Meet Justin, the IT manager.
He works for an organization where he spends 40 hours a week (actually closer to 50 if you ask him) managing the organization's database, network, and software. Justin has just been put in charge of a data integration project. Now he must find time to plan, keep records, coordinate, and report progress on top of his regular job—the problem is nobody has given him time or training for this. Sound like someone in your association?
In reality, many or most people who manage IT projects for associations are full-time developers, system administrators, database administrators, and other IT professionals. These people are forced to manage projects "off the side of their desk" without time allocated for project management.
This post will assist organizations that want to simplify project management processes and roles. For associations or small businesses that don’t have a full-time project management office (PMO), this approach provides a framework to fulfill project management duties while with staff resources who are also juggling the responsibilities of their full-time position.
Formal project management methodologies are too comprehensive and rigorous for most IT projects. Some organizations and some larger projects require maximum diligence, but the vast majority of associations can't sustain it. A "minimum-viable" project and portfolio discipline is often good enough. Implementing a practical and tactical set of expectations, tools, and training can help "de facto" project managers succeed as both IT practitioners and as project managers.
This survival guide is intended to help de facto project managers comply with the most critical and valuable activities without drowning in administrative overhead. It will equip de facto project managers with enough low-effort, high-value structure and guidance to complete projects on time and within budget.
Project Managers need to satisfy three core accountabilities:
While each core function is essential to project and portfolio management, a de facto PM (or project manager) often shortchanges the planning activities.
The first step in the project management survival guide is to assess current allocations and workloads across projects and the tools used to manage them. Start by compiling a list of active projects. Calculate how hours worked match-up with hours allocated. This will be crucial for your minimum viable project management as you progress from implementation to ongoing management.
Analyze current project management roles and reporting structure. Project Managers likely won't have a project management job title, so it's essential to include everyone involved in leading, coordinating, and reporting on projects. Quantify these project managers' time and effort spent on project management activities.
Next, map and assess current project management processes. Identify steps or activities in the process that would most benefit from improvement. Make a note of steps and activities that tend to be associated with delays, miscommunication, poor execution, or poor compliance.
Finally, analyze the value for time and effort spent on project management to identify areas for improvement. What are the challenges and opportunities? Make a note of any dependencies, information that is rarely or never actually used, or information that might be useful but is not currently recorded. Define requirements in the future based on what project managers need to manage projects more efficiently and effectively.
Next, we need to define expectations and establish fair and achievable processes for de facto PMs. If you want to focus on the important work, you've got to manage the less important work.
In this stage, it is crucial to emphasize reporting high-level project status to identify and address issues to achieve the best results with the least effort. Do this by establishing a minimum viable project and portfolio management SOP. Having a refined SOP will allow you to implement fair and achievable processes for project workers and improve relationships with the senior management and the business side with consistent status updates from project managers. It will also help you avoid excessive project overhead and opportunities for miscommunication.
Your SOP should include standardized project sizing to save time on estimates and increase the consistency of project throughput. Categorize project sizes by the estimated completion time and required documentation and planning.
Read More: Right-Size Your Software Selection Projects
Your SOP should also include project risks, issues, and change management procedures. Formal project control procedures can become a source of additional work and grief for de facto PMs. Still, a few basic universal rules can help ensure that risks, issues, and changes are managed effectively.
Many IT departments struggle to complete the last 20% of a project where ambiguity around closure and lack of proper channels of accountability can cause projects to remain in states of limbo for months at a time. For this reason, SOPs should define project closure and hand-off procedures in a project closure checklist. Every project should have four key elements of scope clearly defined before a project manager takes responsibility for completion: source or sponsor, business justification, objectives and deliverables, and completion criteria. Project managers are responsible for reporting to the portfolio manager when objectives and completion criteria are met according to the closure checklist. Once the status is reported to the portfolio manager, the portfolio manager will take over responsibility for ensuring the project is formally closed.
Read More: How to Write Standard Operating Procedures
Developing a lean PM toolkit will free up PMs to focus on actually managing the project while still delivering effective project information. The PMs toolkit should include tools designed to facilitate compliance with core standards while giving managers the flexibility to manage their own projects. Below are some good things to have in the PM's toolkit:
Your project scope statement should provide a high-level overview of the project and include the project target start and end dates, estimated costs, description and benefits, and milestones and deliverables.
The Project Scope should be done (at least the first cut) before the project is approved and handed off to a project manager. They're light enough that they should provide clarity into the purpose, goals, and "definition of done" without being a burden for anyone.
Practically speaking, most of the information in the Project Scope could be captured from a single conversation. The person requesting a project wouldn't necessarily fill out this worksheet themselves, but this is how it should be handed to the project manager.
In some cases, the project manager could be the person with enough technical knowledge to properly define the scope (especially in organizations with no/little business analysis function), so some clarification of project goals and scope is reasonable to save time later in the project.
The business case should provide qualitative and quantitative benefits of the project and cost in terms of hours that will need to be allocated to it.
The Business Case should be done as part of project initiation at the portfolio level. It should be included in tandem with the Project Scope before the project is approved and responsibility is handed to a project manager.
In some cases, the eventual project manager is best positioned to estimate the time and effort required, so they should be involved in helping to develop the business case before the project is initiated.
Read More: Crafting a Communication Plan for IT Projects
Project managers are advised to begin documenting the list of team members and additional subject matter experts early to identify potential schedule conflicts and constraints. A list of stakeholders should be recorded and referred to throughout the project. Standardize the terminology around roles and responsibilities to ensure expectations are consistent between projects.
Document definitions of roles in the Roles and Responsibilities section of the Minimum-Viable Project and Portfolio Management SOP. The RACI Matrix is a simple grid that defines who is Responsible, who is Accountable, who should be Consulted and who should be kept Informed within the scope of the project.
Key responsibilities and accountability for deliverables should be defined at the start of every project. Responsibilities and communication requirements for more granular tasks might develop as the project progresses.
The project schedule should include the project target start and end date with milestones and deliverables scheduled relative to the start date.
The Risks and Issues Tracker should help project managers maximize project success by applying discipline to managing risks and issues. It is designed to model the response and communication process around risks and issues.
The Risks and Issues Tracker is recommended for large, complex projects. It does not need to be mandatory for all projects. As long as risks and issues are communicated effectively and handled in a disciplined, structured way, project managers do not necessarily need to document every issue.
The Risks and Issues Tracker could be made mandatory for all projects if risks and issues aren't being reported and project managers can't answer critical questions that would be documented in the tracker.
You should document all the tools you choose to use in your toolkit with policies and procedures for using them in your SOP.
Now that you have a minimum viable set of formalized expectations, procedures, and tools, any IT staff who might be acting as project managers should be trained on them. Training makes PMs more confident and can help keep their skills and knowledge up to date. It can also help solidify team structure and has been proven to increase productivity. A few factors to consider when organizing training:
As you use this guide to equip your IT staff with the tools needed to effectively manage IT projects, remember that project management doesn't necessarily equal project success. Methods and tactics can gradually become ends in themselves when people forget the ultimate goals and purpose. This guide should help your team manage the unimportant so they can focus more on the important work and achieve the best results with the least effort.
Call us and ask us to set up a lite project management framework for your association.