As an IT leader – a CIO, CTO, IT Director, IT Manager, and so on – you have one of the most complex jobs in the organization. You are responsible for managing technology infrastructure that makes the organization effective and efficient. The best leaders do this so well it creates a significant competitive advantage for the organization that is nearly impossible to replicate.
Part of the challenge for leaders is balancing the day-to-day technology management while prioritizing and completing the larger projects. It’s these larger projects that can add efficiency or enable the organization to improve or grow into new areas.
While the day-to-day management is critical, often time-limited, and seem the most pressing thing to accomplish each day, your ability to get to the larger projects are the key to moving your organization ahead in meaningful ways. Yet, they are often your lowest priority.
However, you recognize that completed IT Projects represent order of magnitude improvements for your organization.
So how do you move project delivery ahead to the top of your priority list? Well, getting organized is certainly a great start, as is knowing exactly what you need to be successful.
Let’s take a look at the five most important elements that leading organizations believe could be the most important in successful project delivery.
The Project Plan
At the foundation of the project is the project plan.
A well-written project plan establishes a timeline and budget, sets reasonable goals, delineates project resources of people and materials, and assigns project responsibilities. It also includes baselines or performance measures for scope, schedule, and cost, and more importantly, “how variances to baselines will be handled throughout the project (what process is followed, who will be notified, how changes will be funded, etc.)”
An integral communication tool, the project plan is an invaluable tool for helping managers and end users learn the purpose, duration, and sequencing of a project. A good plan will help you identify useful skill sets among workers outside of IT—potential team members whom you can train to help during project deployment.
Remember to allow time for informational meetings and interim progress reports in the project plan’s timeline.
It’s in the details.
Creating a project plan typically presents you with the dilemma of just how much detail to include. There is a balance between the detail required to make tasks clear, easy to understand, and manageable, and the time it might take to create a very detailed plan.
When you’re considering how much detail to include, weigh the parts of the project and determine where the most risk exists. In the areas where risk means significant time delays, cost implications, or project derailment, add more detail or smaller, more manageable tasks to the plan.
Statement of Work
The formal document that defines your project is the statement of work (SOW). It is the working agreement for anyone involved in your project, whether your team, a project delivery partner or both. This critical document defines the scope of the project and usually includes:
- Project objectives
- Tasks, dependencies, and priorities
- Responsibilities and required skills
- Costs and payment details
- Deliverables and expected outcomes
- Due dates and terms
- Resource requirements like facility needs, parts, or equipment
- Project authority
Primarily serving to establish the project details and boundaries, you can see why the SOW is such an integral tool to drive the project’s success. Once your team and contractors review and agree to the SOW, little room for errors remains and teams have the basis for their marching orders.
Equally as important as both the project plan and the SOW is selecting the right team to complete your project. Let’s explore that now.
Selecting Your Team
The people you select to complete your project can make or break the project – particularly related whether or not you complete your project on time, on budget, or both.
Here are some things to consider when selecting your project team.
One of the most important considerations is to ensure that your team member(s) have the necessary skills and certifications to complete the required work. Also, consider the level of experience required. Experience can be one of the most undervalued aspects of the competency equation.
Does your team have the time to complete the project? Distraction is a key component of failure. When assigning members of your in-house team, be realistic about the time they have to dedicate to the project. Or, assign their day-to-day duties to another team member to ensure they can stay focused.
Should You Outsource?
The thought of outsourcing a project can be the primary deterrent to completing your project. The belief is that outsourcing is too expensive and subsequently a significant roadblock to overcome.
Well, perhaps. But are you considering the full context of this belief?
The problem is that estimating opportunity cost is not an exact science. Precisely determining the cost to the organization when a project doesn’t get done poses a challenge for most IT leaders. But remember, completing your project may add efficiency or allow your organization to grow. Assuming you already know the benefit of those, let’s add a few additional considerations to help frame your decision.
- Do you have a project manager or project management office? Project management requires discipline and experience only available from a trained project manager. Further, if your team is not skilled with project metrics or project plans, you’ll want to factor in the time to both develop and manage these critical tools. For many organizations, these are built in Excel or using project management software.
- What is the cost of training your team to the level of competency they need to complete the project? And how much time will this take? (Caution, do not underestimate the latter as it typically involves both training and experience.) Training your team members may not be enough. Do not undervalue the need for experience.
- What is the value of the time it takes your project to be completed? How much time can your team members dedicate to the project? In other words, weigh the difference in time to completion based on the number of team members assigned to the project. The cost of a project that takes a long time with a small team may be more than the cost to outsource a few more dedicated team members.
While you’re considering this, also build in the other responsibilities or daily emergencies that will not be addressed or will cause delays when your team is assigned to this project.
Outsourcing helps you avoid non-billable bench time. This means you don’t pay for unproductive downtime while you’re trying to fill gaps or keep your trained staff busy.
Whether you’re outsourcing or drawing from your internal expertise, you’ll want a reliable team you can trust to be skilled communicators and exceptional problem-solvers.
Managing SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
A Service-level agreement, or SLA, is a contractual arrangement specifying a service or set of services, and the costs associated with them.
We spent a fair amount of time defining the importance of SLAs in a recent blog post, “5 Reasons Why SLAs are Key to Project Delivery Services.”
In that post, we defined what is included in SLAs and how they are key to the successful delivery of your project.
If you’re managing your project in-house, you will likely take responsibility for tracking, reporting, and most importantly, correcting SLAs that are off track. When you’re working with a project manager, project management office (PMO), or professional services organization (PSO), you will set a requirement of this individual/organization to track and report SLAs to you at specified increments.
As importantly, you want to pre-determine the communication requirements for off-track SLAs. In other words, do you want a call when an SLA is missed? Within what amount of time and from who?
The more proactive you remain related to your project, the more likely it will stay on track, and on budget.
Troubleshooting and Problem-Solving
This section almost feels a little “let’s state the obvious,” but quite frankly, this is where teams get hung up most often. Here are a few points to remember:
- Choose team members who are skillful problem-solvers.
- Empower your team to solve low-risk issues.
- Set expectations related to the types and levels of problems you need to help solve directly.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Model the behavior you expect from your team.
This is one you may not have thought about specifically. But here’s the thing – when you desire something of your team, you first demonstrate by demonstrating. Your demeanor and communication style at regular project meetings and in times of high-stress give your team the clearest view of the demeanor you expect of them. Do you have incredible attention to detail? Chances are your most important team member also emulates this. Short fuse in times of stress? Well, you get the picture.
The more proactive you are as a manager, the more potential problems you’ll identify and remediate before they become real roadblocks.
Problems are inevitable with any project. When you prepare and empower your team, they will probably surprise you by effectively navigating the challenge and actively communicating with you and the rest of your team.
Your role as an IT leader is among the most complex in the organization. In fact, so much of what has been described here requires a great deal of business acumen and experience. But you are trusted in the organization to bring new technology, connect disparate systems, and manage day-to-day technology challenges with smaller teams than you’ve ever had.
The projects on your “to do” list often bring significant improvements to your organization. Moving these to the top of your priority list is an important first step. Here we’ve given you five aspects of project delivery that will help lead your success. Whether you define successful project delivery by time or budget, these five key considerations can help you achieve both.