Starting out in IT Project Management – seven TOP tips (and refreshers for the rest of us)
“Hi, David. As you’ve been in IT Project Management for years, do you have any tips for someone at the start of their career?”
How to make someone feel old in one question!! Hahaha!
I actually loved getting this email from a newly qualified IT Project Manager, Matthew, this week.
He meant well, even if it did make me feel like someone celebrating their 100th birthday being asked for the secret of their long, long life.
I fired back a response, pretty much off the top of my head, and he suggested that it was worth sharing as a blog.
Seven top tips for starting out in IT Project Management (and refreshers for the rest of us)
1 – Keep Asking And Keep Learning
Matthew asked someone with more experience (me) for advice and guidance, never, EVER stop doing that. You never know everything! I actually learned a couple of nuggets of ‘newly qualified wisdom’ from Matthew which I’ll be using moving forward.
Throughout your IT Project Management career become a knowledge sponge. “Success leaves clues” as Tony Robbins says!
I also told Matthew not to try to do everything himself, a burnt-out hero is no good to anyone! There is a universe of solutions called Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) and ‘outsourcing’ parts or even all of a project’s delivery to someone better placed to deliver it can be a really smart move. As Matthew points out I have “been in Project Management for years” but I never stop learning about PMaaS solutions!
2 – Make Scope Documenting A Habit
As IT Projects get more complex some kind of a scope statement is more and more vital. What we’re talking about here is a formal document that lists the deliverables expected from a project and, as important, what’s not in the remit (see tip 3).
They are called different things from project manager to project manager but essentially, it’s a document you can use to negotiate objectives and deliverables and to clarify any grey areas.
Writing for projectengineer.net, Bernie Roseke, says, “A good scope statement includes the following things:
Overall description of the work. This is where you state that the project is to “build a fence.”
Deliverables. What will be produced by the project, and what are its key features? ...
Justification for the project. ...
The reason I suggest making it a habit is that sometimes it is skipped when an outcome seems clear and obvious. More often than not, something happens during the lifecycle to make the project team regret this. You put on a seatbelt whether you’re driving to the convenience store down the road or going on a long-distance trip, apply the same safety mindset to scope statements for IT projects.
Document the scope on the complex and the (apparently) not so complex projects and you’ll have fewer surprises.
3 – Be As Clear About What Deliverables Are Not Included
Scope statements and documents are great. They tell you what is expected from your IT Project but, together with this, it helps to develop a mindset that is clear about what deliverables fall outside the boundaries and be able to articulate this.
Stakeholders and sponsors will try to push these boundaries, especially when you’re starting out it’s very easy just to agree and then suffer silently the consequences as you become overstretched.
4 - Stakeholder Analysis Is A Powerful Ally
Some form of stakeholder analysis will give you a valuable insight into people’s needs and, maybe more vitally, their influence over your project.
Not all stakeholders are equal, even within a specific management or executive level there will be different communication and response needs depending on a stakeholder’s power and vested interest in the outcomes.
Imagine the C-suite of a global business. They are all stakeholders in your IT Project as it will deliver business change but do they all have the same level of power within the organisation? Do they all have the same level of interest – if the change doesn’t directly affect their silo probably not. Knowing who has a high level of power, influence and interest is vital for the smooth running of your project.
If you’ve ever failed to satisfy a high power or high-interest stakeholder, you’ll know it’s a lesson you only have to learn once!!
5 – Never Lose Sight Of The Three Pillars of Project Management
Also known as ‘The Triple Constraints of Project Management’ or ‘The Iron Triangle of Project Management’ … budget, scope and schedule. Never lose sight of any of them.
My project manager pal Malc uses this analogy when training new hires on the triangle, “It’s like taking three infant puppies to the beach, imagine which one you’d most keep an eye on? Well, it would be all three, equally, wouldn’t it!?”
In IT Project Management, altering one constraint could necessitate changes in the others or quality will suffer. For instance, a project’s scope could be increased but could you do this without increasing the budget or putting back the delivery date? Similarly, cutting budget would need an adjustment to the schedule or reduction of the scope or could lead to lower quality outcomes.
As Malc says, “One puppy could run into the sea and be followed by the second. All the while you’re sitting on the beach feeding dog treats to the third puppy thinking you’re a great dog sitter.”
6 – Work On Not Just In Your IT Project
Update Your Project Schedule - As an IT Project Manager, it’s easy to get so busy that you forget about some of the crucial administrative tasks that are key to delivering your project successfully. Be mindful of getting too busy working in your project that you fail to work on it!
Keep track of all actions, issues, risks and key decisions and you won’t forget anything important!!
7 – Chunk Your Deliverables
The work breakdown structure (WBS) has been my best friend on many IT projects. A visual tool that helps break your IT project down into smaller deliverables can stop even the most complex project becoming overwhelming.
It will help you identify, organise and track the key workstreams and maintain a sense of control – great for your mental health!
Top Tip: On REALLY complex projects – go a bit old school and print your WBS!! ‘Blu Tack’ it to your office wall as a constant visual reminder of how the ‘chunks’ will contribute to the overall scope to be delivered.
So that’s just seven thoughts, it kind of acted as a nice refresher for myself as I wrote each one as well – so thanks, Matthew!
I’d love to hear what tips you’d share with an IT Project Manager just starting out, what you’ve learned from a colleague or a mentor or which aspects of your approach you’ve refreshed.
And, if you need help accessing solution in that ever-growing PMaaS universe, I know someone who has “been in Project Management for years” that you can call.