IT project managers have an unenviable task. These are the people whose job it is to make certain the right technology gets deployed, on time, and that it meets functional and budgetary requirements. It’s a tall order, with more than its fair share of pitfalls. As it is, most IT projects fail to deliver on their promise, and the risk can be higher when there is a new IT project manager on the job. Below is our list of the top ten mistakes common to newly-minted IT project managers.
Scope creep. With so many people to please – from internal stakeholders, to customers, and even external vendors or services firms – it can be hard to stick within parameters. “I expect the Egyptians had the same problem when they were building the pyramids,” says Andy Woyzbun, an Executive Advisor with Info-Tech Research Group. “Senior management usually has a set of expectations, whether for budget or scope, and that can constrain a project manager. They need to understand the promises that have been made before they even start the project.”
- Poor vendor management. IT projects need software, and the ecosystem can be complex. Relying on one large vendor can simplify things, and ensure the job gets done with minimal integration issues – but it can also raise costs. The alternative, which can involve synching up niche applications, can be cost effective and powerful. However, it can be a real headache not only in terms of integration, but also when it comes to managing the vendor relationship and licenses. Having the skill to navigate these options is crucial. Young managers in particular need to find the confidence to push back those vendors, some of them very knowledgeable, who are over-selling.
- Wearing an analyst hat. “Especially in smaller projects, a new IT project manager will often come with a business analyst background,” says Woyzbun. “The problem is that there is an inherent conflict between the objectives of an analyst and those of an IT project manager, who just wants to get the job done. Analysts are often torn, and build in additional costs to address larger business requirements. And if they do that, they just become part of the problem.”
- Missing the compliance piece. “No solution can go live if it isn’t compliant, and if compliance isn’t addressed at every step, there can be major headaches,” says Anthony Gabryluk, an independent technology analyst in Toronto. Gabryluk notes that this is particularly true in heavily regulated industries such as financial service, healthcare, and the public sector. Young managers without industry expertise are prone to making mistakes in this area – and need the oversight of compliance officers to ensure success.
- Too many chiefs. To get a project completed successfully, team members have to feel that they’ve been listened to, with the understanding that not all of their ideas will be put into action. Knowing that you can’t please all the people all the time, and keeping everyone on board, is a real skill, but this kind of leadership can be a challenge for new managers. The way to mitigate stakeholder alienation is to stick to the plan, and to be decisive where it counts – without revisiting the issue. Going back and hashing over old decisions may sound like a form of engagement, but it is really just picking at an old wound. “I was involved in a successful SAP deployment that was very detailed,” says Woyzbun from Info-Tech. “We stuck with a plan and a direction that was clear, and that we stuck with. If the team is driving the process, and challenging every root decision, I can guarantee the project will be late or not meet expectations.”
- Under-sourcing. Management likes to sign off on projects with strict timelines and budgets. Usually, the technology costs are accounted for, as are any external services components, and those internal team resources specific to the project. What is often missed, however, are the tertiary internal resources than need to be brought into play. “These are folks who have other jobs, but who will be touched by the project – sometimes dramatically,” says Gabryluk. “The IT project manager needs to know that he or she has the authority to demand some of the time from these resources for feedback, downtime, and training. HR has to be on side. Without this buy-in, the project will go off the rails.”
- Too proud. A young IT project manager is usually pretty excited about getting this job. They don’t want to screw up. They also don’t want others to know that they might be in over their heads, or that they have made mistakes. Reaching out to mentors, having close contact with stakeholders, embracing project management training – these are all ways for the manager to stay engaged, and for a young person’s pride not to get in the way of a successful implementation.
- Lousy documentation. A good project is well-documented, with stakeholders given access to milestone reports, change requests, and scope statements. Novice IT project managers often miss the importance of having a decent document trail, and for this trail to be transparent. “Poor documentation can be a warning sign that the manager lacks commitment to transparency,” says Gabryluk. “It is a must for any project – not only for keeping things on track, but also to provide an audit trail.”
- Risky behavior. A newly-minted IT project manager may be well versed on basic concerns regarding personal and corporate privacy and security, but it is another matter altogether when these issues have to be built into a project plan. Often, there is a lot of confidential and competitive information – including vendor bid and contract structure, and critical in-house financial and process data – that can be exposed during a project. Risk management should not be crisis management; it should integral to the project design.
- Ignoring the cloud. Sounds crazy, but many IT project managers, even younger ones, don’t consider the cloud option. “Despite all the buzz around the cloud, many IT project managers still see it as a threat, and are unaware of how it can be a part of a solution,” says Gabryluk. As part of the assessment phase, cloud solutions need to be put on the table.