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Project management tips for IT pros

February 20, 2014

With organizations seeking IT experts who can lead technology initiatives, developing strong project management skills can help you advance in your IT career. Whether you're an entry-level employee or in a management position, it's important to be able to carry a project through to completion. For professionals taking ownership of projects that involve multiple employees, it's especially critical to develop a clear plan and keep everyone informed of responsibilities, progress and changes.

Here are few tips for managing projects from start to finish:

Defining the scope and setting expectations
Before beginning any project, it's important for all of the interested parties to be on the same page about what the project entails, its goals and the timeline. CIO magazine emphasized the importance of getting involved early in the planning process and including all stakeholders to make sure everyone understands his or her responsibilities. It's also essential to be aware of team members' capabilities so you can set realistic, manageable expectations.

"Expectations, especially for IT projects, tend to get set by senior management without consideration to the details it takes to deliver," Diane Buckley-Altwies, CEO of Core Performance Concepts, told the source. "Take the appropriate amount of time to work with senior management during the planning process to define key measurable objectives that everyone can agree [upon]."

The initial phase should include assessing the scope of the project along the lines of available IT resources, costs, potential risks and outcome objectives, Business Excellence advised.

Establishing a plan
While your timelines should be realistic, you should also pursue ambitious goals for milestones along the way, which can help keep the project on track and leave a cushion for unexpected challenges, Forbes magazine suggested. The most important part of planning the timeline is to establish a clear schedule and make sure everyone understands his or her responsibilities. CIO magazine recommended setting up calendar reminders for milestones to keep team members' minds on the goals.

Communicating clearly can make or break a project, which is why communication skills are in demand for IT jobs. Team members should know the scope of the project, ownership for each task, deadlines and status updates, CIO magazine added.

"Developing a communication plan that errs on the side of over-communication [is] critical to the success of projects and work objectives," Jim Shulkin, vice president of marketing at Daptiv, told CIO magazine.

Overseeing the process
After you set the initial plan, you should regularly check in with other people about their tasks to keep the project on schedule. Especially for large projects, CIO magazine recommended holding regular status meetings instead of coordinating solely by email, since direct communication tends to be most effective for making sure everyone understands. According to Business Excellence, it's helpful to stagger feedback so that people don't become overwhelmed or miss important points.

To motivate teammates, Forbes emphasized the value of inspiration, especially when changes have to be made to the project partway through. It's beneficial for workers to understand the reason for changes and the value of what they're doing. 

Checking the status and delivering results
While overseeing the project, it's important to identify potential problems and update stakeholders on any setbacks. You should have an escalation plan in place, CIO magazine suggested, so that issues are brought to your attention immediately and you can notify the necessary people in the event you need to make adjustments to the project. Although it's good to stay on track, projects often go differently than planned, the source added, and it's best to discuss problems and adjust expectations throughout the process.

"All projects will have roadblocks," Hernan Clarke, CEO of 4Sight Technologies, told the magazine. "Disclose the problems promptly and as honestly as possible. More often than not, the client and management will appreciate being brought into the loop earlier rather than later."

Before delivering the final result, make sure you take the time to test thoroughly and ensure that the end product works well. Business Excellence noted that it's important not to rush this final step, though testing should occur throughout the process as necessary. As Forbes explained, leading a team through the process takes talent, but it's ultimately the final result that others will judge.

Evaluating successes and failures
After you complete the project, you're still not done. Make every project a learning opportunity by evaluating the process and final results. When reflecting on failures and setbacks, communicate with team members without assigning blame. Keep morale high while assessing how to improve performance next time.

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