioned above) • Activities or tasks in each phase • Task start and end dates • Interdependencies between tasks • Resources i.e. who is needed to do which tasks • Milestones

Following a robust plan throughout the project not only helps to define the activities and deliverables that have been achieved so far, but also acts as a baseline to regularly refer to. If the project veers significantly from the estimated plan, it’s a sign that something is wrong and adjustments need to be made. Frequently revisiting the plan and making these adjustments can maximise the Project Manager’s effectiveness and allows them to consistently set and meet expectations. Project plans can vary in style, and so can the tools used to create them, ranging from MS Excel and MS Project to purpose built Project Management software. Whichever tool you decide to use, make it central to the management of the team’s tasks and make sure everyone uses it to manage their time. A successful project is one that satisfies the objectives, on time and on budget. The plan is a key tool to making that happen. Process #3 - control The project has been scoped, planned and the project team is in place ready to go; but how can the Project Sponsor or even the Project Manager be confident the project will run according to plan? A Project Manager must have the tools and techniques in place to successfully control all aspects of the project throughout. It’s important to understand the difference between controlling and micromanaging, however. Project controls aren’t about directly controlling the work or the people who do it. It’s about maintaining control over the risks, structure and flow of the project itself. The key is to monitor closely enough and often enough to spot problems before they get out of control. Tools and techniques to achieve control: Manage change Changes are inevitable. Whether it’s changes to what users need or changes to the original scope of the project, you need a way to manage them or the budget and timeline will quickly get out of control. How this is done is closely linked to the chosen methodology but at a high level, changes need to be tracked, prioritised, and adjustments made to the plan. All changes will have an effect on the time, budget and/or functionality so must be approved by the person or group with the right authority.
Monitor performance Hold daily/weekly meetings for the team to discuss their progress, issues, risks and reconcile with the project plan. Perhaps more importantly, don’t let discrepancies unaddressed. Manage risks & issues Risks and issues are also inevitable. It isn’t possible to plan for every eventuality. Therefore risk management and issue management when a risk turns into a problem are a key part of controlling a project. How risks & issues are tracked and managed exactly is dependent on the chosen methodology. But regardless of the chosen approach, the most important aspect of risk and issues management is updating and following through with the relevant stakeholders, and making sure difficult topics are not buried or sidetracked. Monitor progress Again how progress is reported is closely linked to the chosen methodology, the size of the project and the complexity of the overall programme (see the section on integration below). Maintaining a weekly status report to offer high-level information about the project status is common practice. The report should answer the questions everyone seems to be asking (before they actually ask them). In some project management software, the weekly status report is “live” and gives real-time information, so there’s no need for the project manager to actually produce the report. If there is something urgent to report, act immediately rather than waiting to submit the weekly report. Process #4 - communication A Project Manager can be incredibly organised, produce a first-rate plan, understand the deliverables etc, but if they are unable to communicate well, the project will fail anyway. A successful project manager must be a great communicator! It’s a skill that is pivotal in being able to initiate and mobilise a project effectively. It’s important to communicate the right information to the right people, and the methods used to do this are equally as important. Remember that communication is a two-way thing. Discuss these communication methods with the team and other stakeholders to ensure everyone agrees on the best way to communicate throughout the project: • Hold daily (15 min scrums) and/or weekly (1 hour) meetings to formally review the status of the project. Ensure there is a designated note-taker, agenda, actionable next steps, date for the next meeting. • Welcome questions from the project team. They need to be 100% clear on their roles and responsibilities and what is expected of them. A Project Manager needs to be approachable to ensure issues are discussed before they become real problems. • Use a RACI matrix to define who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed on tasks within the project. A RACI chart will help streamline communication and cut out unnecessary communication. • Always keep stakeholders aware of progress (wins as well as concerns). Set expectations from the outset of what is required from them, too. A Project Manager must be well supported from above. • Implement a “project discussion board” to share information that doesn’t require a meeting. Your team can stay in the loop while still being productive.

Some project management software have communication features which can help. It’s worth reviewing what you’re using now and investigating what’s on the market if communication is one of your issues. Process #5 - team management and leadership A Project Manager needs a strong team around them, so it’s crucial to lead and manage that team well to bring the best out in them, and the project. • Recruit a dedicated team that are able to offer a substantial amount of their time on the project (full time is best). A project team made up of members who are also carrying out their usual day job won’t be able to stick to the plan, will cause delays and could be disengaged. • Understand the team as individuals and ensure their responsibilities match up with their skills and knowledge. Making maximum use of resources will enable the team members to flourish knowing they’ve been appointed in a role that complements their skill set. Ultimately, a win-win situation. • Connect with the team and get buy in. They need to believe in the project to give it their all. Share the company's vision, highlight what makes the project special and how important that team is to achieving the goals. • Set targets and ensure the team understand how they can be achieved, and by when. They're a good way of motivating people, giving direction and getting good team performance. • Keep your team engaged by encouraging involvement in the decision making process, welcoming contributions, respecting opinions, stimulating debate and supporting independence in self-starters. • Promote an atmosphere of trust, respect and accountability. Ensure workloads are fair and realistic, and celebrate the team’s achievements. Process #6 - procurement and supplier management Most projects will require collaboration with a source outside of the organisation. Whether this is a third party providing hardware or software, a one-off service or regularly, it’s important to define how the relationship will work. This usually involves, planning, selecting, contract writing, and monitoring. • Planning – decide what needs to be obtained from a third party, by when and to what specification. Involve a business analyst from the start to make sure your stakeholders are all identified and their needs understood. Starting off with the wrong set of requirements is a sure way to fail. Then contact potential companies. • Selecting – analyse the product behind the demo/sales pitch. Score against your requirements identified in the previous stage. • Contract writing – this is where the legal team comes in to discuss the conditions of the contract, such as delivery dates, payment conditions and the items/services ordered. Negotiate tactfully and negotiate to get a win-win outcome to ensure the relationship with the company remains amicable. Treating a third party like a partner will repay dividends along the way. • Service levels - agree and be clear on what kind of service you expect and what your responsibilities are as a client. This generally includes aspects like priority categorisation criteria and response time for support calls. • Monitoring – arrange regular meetings/check ins with the third party to track progress and make any changes to the original plan. Process #7 - integration Many projects do not operate in isolation – they often have links to other projects or affect other departments, which means more stakeholders and more processes to account for. This is especially common in IT projects. New and replacement systems or processes that are put into place will need to integrate with existing systems i.e. a new HR system is being implemented into an organisation that already has an independent payroll system, therefore those systems will need to be integrated to ensure processes function properly. The Project Manager must be aware of any integrations from the start. Running ahead with the project without properly scoping the integration requirements at the beginning will land the project in hot water. It’s not easy to integrate processes or subsystems once the design and build is already underway. When dealing with bought software, it’s a good idea to ask some “pointed questions” to the 3rd party about how their product can integrate – give specific examples of the types of processes that will need to be linked to gauge whether the product(s) can satisfy the needs.

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