A company created an analytics project for purposes of experimentation and implementation but didn't have any pre-defined business goals for the analytics to tackle. So, the project failed to deliver results, the project lost credibility.
A toy retailer wanted to develop a doll that could play pre-recorded music stored on a chip, at the touch of a button. The problem was that the computer chips containing the music were sourced from Asia, and at the time there was a longshoremen's strike on the west coast that held up delivery beyond the holiday season. The consequence? An unsuccessful project and several million dolls that sat in a warehouse unsold.
An engineering project was planned around the skillset of a senior engineer, who then gave notice to the company to pursue another employment opportunity before the project could be completed. The company had no way of carrying on the project without the engineer.
All of these are examples of projects where one or more people, tools, or schedules failed. These fiascos are the reasons why people entering middle management avoid jobs that require project management, or at least carefully consider their options before they volunteer to manage their first project.
Despite the potential pitfalls, the ability to successfully manage projects—and the willingness to assume the risk of taking over failing projects and making them work—can benefit your career. The key is understanding the basics of managing projects before you take on that first project.
Here are some those basics in case you're facing your first project.
Choosing people for the project who not only have the right skillsets, but who can work harmoniously on a team, is very important. Even a gifted contributor, if he or she is uncooperative and hard to get along with, can sink a project.
The tools for the project, whether they are for software development, security, infrastructure, project management, or new business process tools, should all be in place before the project begins. If there are tools that need to be used as soon as the project starts, make sure the staff has the proper training in advance.
Business objective definition
Never start a project unless it has a clearly defined business objective and a set of project deliverables on which all stakeholders agree.
It is important to secure ongoing supporters and even champions of your project from the user area or areas that are going benefit from it. These stakeholders can assist you to ensure that tasks on the user side of the project are completed on time.
Metrics, checkpoints, and condition monitoring
Goals for project phase completion and quality, for unit testing and quality, and for other elements of the project development cycle should be documented and clearly laid out. Performance metrics can easily be developed to measure these and to gauge the success of the project. At the same time, a project manager should also look for key indicators that can't be logged into project tracking software. To do this, the project manager should actively and regularly interact with staff to check into confidence levels about the project, noting any hesitancies, slippages in work, or political issues that could be holding up progress.
The most frustrating experience for recipients of IT projects is that they don't have ongoing visibility of how the project is progressing, the issues that need to be resolved, and when the project is likely to complete. When a key project misses its final deadline and expectant users get caught by surprise, hostilities build and the unexpected project delay often interferes with rollouts of other projects in business areas that are dependent on that project being placed into production first. Even if the project is not going so well, communicate its status on a minimum weekly basis. Your stakeholders will respect the communication, and they might even be able to help you through some of the project issues.
A key vendor might miss a hardware installation deadline that is critical to a project—or your chief data architect might fall sick for an extended period of time. You never know what can happen in a project. This is why it is always essential to do some project threat analysis and contingency planning before the project begins. This advance planning gives you alternatives that you can move to when bad stuff happens.
Project management is an intricate process that takes many years experience to perfect—so if you are stepping into your first project role, your employer undoubtedly knows that you can be prone to make mistakes—and you will make them. But by having an attack plan that covers all of the key project management bases before you start, you can also improve your odds of delivering a stellar first project that delights your users, your team, and the company.
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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.