4 Challenges for IT project managers (and how to overcome them)

IT project managers face challenges on a daily basis: a new issue here, a concern with resource scheduling there. It’s just part of the job, and for many, sorting out problems is one of the highlights of this varied role. However, the project management role is evolving into one that requires leadership and a broader awareness of IT issues. As a result there are some wider challenges facing IT project managers outside of individual projects. Here are 4 things that project managers can’t afford to overlook.

It’s “the business”

You probably hear this a lot in your organisation too: “the business wants this” or “the business thinks that.” There’s often a split between “the business” and “IT”. Well, it’s not “the business” – it’s your company, and you work there too. IT isn’t some special unit; it’s just another department in the business, so start talking about it as such.

Overcome by: Stop using terminology that sets IT and IT projects outside of normal business discussions. You all work for the same firm with the same corporate goals!

Understand priorities

We’d all like to think that our projects are the most important but in reality that isn’t the case. Good IT project managers understand where their projects fall in the grand scheme of things. Some will be top priority, some won’t. Have an appreciation of all the projects in the IT portfolio and how your project fits in.

Top priority projects will (and should) grab all the available resources and senior management attention. Lower priority projects make do. If that’s your project, you’ll have to quickly come to terms with the fact that you can’t get the resources you want or make the progress that you want all the time. You may have to complete your project deliverables more slowly or find ways to cut your budget in order to support higher profile projects achieving what they need to for the corporate good. Don’t worry, karma will thank you for it one day.

Overcome by: Talk to your portfolio or programme office manager or other project managers and establish the relative priority of all the IT projects. Then manage your project accordingly.

Understand value

Do you really understand what value your project is delivering? If you can’t explain it to someone else, then you should question why you are working on it. Of course, there will be some projects with a corporate mandate because someone on high decided it was the right thing to do. The business case might not stack up and the benefits might be flaky. But it’s your role as a project leader to gently challenge whether this is the best use of company resources.

You should also be able to link your work on this project to the overall company objectives. How does this initiative help your business achieve its goals? If it doesn’t, shouldn’t you be working on something that does?

Overcome by: Read and understand the business case for your project and be able to articulate the benefits to the rest of the project team.

Involve users

IT projects are rarely just IT projects – they have an impact on multiple business areas. It’s not acceptable to make a list of requirements at the beginning of the project and then shut yourself away in the IT office and only emerge to talk to the users when there’s a product for them to look at.

Project management approaches are moving away from this and towards more Agile ways of working with users as an integral part of the project team from the beginning. Think of them as customers of the project management process and customers of what you are delivering instead of users, and then try to offer them the customer service you would expect from any other service organisation.

Overcome by: Reframe users and other stakeholders as project customers. Get them involved from the beginning and seconded on to the project team if possible.

As the business world evolves, so too does the way we have to approach IT projects. In fact, stopping calling them ‘IT projects’ would be a good start – they are simply ‘projects’ that will help the company achieve its objectives and grow. If project managers can face these challenges head on and start working alongside colleagues in other departments to address what needs to be done to establish priorities and deliver the projects with the most value attached, then there’s no reason why businesses can’t hit those objectives consistently.

Elizabeth Harrin is a member of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, and the author of three project management books including Shortcuts to Success and Social Media for Project Managers. Elizabeth is also Director of The Otobos Group, a project management communications consultancy which aims to help others tell the stories of their projects more effectively. Harrinblogs at www.GirlsGuideToPM.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

8 highly useful Slack bots for teams
Shop Tech Products at Amazon