Whether it is a new product implementation, system replacement and upgrade, or a massive system access audit undertaking, completed projects are how many businesses measure progress. The ability of a manager to lead teams and complete project tasks successfully is a critical skill that project managers must possess. In the world of technology, project management has its own unique challenges such as evolving customer expectations, fast-paced changes in technology and the challenge of communicating with non-technical parties. Project managers in the technology industry must use and adopt the traditional best practices in project management. Below you will find some project management best practices in technology as well as challenges, styles, and skills.
The Challenges of Technology
Technology impacts every industry and units of an organization. Information grows and moves faster than ever before, users are dispersed, and new devices with increased capabilities hit the market regularly. This can make project management a difficult task. Below you will find some project management challenges in technology projects:
One of the major challenges of completing a technology project is that client needs evolve and grow including changes in the project requirements while the project is in progress. Clients may suddenly want a new platform or changes to existing systems. For example, they may realize that the website they manage is no longer the website the business requires and needs a major overhaul. Or, security incidents involving passwords may require a sudden implementation of a multi-factor authentication solution. Clients will expect the project manager to adapt to rapid changes.
Amateurs and Experts
Clients may know what they want a product to do, but they may not have the language of technology to express it well. In some ways, a project manager must be a bridge between his or her team of experts and the less-knowledgeable client.
A Changing Landscape
A team may be in the middle of working on a mobile app when a new device hits the market. Should they incorporate the new device in the initial release or wait for the next update? The project manager will be a key figure in making this decision.
Technology Project Management Styles
Because of the changing nature of technology, there are a number of popular project management organizational styles in tech sector. Some of these are similar to project organization schemes used in non-IT projects. Other models were developed specifically for technical projects but are being adopted in non-tech projects. The project manager must decide which model is best for a given project.
Linear Project Management
Linear project management is sometimes referred to as waterfall management. As part of the planning stage, the manager and team define specific project phases. All of their efforts go into completing the current stage, and the team does not start a new phase until the previous one is complete. In this model, the client may only see the finished project.
Iterative Project Management
The iterative model involves a repeated process of planning, designing and analyzing. This is a common process when upgrading versions of an app or other software. The company releases the first version, analyzes its performance and then looks for ways to improve the functionality of the software.
Adaptive Project Management
The most widely-known form of adaptive management is the agile process. It was created as a means for software developers to be more responsive to changing client needs. In this process, the first step is to plan achievable goals for a phase of the project. The team then engages in a work period such as a two-week sprint. After this period, the team analyzes and shares the results with the client, and the goal-setting process begins again.
Project Management Best Practices
Technology project management requires a number of abilities. In addition to the common practices of communication and scheduling, technology project managers must know how to translate the language of tech so that clients can understand the process. Due to the broad nature of technology, project managers need an in-depth knowledge of a team members’ abilities.
Determining Client Needs and Expectations
Often, a client who may be a manager of a unit within an organization must rely on the specialized skills of a technical project manager who has specialized skills necessary to put together a project. The client may know what he or she wants to see but does not know how to make it happen. A project manager needs to do a great deal of clarification at the beginning of the process to establish realistic expectations and fully understand a client’s needs.
The Planning Phase
People with technical project management training tend to be good at breaking a project into smaller parts. Depending on the project, there may be software and hardware needs. If it involves a mobile app or website, there will be front-end and back-end programming involved. The project manager has to balance and prioritize these individual pieces while maintaining a view of the big picture. Eventually, all these pieces will need to fit together.
There are different programming languages for a variety of software needs. Some programmers specialize in one or two languages. Others have a broad knowledge of several languages. A project manager needs to have extensive knowledge of each team member’s skills. Unless the manager is trying to expand someone’s skill set, putting a frontend programmer on a backend part of the project will cost time.
Clear Scheduling and Goal-Setting
A common issue for technology professionals is the feeling that a project is never quite done. Many programmers want to create the cleanest code possible. While clean code makes things easier in the long run, it can slow things down when a client is looking for results. The project manager needs to set a firm timeline and establish clear goals so that the client can see a working project. Cleanup can always happen in a subsequent phase.
Like all project managers, a technology project manager needs to maintain a clear budget for the task at hand. However, this can be a challenge if the team is working with new technologies where there are several unknowns. This is another reason that communication skills are critical in technical projects. If the project manager must ask for more time or funding, he or she must be able to explain the reasons and present a realistic timeline.
Testing and Reporting
Testing is an important piece of any technology project. For a mobile app, the programmers need to be certain that their software works on a wide range of devices with different screen sizes. They need to run the programming through many different scenarios in order to find errors or programming conflicts. Conflicting commands are frequently a problem during the assembly phase of a program.
Clients need to know that the project is moving forward. Unlike a manufacturer who can display a physical prototype, technology projects do not always have an easy way to demonstrate progress. Lines of code on a computer are not that impressive to a non-technical person. The project manager will look for ways to give examples of progress and communicate how the process is going in language that makes sense to a non-specialist.
Closing and Delivering the Project
Just as individual programmers can have difficulty declaring their piece of the project finished, a team may struggle to know when the project is ready to move forward. Because of the pace of technology, it is not unusual for a “finished” project to go through several iterations before it reaches a final form. An important task of a project manager is declaring that the work phase of the current project is over.
The project manager is also responsible for delivering the completed project to the client. Once the project goes live, the next task for the team may be a new version or upgrade of the same software. One of the unusual aspects of technology projects such as mobile apps is that there may be thousands of users working with the software within days. These users can discover minor issues that snuck through the original testing phase and will require repair.
An Upgraded Version of Traditional Skills
The basic tasks of a project manager have not changed much over time. Communication with clients and team members, organizing and scheduling, budget and asset management have always been part of getting things done. In the new era of technology, faster access to information and rapid technological changes require new road maps for project management. Managing a technology project combines traditional business skills with the power of the digital age.