Projects Get More Troublesome

As IT moves from maintenance to more complex projects, expect bigger headaches.

It's going to be a tough year for IT project managers, according to a recent Computerworld poll. Managing projects has always ranked high on our annual list of IT managers' worries, but it rose to the No. 1 spot in our first-half 2008 Vital Signs survey.

IT managers cite a variety of reasons for their escalating concern, including growing globalization, IT budget increases, budget decreases, an overall increase in the complexity of projects, and end users who are simply demanding more.

But the good news, a number of them say, is that they have found strategies and tactics for dealing with the age-old difficulty of bringing in projects on time and within budget while keeping end-user complaints under control.

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The loosening of the IT purse strings that began a couple of years ago will continue to be a double-edged sword in 2008. "Budgets lag reality in IT," says Paul Glen, an IT management consultant and a Computerworld columnist. "You have a couple of bad years, and suddenly IT stops doing projects. Now we are a year or two into doing projects again, and we are suddenly realizing, 'Oh, these aren't going so well.'"

And Gopal Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif., says companies have pretty much picked the low-hanging IT fruit and are starting on bigger, more complex projects.

"Bigger projects carry higher risk," he points out. "The absolute complexity is higher, but the absolute skills are not higher, so the gap is large. You can't pick the higher fruit if your ladder is not strong."

John Bruggeman, IT director at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, has a short ladder. He might be counted among the lucky for having recently received several large gifts earmarked for IT projects, but the gifts didn't provide for the hiring of additional staffers to do the projects.

The initiatives include implementation of a large student information system (SIS), a facility renovation that includes IT infrastructure upgrades, and deployment of classroom videoconferencing across four campuses. "I've been in maintenance mode the past five years," Bruggeman says, "and to have these three big projects tossed on the plate has really created a time crunch."

When you have more money than people, look to vendors to help out, especially with project management, Bruggeman suggests. He says he received two bids for the SIS. One came from a vendor that verbally promised to manage the project but subsequently refused to put that promise into the contract. The winning vendor was willing to guarantee that it would manage the project - and didn't even charge extra for the service, he says.

Deconstructing Global Projects

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