IT'ers first learned the methodology of system and project life cycles, i.e., define, design, develop, test,deploy. Then, agile project methodology ended that, inviting collaboration where many of the original project lifecycle steps were performed concurrently. Now, we have Internet of Things (IoT) projects that once again demand that we revisit how we structure and manage projects.
Last year, Gartner revealed from research that 43.5% of companies are using or planning to implement IoT, a number that is certain to rise in 2017. You or someone you know might be one of the managers tapped to run an IoT project, but when you take the assignment, it should be with the understanding that you will have to run the project differently than you did when you were simply managing IT projects.
SEE: Harnessing IoT in the Enterprise (ZDNet)
Here are some of the changes in IoT project management methodologies that we are likely to see:
The project team
Despite the more collaborative approach in projects that Agile development offers, IT still goes off to code and test most new apps on its own. When the apps are ready for staging or final end user review, the end users get plugged back in. This won't work with IoT projects, because IoT is so integrally linked into company operations that the software and hardware can't be separated from its actual operating environment.
For instance, if an IoT robot is being used in a distribution center to pick and pack items from shelves, the software, the communications, the data collection and the operation of the robot in its warehouse environment have to be tested on the floor. It is not enough to finish the IT part of the project and just insert the technology. IT and operations have to work hand in hand on IoT 100% of the time, for the entire duration of the project.
Longer project timelines
Unlike traditional IT projects, an IoT project isn't finished once it's implemented.
There must also be a plan for how the IoT will be supported, and for what the failover mechanics are going to be if for some reason a failure occurs in production. Until IoT matures as a technology in companies, IoT projects must have a longer tail that extends into support and failover of IoT after it is cutover to production. The best place to find this support team is within the original project team. As the team's project manager, you might also be expected to assume an ongoing role.
Staff morale issues
What if you don't have the expertise on board to do an IoT project and your company wants it now? Many companies (and project managers) are finding themselves in this position. The short-term plan from the CIO's point of view might be to hire outside consultants to do your IoT—but as the IoT project manager, you will be the one who encounters the repercussions. These repercussions will manifest in the form of your project team feeling that its professional development is being roadblocked or stymied by handing off all of the new IoT tech to outsiders, and this can create resentment. If your team has a skills gap with IoT, the best plan is to use outside IoT resources for a relatively short term while your staff gets up to speed, and to engage these outside resources in training and the transitioning duties to your team. Likely, these additional activities will add time to your projects—but the value of great team morale and a solid understanding of why everything is being done the way it is being done can't be underestimated. First, however, you have to make sure that your CIO buys in!
A fast track for compliance, security and policy planning
Unless your company is in the financial, insurance or healthcare sectors, it is likely to be lax on policy development and compliance needs for IoT until a project is almost ready to go into production. This is a "no no" for IoT projects, for several reasons. First, there is a lot we don't know about IoT—such as the potential liabilities and policy issues of the technology. Second, many IoT end devices (like sensors) are mass-produced commodity items and may not come with the embedded security that your company requires. Third, streams of IoT data flow over private and public networks. It is up to you to make sure that the IoT in your project can work within these security parameters. All of this adds up to getting your legal staff, compliance and policy people engaged at the beginning of your IoT project so these requirements can be planned and budgeted for—and not patching them in at the end of the project.
Your project team will need ongoing support from your systems, network, database, storage and IT operations functions because IoT will impact all of them. These subsets of IT often function as disciplinary silos. It will be your job as project manager to get them working cooperatively with your team as the help is needed.
Comprehensive testing that goes beyond IT
Usability and environmental adaptation are critical on IoT projects, which might work in a lab setting but fail in the outside environments they are destined for. This means that IoT project managers will need to rethink testing scenarios for IoT projects. For example, If a sensor works well in the lab, will it function outside in a warehouse yard where the temperatures could fall to 40 degrees below zero?
The bottom line for IT managers is that IoT will change how projects are run—but it still won't change the fundamental best practices of running IT projects, nor the ability of great IT project managers to execute these project well, even when they are IoT.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.