The IT department needs to be at the forefront of almost any business transformation initiative today. Every business is now a digital business and it will be incumbent upon IT professionals to lead the way and ensure that any new development or innovation works as expected and gives the business an edge.
But with the growing number of mission-critical projects this department is now involved in, some familiar issues are likely to become more problematic. With greater need for speed, efficiency and flexibility, old challenges that hamper productivity and slow down the pace of development will need to be addressed.
Understanding what are some of the biggest project management concerns facing IT professionals - and how to solve them - is essential if the department is to be an effective leader in an increasingly digital-first environment.
1. Your teams are out of sync
Today's IT teams are increasingly global, with in-house and outsourced professionals spread around the world. This can cause a range of issues, but a particular problem is simply that these teams end up working on their own piece of the puzzle, with little or no coordination with others.
To address this, it's vital to streamline the communication process. Instead of relying on emails where detail can be lost or people left out, you need a centralized online location that all team members have visibility into, setting out all the work that needs to be done, what the priorities are, and who is working on what.
2. You spend too much time in spreadsheets
Spreadsheets remain the bane of many IT professionals' existence, yet they're still the go-to option for everything from setting out timelines to tracking bug fixes, despite their limitations. While spreadsheets certainly have a place in many organizations, relying too heavily on them means you often end up with multiple versions and face issues such as data entry errors.
Turning to dedicated project management tools is one way to address this issue. But if you are using spreadsheets, you need a clear process for making them work effectively. For instance, having an agreed system for naming and updating these sheets can help you manage version control and stop the sprawl getting too confusing. Meanwhile, taking the time to identify which spreadsheets are necessary and using clear, uniform practices to set them up - typically relying on key templates- helps reduce the risk of errors.
3. It's hard to get real-time visibility
Being able to see at a glance what's going on everywhere across the project is vital to improving efficiency, but this is often hard to achieve, which leaves individual stakeholders unaware of who to turn to for a specific update.
As well as setting out what your plans are for tracking and reporting information, and ensuring stakeholders have a clear idea of what to expect and when, consider changing the way you run the project. Breaking it down into short 'sprints' allows your team to focus on specific areas at any one time and offers a regular schedule for feedback and changes of direction.
4. It's difficult to manage your resources effectively
When personnel from across the organization are contributing to a large-scale project, it can be easy to lose track of who's doing what. But on top of this, if teams are given too much free rein, they may go off in unapproved directions.
Gaining control of your resources is therefore a must. To do this, you need to have a standardized process for assigning work and receiving the results, including for any requests or ideas that originate from within your various teams. This can then allow you to prioritize new workloads and ensure no-one is working without direct approval.
5. Your team is suffering from burnout
Employee burnout is a familiar issue for many IT teams and as these professionals come under more pressure to meet tight deadlines with limited resources, it's a problem that may only become more acute.
Breaking down projects into more manageable sprints is one way to tackle this, while you should also keep a certain percentage of your team's time free to respond to unexpected developments or changes. You should also avoid a culture of 'yes'. Getting into the habit of declining requests that are assessed as lower priority - or at least putting them on the back burner until you've freed up some time - ensures your team isn't overloaded with work from all directions.
6. You're drowning in meetings
Finally, many projects end up being inefficient because participants spend more time stuck in meetings discussing the project than actually at work developing it. While oversight is essential, unproductive get-togethers can quickly end up doing more harm than good. Indeed, the average European worker spends the equivalent of 23 days a year in meetings, and much of this time could often be better spent elsewhere.
So how can you ensure frequent dialogues to keep everyone in the loop without relying on these face-to-face time-wasters? Setting out a clear communications plan at the start of a project that details what type of information should be shared and how often, which channels will be used to do this, and how any changes will be managed, should remove much of the need for frequent update meetings.