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Why and how to be complex IT project ready

complex2017

I hope that you returned to work after the Christmas break rested and recharged because I think that IT Project Management is in for a heck of ride over the next few years.

Looking at the portfolios of clients and friends in the profession, 2017 to the end of the decade will be a period of complex IT Projects that will deliver huge strategic change.

What makes a project complex is fairly complex itself ... many disparate stakeholders, teams or vendors, the timescale, the scope, it could be that what you're doing has never been done before or that the change delivered will alter the landscape of your business or entire industry.

In fact, many of these projects will deliver so much business change that they might not feel like traditional IT Projects, their impact on all aspects of the organisation will be so huge, their reach so wide that many firms are not even calling them IT projects. Make no mistake, though, just about every business now is a digital business so just about every change project is an IT Project and management of them will be down to you.

And we have to be ready.

Many of my Project Management acquaintances are expressing doubts that they are ready. Here's what I'm telling them.

5 Great Ways to Be Complex Project Ready

1 - Be an Expert

If you've been given a complex IT Project to manage the chances are you have the qualifications and experience to handle it. Hmmmm, doesn't always work like that though so how can you "be an expert" when you’re not? Check out these three ways YOU can be an expert.

i) Be an expert in what you can be

Faced with a complex IT Project it's amazing how many experienced Project Managers panic! OK, at first sight, your experience may not seem to match the level needed for the project but ...

You can be an expert in what the business goal of the project is. You can be an expert in who the stakeholders are ... who the sponsor is ... what your business users or customers want. When you master all of this you can communicate it to a brilliant Project Management partner who will be able to provide the expertise, processes, governance, people or whatever it is that you feel that you're lacking for this project. So ...

ii) Be an expert in what the Project Management as a Service market can offer and who to call

In 2017 I challenge to find a part of the Project Management process that isn't readily accessible through the PMaaS market. It's all there ... people, tools, assessments ... even the whole end to end process itself. Complex projects often benefit from a calm, measured external influence. The right Project Management services provider will be able to suggest solutions, bring state of the art best practice and provide a helicopter view that sometimes isn’t possible when you’re in the thick of it! It’s also a fabulous opportunity to increase your skill set. So ...

iii) Be an expert in learning

When you buy in more experienced IT Project talent through the PMaaS become a knowledge sponge. Soak up whatever best practice tips you can and encourage all your in-house talent to do so too. Really maximise the return on your investment. Most teams become more competent and more capable after buying in Project Management services.

2 - Be Adaptable but Realistic

It is a Project Management truth that things change and the more complex a project is, the more things will probably change.

Complex projects often suffer from a lack of adaptability because of the intense planning that goes into getting them off the ground. If you've put a morning's work into planning a project and then have to change the plan ... so what? It’s just a morning ... nothing lost! However, if you've put in WEEKS of preparation and have a watertight plan for a complex change project and a stakeholder throws a curve ball it takes a special temperament to be flexible.

I'm smiling as a write this thinking of a Project Manager friend who manages complex public service projects. When he is expected to be what he calls "adaptable beyond the call of duty" he retreats to his office to play the Oasis song "Roll With It" at high volume! During which time he accepts the changing reality and plots the impact that being adaptable will have on delivery timescales and budgets. He gets agreement that the predicted impact is line with sponsor expectations (so everyone is clear) and then gets on with it.

Playing "Roll With It" loud is a coping tactic, whether it's the lyrics or the volume or just locking himself away and belting out a great song - I don't know but it works for him - giving just enough thinking time to be adaptable and realistic.

3 - Be A Chunking Champion

Failure to break down complex IT projects into bite-size chunks is a big reason that they fail. Massive change projects are way too big to take on as a single entity.

Chunks don't just make managing complex projects easier, they make communicating about them easier too - especially to senior management who may not have the time (or the ability) to grasp the more technical aspects of the project but still need to kept in the loop about progress. Communication and understanding within the team managing a complex project are also helped when you break your project into chunks.

Often having a third party take a look over your project or entire portfolio can alert you to opportunities to chunk that you may have missed. Whether you get an independent opinion or you do it yourself planning chunks of work to tackle should be a major part of scoping out a complex project.

And incentivise your team to successfully complete each chunk - celebrate the milestones!

4 - Know Your Capability (AND YOUR GAPS!)

Knowing where you are is important for knowing how to get your business to where it needs to be through your IT change projects.

Many projects fail simply because a key capability is missing when they start. It's like setting off on a car journey with no fuel but thanks to the PMaaS market any capability that you need is as easy to access as petrol.

An Enterprise Project Management Office Assessment can be great for identifying strengths, weaknesses and gaps in your capability and recommending ways to align your project management operation with the business needs of your portfolio.

Furthermore, in complex change projects many disciplines cross department and silo boundaries - don't waste time re-inventing the wheel. Many of soft skills needed to deliver a project that impacts on a pan-organisational level might already exist within affected departments - don't ignore what might already be under your nose.

5 - The Eight Cates of Project Management

More on this in a future post but I find my friend's rule of the Eight Cates Of Project Management really help her tackle a complex project.

The Eight Cates is a list of words that start with "C" and end with the suffix "-ate" and an excuse for my friend to always have a photo of Cate Blanchett on his desk.

The Eight Cates are Calculate, Co-ordinate, Cerebrate, Collaborate, Communicate, Captivate, Culminate, Celebrate.

They are fairly self-explanatory but I think that three are worth particular attention here.

i) Cerebrate (to have the brain in action): is a reminder to stay mentally switched on throughout the project. Sounds obvious but I've consulted on many projects where a lapse of focus and concentration has led to delays, budget overruns or potential failure.

ii) Captivate: As leader of a complex project you have to keep everyone motivated and "on mission" from the C-suite sponsors to those actually delivering the change. If your project runs for 18 months, for instance, you'll lead your team through some choppy waters - make sure that you attract and hold their interest and attention throughout!

iii) Celebrate: This the most important to me! It's also something that many of us forget to do. When you deliver a complex IT Project or a milestone along the way take a moment to celebrate your success

More on the "Eight Cates" another time but in the meantime, remember that one them ... collaborate ... doesn't just mean within your team. There is a whole world of Project Management talent waiting to help with complex change programmes from assessment to services and delivery.

In 2017, and beyond ‘complex’ is well within your skill set.

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed
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September 2019

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