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Do IT Projects Require Special Attention?

December 10, 2013

This is my first post in a series on managing projects and programs. Let me begin at the beginning—where did the discipline come from and what were some of my early experiences?

Managing IT projects (i.e., they have a distinct beginning and end) and programs (they are ongoing) has been with us for many decades. Fifty years ago some IT teams were more focused on managing projects than others. This is certainly true today but control of projects is in better standing because there is more project management literacy and more use of standard management tools. 

Over three decades ago, I found myself in an organization that was very strong in managing projects. They used management techniques that were borrowed from other industries and they kept a database of project experiences that could be drawn upon when estimating future projects. Management techniques that were used for raising buildings and building ships worked for IT projects as well.

Some of the important questions used to manage IT projects were—How many tasks was I supposed to start this period? How many did I actually start? How many tasks was I planning to complete? How many did I actually complete?

You could tell a lot from the answers to these questions. For example, it was easy to start tasks but much harder to complete them so one had to focus on monitoring timely completion. We also discovered that over time, the rate of progress typically slowed unless actions were taken to keep the tasks on schedule.  Project fatigue would set in and activities were always needed to keep the project moving on schedule.

Knowing what actions to take was not easy. As a new team member in the project-management office, I had no clear idea what to do. Fortunately, some of the most senior individuals in the organization were leading the office activities and they had some proven ideas.

As I look back on those early days, I see some behaviors that helped our projects and people to function successfully. These included—


1. The project reporting was very regular and this made it possible to know your project status and quickly take actions when needed.

2. When a project was in trouble, you got assistance from skilled people who helped you figure out how to get your project back on track.

3. Every three or four months, we got out of the office and had an off-site meeting where people were recognized for their efforts. The recognition often had a financial dimension—you could go home and proudly show off your award check. Somehow, this made the long hours of work less onerous.  The downside was that not everybody got recognition.

4. Project plans included time for skill building that was often needed for new projects employing new technology.

5. Everyone had performance plans tied to their projects so you were motivated to do a good job, as your annual pay increase was dependent upon it.

Do you have strong memories of your early project experiences?  Fred Brooks wrote down his early experiences in his book called The Mythical Man-Month. If you have never seen it, you can view it here.




In my next post, I’ll focus on the promise of project management and what can we expect from it.



Posted December 10, 2013| Permalink