Published

January 23, 2019
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How to Keep IT Projects on Schedule and on Budget

"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised."

– Denis Waitley, author of “Seeds of Greatness.”

The current business environment is fiercely competitive and prone to overnight disruptions. A future-forward approach to adopting the right technology at the right time has helped several business leaders steer their organizations towards success. As technology continually evolves and business environments change, leaders are left with no choice but to be proactive and agile in responding to change. In this context, organizations are continually looking to adopt and adapt existing IT solutions to their workflow to maximize productivity. However, while it may be easy to devise new ideas in IT adoption, the real challenge lies in effectively executing them.

New ideas have to deliver a healthy ROI, and they have to do it fast. IT project management teams and partners can find themselves under an undue amount of pressure to meet their goals, both on budget and on time. So how do digital leaders manage this?  

Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind to ensure you deliver IT projects on schedule:

1. Plan for mid-term re-adjustments

IT projects typically require a rapid pace of development and tend to have very short development cycles. So it’s critical that IT project management teams be adaptable and agile during production. Given the unpredictability of technological progress, you could find yourself in a situation, where you’re halfway through your project but a new tech disruption or update means you have to scrap everything and start anew. In such an event, meticulous planning can only help so much. IT teams need to prepare with a robust contingency plan to manage stakeholders during any technical transitions and budgetary changes. In fact, it may not hurt to even have a clear exit strategy, just in case – one that protects all stakeholders and minimizes loss. Managers must consider all these factors beforehand and then arrive at a realistic schedule.

2. Recruit IT talent in advance

IT projects can vary widely in scope, scale, and specialization, depending on the business need. As a result, the contributing ingredients – regarding tools and talent - can vary widely as well. Want a marketing dashboard? You might need a machine learning or artificial intelligence developer. Want an automated monthly newsletter for your customers? You might want a full-stack agile engineer with UI/UX experience. The options are limitless, restricted only by the ambition of the project.

While tools can be purchased at relatively short notice, assessing the in-house team for technical and managerial skills is something you need to plan for in advance. Organizations need to know what skills and resources they have on board and the limits of their capabilities. Only by conducting an honest self-review of their talent can IT projects have any chance of success. Such a review also allows organizations to become more self-aware and make strategic choices and not be afraid to procure external help in the areas they need.

3. Provide transparency between IT teams

According to the Project Management Institute’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession survey, 30% of participants cite inadequate and poor communication as one of the top five reasons why projects fail. Every manager can attest to this: communicating across different teams is often a challenge, especially in large companies, or companies with teams spread across different locations. Coordinating work tasks with resources working in different geographical regions and time zones is a whole other kettle of fish, and has its unique challenges.

IT teams need to factor in this challenge if they want to keep projects on schedule. In the case of internal technical communication problems such as network downtime, there need to be contingencies that ensure alternative communication lines between the teams and the end customer. Teams also need to follow clear protocols that help them maintain clarity in their communications with all stakeholders, and set expectations regarding timelines, milestones, and deadlines.

Project leaders also need to provide members of the team, on-site and remote, with enough visibility into the project queue so the entire organization can schedule their roles efficiently. Project leaders also need to keep all stakeholders updated about their tool requirements. This effort will help decision-makers plan purchases or subscriptions better and result in reduced downtime for teams waiting for procurement to approve prices.  Not only does this help digital leaders deal with multiple departments (contracts, acquisition of assets, finance, payments, etc.) better but also ensures that allied teams do not suffer from downtime wastage.

How to manage IT budgets

The Project Management Institute’s 2017 survey reports that only 60% of projects were completed within the original budget. Meanwhile, Gartner estimates worldwide IT spending to increase by 3.2% over 2018, to reach a total of $3.8 trillion in 2019, it’s no surprise that budget management is a top area of focus for IT project managers everywhere.

Project leaders can ensure greater on-budget compliance by taking the following steps:

1. Set the right expectations

Projects usually go poorly when people’s expectations have not been met. Here are some factors that can lead to unrealistic expectations and budgets:

  • Lack of clear alignment within the team on the business goals
  • Lack of understanding about the success criteria of an initiative
  • Limitations of the existing infrastructure
  • Communication silos

The last mile of any well-run IT project is testing. Your IT team needs to ensure that every product released has been vetted for commercial use. This process not only saves on potential losses in the future, which can be significant but also protect the organization against a decline in reputation and trust which is inherently invaluable. Be sure to check out “5 Ways to Demonstrate ROI for Your IT Spending” so that you can set expectations in the form of key performance metrics for your team before you plan your budget.

2. Allow the team to calculate the budget

The team that will work to deploy the project should be given the opportunity to prepare and present a few budget options, using different use-case variables and project outcome scenarios that are within the relevant margin of possibilities. Don’t leave it only up to the project managers. Democratizing the budgeting process can help create a more honest plan that team members are more likely to adhere to as it stems from their own expectations and experiences.  It also helps leaders understand the rationale of the group who will do the hands-on work and provide them with insights to make broader plans.

3. Be small, agile, and scalable

IT projects for large organizations can be at a colossal scale and consume incredibly high volumes of resources, time, and money. Managers should try to divide large-scale projects into smaller deliverables that can be developed over phases and cycles with an agile methodology. These phases or cycles should be incrementally scaled up as pre-established milestones are achieved. This approach also helps mobilize the process better – those doing the groundwork can actually make decisions in real time, reduce backlogs, and meet their end goal well in time. Projects with short and realistic life cycles are easy to manage, keep team members focused and stress-free, and provide results quickly as well.

Plans are useless, but planning is Indispensable

When planning an IT project, be sure to consider the unique circumstances of your organization, team, and abilities, before setting expectations across the board. Managers should include enough time for training, process and skill updating, and project management procedures.

At the end of the day, project scheduling and budgeting are two sides of the same coin and adhering to them is mostly within our control. Despite the best-laid plans, it is always advisable to have a backup plan in case of a catastrophe, so that if the unexpected does occur, you are in a position to salvage what’s left, adapt to the change, and bounce back in no time.

These factors may seem trivial or obvious but are often overlooked, leading to budget overruns and a lot of soured client-vendor relationships. By clearly establishing the many parameters up front, organizations and IT teams can avoid any surprises and focus on the real challenges of IT development itself.

Comment below: What IT project management tools do you use?

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