As an IT leader, you have one of the most complex jobs in the organization. You are responsible for managing the 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 tasks with larger projects. While daily management is critical, often time-sensitive, and seemingly the most pressing thing to accomplish each day, your ability to get to the larger projects is the key to moving your organization ahead in meaningful ways. Yet, long-term projects are often your lowest priority.
So how do you move project delivery to the top of your priority list? Well, getting organized is undoubtedly a great start, as is identifying what resources you need to be successful.
Let’s look at the five essential elements that leading organizations use to execute 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, outlines the necessary project resources, and assigns project responsibilities. It also includes baselines or performance measures for scope, schedule, and cost, and more importantly, how the parties involved will handle variances to the baseline.
The project plan is also an invaluable communication tool for managers and end-users. It helps everyone understand the purpose, duration, and sequencing of a project. When planning your timeline, remember to allow time for informational meetings and interim progress reports.
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 project's parts 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?
If your team doesn't have either the expertise or bandwidth to execute the project, you may want to outsource. The thought of bringing in contract workers can be a deterrent to completing your project. There's hesitancy in bringing more cooks into the kitchen and for the cost of the endeavor.
Well, perhaps. But are you considering the full context of this belief? Analyze the importance of this project to your organization and the overall opportunity cost. Completing this project may add efficiency or allow your organization to grow. 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. Furthermore, 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 can be 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.)
- What is the value of the time that your project will take to complete? How much time can your team members dedicate to the task? In other words, weigh the difference in time of completion to the number of team members assigned to the project. It may be more expensive for a small team to execute over a long period than add a couple of contract workers to expedite the process.
While counterbalancing these considerations, consider the daily task management that may suffer in performance or distract your team. 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 that defines the service expectations and associated costs.
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.
An SLA also includes communication requirements in the event an SLA is off-track. 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 are with project management, the more likely it will stay on track and 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.
Here's the thing: When you desire something of your team, you first communicate by demonstrating. Your demeanor and communication style at regular project meetings and in times of high-stress tells your team how they should behave.
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 remedy before they become real roadblocks. Problems are inevitable with any project. When you prepare and empower your team, they will more than likely surprise you by effectively navigating the challenge and actively communicating with you and the rest of your team.
Commit to the big projects.
Your role as an IT leader is among the most complex in the organization. So much of what we have discussed here requires a great deal of business insight and experience. And yet you are also trusted in the organization to introduce new technology, connect disparate systems, and manage day-to-day technology challenges with smaller teams than you've ever had.
The projects on your long-term to-do list often bring significant improvements to your organization. Moving these to the top of your priority list is an essential first step. Whether you define successful project delivery by time or budget, these five key considerations can help you achieve both.