Recently, we asked some of our top IT Project Managers what they consider to be best practices in their field and what education they would recommend to become a star Project Manager. Below you will find their answers.
1. What do you think is the best training/education for becoming a successful IT Project Manager?
- Learning the SDLC methodologies (Software Development Life Cycle) of managing a project
- Knowledge of the varying types of methods in the industry you work in (i.e. waterfall, agile)
- Internships (when available) to apply and gain experience in the field
- Courses in how to manage high performance teams, how to manage difficult people (BC courses if still available)
- For me it was starting out as a Developer. It gave me a foundation and given it’s been quite a while it helps me have a prospective on the work I’m asking someone else to do.
- The best education is experience managing a variety of projects in all shapes and sizes. There are several other ways to continue to grow and sharpen one’s project management skills: taking formal courses either online or in the classroom; attending industry seminars; subscribing to publications; or partnering with mentors who are willing to spend time answering technology or project management questions and providing valuable insights.
- There are many best practices you need to implement and use as a project manager, but the most important is communication, both with the project’s Stakeholder and the project team. No one likes surprises during a project, so whenever there is a change in scope, schedule, general issues, or anything that can affect the project, there needs to be quick and effective communication to the whole project team. Many times, I have found that the project manager doesn't like to divulge such information early and tries to solve the issue by themselves so no one will know about it, but the problem with this that if you fail the solve the issue, you are already behind in terms of time, and in these cases the stakeholder will not be very cooperative. I found that most of the time the stakeholder or even the development side can be very creative and willing to work with you on the issue when they know about it earlier.
- Another important aspect of best practices is risk management, all the way from the beginning review of the critical path of the project, and identifying the risks as much as you can (surprises always exist), as well as preparing risk mitigation and recovery plan for those that are on the critical path.
- Negotiation, Scope management, and decision making are also very critical on a project that we want to keep on schedule and on budget.
2. How do you start your projects out on the right foot? What kind of planning process do you use in IT Project Management?
- I create a cheat sheet where I store all information as I go through the process / steps below for quick access when attending meetings to reference until it becomes committed knowledge
- Collect information / statistics related to the project
- Define the project scope (applications impacted, development effort, etc.)
- Identify / document all participants and their roles (Internal / external)
- Create business case estimate of all expected expenses (resources, equipment, vendor fees, etc.)
- Create Action Item, Issues, Risks Logs for tracking and assignment of next step / ownership for resolution, if your team is getting stuck in the mud with a lot of open questions / discussion on a topic log the questions and track to resolution
- Create project plan to lay out the project timeline (task/durations/ownership)
- I start with a plan and then review it for input with the team. Feedback and a good critic is valuable to cover all your bases
- At the onset of a project, it is imperative to make sure that all stakeholders understand the scope definition so that all are working toward the same goal. Once the scope is defined, an iterative approach to planning works well by holding standard meetings with the stakeholders and continually groom the project work. Encourage people to speak up and listen to their ideas and input.
- Every project must start with a kickoff meeting where you present meaningful and realistic milestones for the project, setting the expectations for the team, while requesting the project team, including the stakeholders, to maintain clear communication, all to minimize the surprises in the project. Leaving the kickoff meeting with everyone on the same page, understanding that all of the people involved in the project are on the same team. Teamwork is critical for the success of the project.
3. What are some methods to gain stakeholder buy-in when you’re an IT Project Manager?
- Patience and perseverance. This question can cover several scenarios:
- In the past I have encountered resistance from Business participants not wanting Project Manager interference managing the project to the point they were hostile in meetings. The best thing to do when you encounter this type of behavior is to try and win them over – find common ground for friendly discussion kids, sports, vacations). I just remained professional and rode it out until I wore them down. If you can’t overcome, then escalate up.
- Business participants that will be negative and push back on projects / requirements: They may have a valid concern that needs to be discussed and worked through. However, some folk are resistant to change. When this type of behavior is encountered the Project Manager needs to facilitate discussions to walk through requirements / deliverables so all stakeholder gain a sense of reassurance that the deliverables will benefit them.
- Project Managers rely on others to be successful. I can't effectively influence others if I don't understand what motivates my stakeholders. I spend time up front to learn stakeholders' concerns about a project, take those concerns seriously and try to address them to develop my relationships. I then try to take that information and share it with the team, if I want to know the why, I think they do too.
- You must demonstrate how the project either impacts or benefits the stakeholders. Spend the time to customize PowerPoint presentations or Visio diagrams to explain the purpose and goals of the project to the stakeholders. Ask for their input and suggestions. Keep lines of communication open throughout the life of the project by publishing progress reports highlighting major milestones achieved and any action items to address issues or risks.
- There are many ways to get a buy-in from a stakeholder in a project. Even if you have regular, clear communication with them, there can be disagreement even between the stakeholders. The first thing that the project manager needs to do is to find the more vocal and the more important stakeholders. Because they are vocal and important in the organization, they will have a bigger impact on all the other stakeholders, and potentially spend more time with them to explain the project and risks, issues, and completed milestones.
4. How do you balance the management of schedule, budget, and resources?
- Monitoring / reconciliation on a regular basis or estimates to actuals
- Checkpoints at critical milestones of the project to assess any changes to scope, timeline and impact to budget
- I stay close to the team members and try to sit directly with them if possible. If not, we all come together briefly on a daily basis by phone. Agile has been great for that.
- I’m detail oriented so watch the detail and use that to look ahead to anticipate risk in any of these areas.
- The project constraints should be discussed and prioritized with the project sponsor or client in the planning stage of the project. Some clients have projects that can’t exceed a certain budget and other projects may be driven by a delivery date that must be met. It’s up to client or stakeholders. If they are unsure, it is the Project Manager’s responsibility to ask the right questions to understand the project goals and adjust accordingly.
- One of the big challenges in every project is to balance between schedule, budget, and resources. The work to balance these thee parameters must be done with the stakeholders of the project, as they understand the impact of each item and the relationships they have to the quality of the project. Working with the stakeholders can get you to the balance of the scope and schedule, but I have found that many times stakeholders believe that adding money and people can give them what they want. The Project Manager needs to explain that more people doesn’t always mean it will be faster, and often the project can reach a point that adding people will slow it down. In these situations, it is the project manager’s responsibility to find the right balance while trying to fit everything within the budget.
5. What tools do you think best facilitate your work as an IT Project Manager?
- Technical tools: Microsoft Project, Excel, Word, Power Point
- Soft skills: Communication, Facilitation, Documentation, Management / Oversight
- I’ve worked with a lot of tools over the years but for me communication and organization are key to being successful with whatever tools you have.
- Gantt charts are great for tracking the project work. Work performance reports such as dashboards and status reports help keep the stakeholders informed of the progress of the project, and lessons learned documents to make continuous improvements.
This blog post was written by Danielle Higgins, Social Media Coordinator with contributions from Molly MacNeill, Senior Staffing Specialist and Maria Nagel, Staffing Specialist at Whitridge Associates.
Whitridge Associates provides expert talent to a diverse group of technology companies, financial services, defense contractors and healthcare providers throughout the country. With a history of 22 plus years of unparalleled service to both our clients and consultants, Whitridge is one of the most highly regarded staffing companies in New England. Whitridge was recently recognized as an Inavero’s Best of Staffing® Client and Talent Awards winner, one of the top 100 fastest growing staffing companies in the United States and was presented with The Excellence Award from TechServe Alliance the industry’s leading trade association.
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