Any time your company is developing software, an app, a web-based platform, or deploying a new software system, it is doing the fantastic act of IT project management.
What is an IT project, you ask? TechTarget defines IT projects as anything from software development to the installation of hardware systems, from upgrading networks to business analytics & data management projects. In a nutshell, IT project management is managing any project dealing with IT infrastructure, information systems, or computer technology.
But unlike a project manager in other industries, an IT project manager faces some unique challenges — issues that may boggle the minds of other PMs. What are they?
The Top Challenges of IT Project Management
Chief among the hurdles that any IT project faces is the sheer number of partners, vendors and suppliers you will have to deal with. With each acting as a stakeholder in your project, managing expectations and communication while dealing with each vendor’s unique processes (or lack of process) makes things complicated. It's a massive juggling act — but it's part and parcel of the IT project manager's job.
Meanwhile, you will have to deal with the speed of progress, because sometimes technology overtakes a project. This may lead to a review of specifications so you can figure out how this new tech can enhance the final product. Technology will advance as a project is being executed, especially in projects with year-long lifecycles. But you can't simply ignore new developments, especially when customers and key stakeholders demand the project include them.
Another unique IT project challenge is that changes to IT infrastructure may impact security and data management. Because IT infrastructure is made up of hardware as well as software, any change you implement must be carefully done so it doesn't create risk for your company's — and more importantly your customers' — data. Are you deploying IT project management software? Where will it reside? Will it be able to access the customer database?
Then, of course, you'll always have complex dependencies between IT components. IT projects will inevitably face challenges arising from bugs, interoperability issues, not to mention all the updates and constantly changing versions and releases of various software that you must monitor and track. You may even discover previously unknown dependencies between hardware, software, networks, or data. A simple example: if your printer at home has a hard time communicating with your desktop, imagine what that's like on an enterprise scale across thousands of desktops and printers.
Finally, IT projects often have a humongous learning curve — because of the "first-time first-use" scenario. At some point within the project lifecycle, team members will have to do things for the first time or be the first to use and learn a new technology. This is the learning curve that the team is up against, which can often slow down any progress occurring during a project's execution.
How to Overcome IT Project Challenges
If you want to overcome those unique challenges (and justify your IT project management salary), then here are some approaches that should help make the project easier to manage.
Manage Vendors Expectations
Your vendors, partners, and suppliers are stakeholders in your project. You must manage their expectations and get everyone on the same page. This calls for the delicate art of project stakeholder management, which encompasses everything from creating a communication plan (when and how often to communicate with them) to the soft skills of soothing egos and negotiation tactics when problems arise.
Pivot Quickly When Needed
In his book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, author and Scrum's co-inventor Jeff Sutherland shares hero stories of the times when he was brought on board by organizations where IT projects had massive scope creep, where deadlines had come and gone, and budgets had ballooned out of proportion. And each time, he would bring the project back from failure by implementing Scrum. The point being: in order to tackle IT projects with changing needs or technology that overtakes you, you will need a method of execution that is nimble enough to pivot when needed. This is one reason for the success of IT project management methodologies such as Agile and Scrum — because these methods give IT project teams the ability to quickly pivot and answer changing customer needs as they execute.
Assess & Manage Project Risk
Whether you're talking about impacting company data and security, or technical components with complex dependencies, your IT project will be exposed to potential risks. Which is why it's crucial that you conduct a comprehensive risk assessment and prepare a risk management response plan that can be set in motion in the event that something happens, and that ensures there is enough support in place for issues to be escalated in a timely manner.
Improve Your Learning Curve By Breaking It Down
As for the learning curve involved with IT projects? There are numerous tips online for overcoming steep learning curves, but here's probably the best bit of advice. Just as an IT project is broken down into manageable phases so that each phase moves the project forward, conquer the learning curve involved by mapping out a plan for learning and implementing the new technology. Once you break down what needs to be learned into weekly or even daily goals, it becomes much more manageable.