“Is this the first time we’ve ever done something like this?” asked the Project Manager to the developer. “What do you mean?” asked the developer. “I know that we’ve done this type of software project many times before, but it always feels like it’s the first time ever. The same questions always seem to remain unanswered, the same disconnects occur, and we always run into the same problems. You would have expected by now that we would have had this all figured out” languished the project manager.
Have you felt this way at times? Have you wondered why project software management is so difficult? Here’s the encouraging and discouraging news all at the same time. It’s not just your company and your resources that are having this conversation. It’s everywhere!
You can leave your position as a project software management professional in one organization and start in another company and you’ll pick up the same conversation right where you left off!
Why is project software management so difficult?
It may be a total misperception, but it just doesn’t feel like there is that much confusion in other industries where project management is applied. The following are some of the unique aspects of IT projects that we all face, along with some suggestions on how you can simplify things a bit.
- IT Does Not Operate In a Vacuum: There are very few, if any, projects that IT works on that is self-contained and not intertwined with other groups, departments, processes, and organizations. A major function of IT is to support the business activity of an organization. Because of this fact, there are myriads of people involved who are affected by any changes that are made during the project software management process.For example, a company needed to make a change in order for a certain number and code to be assigned to a product faster. This would then allow the other departments to do what they needed to do with that particular item. This ‘change’ came directly from the IT department without consulting with the end users first.
We all know where this story ends up. There was less than stellar acceptance and even some outright opposition to the project software management process.What’s the solution? Make sure you have the buy-in and acceptance of the business users that will be impacted by the change that is being considered.
Additionally, you’ll need to check the mindset of your company and how they view the relationship between the business people and the technology people. Is the feeling that technology is in place to support business, or, is the feeling that the business is in place to support technology? You’ll have a harder time gaining buy-in and acceptance if the latter is the case.
- There is a Never Ending Supply of IT Projects: Another reason why project software management is so difficult is that there is a never ending the supply of IT projects. A project may have just been completed and the end users really like what they received.Now their imaginations start going crazy. They start thinking about all the other things that could be done to make their jobs and lives easier. They start putting together a wish list of ideas that ultimately turn into the next project for the IT department.
Part of the problem with projects software management is that ideas are endless and free, while the resources necessary to get things done are finite and expensive.What’s the solution? You need to develop an objective and criteria based process for choosing which projects receive attention. The next time a project request is made you can run it through the gauntlet.
Examples of questions include…Does it support the company’s strategy? Are there resources available to work on this project? Will it require highly expensive and in-demand resources? Will it benefit more than one group of people? How much training is involved? This questioning process will help filter out those requests that are projects for project’s sake. There has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere, and you as the project software management professional are as good a line as any.
- IT Resources are Stretched Razor Thin: A third reason why project software management is so difficult is that the people that are working on these projects are stretched way too thin. The never ending supply of IT projects ensures that these people have not only their share of work to do but the work of at least two others as well!This is especially true in recent years where cutbacks hit companies hard. The people that could work on the projects were no longer there, but the projects were. This introduces complexity into the process for a number of reasons:
- Attention is Divided: It’s hard to focus on the task at hand when you know you have looming deadlines and commitments just outside your door, trying to break it in.You may be talking to a team member about what needs to be done on this particular project. They are shaking their head and saying ‘uh-huh’, but you know they are not listening.
They are more concerned with the commotion outside of their office that is just about to burst through their door in the form of missed commitments, deliverables that were wrong, and angry stakeholders.
The situation then snowballs because the details you are trying to cover with them will be missed and soon you will be outside this door trying to break it down.
- Quality Suffers: This type of stress on a person can only have a negative impact on the quality of their projects. This adds complexity to project software management because now you have to backtrack and make up for lost time because of work needing to be redone
- Dates are Missed: Divided attention and sub par quality finally culminate as missed dates. This increases everyone’s frustration levels; attention becomes more divided; quality suffers more, and even more, dates are missed. It’s a vicious circle.How can you break this cycle? Run interference for your resources. Stop interrupting them at a whim. Allow them solid, uninterrupted blocks of time where they can get work done.
You may want to consider setting up ‘office hours’ depending upon how mission-critical this particular resource is to the project. This is where the only time people can drop by and chat with this resource is during a specified time. This causes people to work around this valuable resource’s schedule and not the other way around.
- Technology Gets Old…Quickly: Finally, another reason why software project management is so difficult is that technology changes so quickly. Everyone has just come up to speed on the latest technology and it’s already out the door.Internet years are like dog years. Every year that you work in a high-paced internet driven technologically savvy environment is like seven years to everyone else. Things change so rapidly it’s hard to keep up.
What to do? Make a concerted effort and have a real plan in place for your resources to keep up with the technology. Have one person keep their eye on what’s coming up. Have another person go to the courses and then come back and share that with the rest of the team.
It’s not impossible to keep up with the changes. You just need to pick a direction and stay on top of what is happening in that particular area.
We need to strive to learn from every project we encounter. Is project software management hard? Yes, but it’s not impossible. Be aware of the complexities listed above and apply best practices to your next projects and you’ll never ask the question “is this the first time we’ve done this” again!