Congratulations, You’ve Been Appointed..

Project manager of your first IT project and you’re not a technologist.  If you do not come from an IT or technology background, It may seem overwhelming at first to figure out how to get started with a technology project. Project management is all about beginning at the top using the information you have to develop a plan.  Don’t worry because as the project progresses, you’ll have an opportunity to plan in further detail, make revisions to the plans that you’ve already completed.  The technique of working with the information on hand and continually improving the plan when more information is available is known as “progressive elaboration”.
Project planning can be greatly simplified if you breakdown the process into these five simple questions:

  1. What do I need to do?
  2. How do I go about doing it?
  3. How long will it take?
  4. How much will it cost?
  5. Who will do the work?

We’ll look at some tips in the following sections to help you get started.

1.1           What do I need to do?

The answer to this question can be found in the business case, statement of work, or other document that is the starting point for the project.  For the purposes of this discussion let us assume the project is to add a camera to the iPad. However, is that all there is to the project? Does the project include creating the design and prototype or does it include scaling up for manufacturing?  Will the camera provide still pictures or video? Will it be HD or standard? Will there be a Video chatting capability like on the iPhone and the iTouch?

These are all important aspects to the product and project that you will want to clear up by talking to your project sponsor.

You will start identifying the work to be done for the project when you start collecting requirements from the stakeholders and identifying deliverables in The Project Scope statement.

1.2           How do I go about doing it?

Like any complex problem, it is best to start working with what information you have.  For instance it may be useful to consider what the steps might look like to customize a generic product “pattern” by adding a component to it. What would the steps in such procedure look like, regardless of whether it is an iPad, a toaster oven, or a medical instrument?  It might look something like this:

—         Write the design modification specification

—         Purchase the new component

—         Modify the standard product to accept new component

—         Install new component

—         Test customized product

—         Manufacture

Now that we have an outline of some simple, high-level activities, we could consider how we might add to or change them in the case of a hardware and software product like the iPad.  At this point we could use an analogous method, i.e. find a similar project and use that as a basis for comparison.  Perhaps adding an internal component to a PC such as a blu-ray drive or a graphics card would be similar.  If so, you might want to consider adding activities to modify the hardware and the software to accept the new component.

So you can see that by generalizing the procedure you can identify some generic activities. Then by finding an analogous product, such as a PC, that you might be more familiar with, you can take the generic procedure and modify it to make it closer to the project at hand.

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities, we will be in a position to give better estimates.

You will start identifying the high-level structure of the project as you create the Work Breakdown Structure and then begin the process of identifying and sequencing activities,

1.3           How long will it take?

In the first stage of the project, Initiation, we are concerned with developing the Project Charter which contains the high-level milestones.  These mark the project progress points that are meaningful to the project stakeholders.  We have not yet identified activities, dependencies, and resources and thus are unable to give precisely how long the project will take.  But we can list the milestones that our stakeholders might be interested in and perhaps attach some rough order of magnitude dates to them. We might go about identifying the milestones and assigning due dates through:

—         Expert judgment/advice (brainstorming with team, including asking technical experts)

—         We might look at similar projects and see what their milestones were, making any adjustments as required by the assumptions and constraints for the iPad project.

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities, we will be in a better position to give better duration estimates.

You will identify high-level milestones for your Project Charter and a detailed schedule for once you’ve written the Project Scope Statement and after you’ve estimated the resources needed by each activity and its duration.

1.4           How much will it cost?

You can use the following approaches to determine a high level budget:

—         Expert judgment/advice. This when identifying stakeholders and building relations with them first pays off.  You might consult with the stakeholders early in the project initiation phase.  Using knowledge provided by the stakeholders or other subject matter experts, you might employ any or all of the following tools to determine the high-level budget:

  • Analogous estimating (look at similar projects)
  • Parametric estimating (use a mathematical model to determine cost based on actual cost of similar project, adjusting for any differences in complexity)
  • Published data (e.g. eBay, commercial databases which may contain cost of materials)
  • Obtaining a bid from a vendor

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities estimated resources needs and activity duration, we will be in a better position to give better cost estimates.

You will create a high level budget by aggregating the cost each activity in a work package at points along the schedule.

1.5           Who Will Do the Work?

During the planning process, you will have a chance to plan the resources needed for the project and determine whether any part will be outsourced to an external vendor.  The identification and selection of a suitable vendor is planned and conducted in the procurement process, which you might start at some point in the planning process, usually after you’ve created project scope statement which identifies the project deliverables and perhaps after you’ve created the work breakdown structure.  At that time you will create a procurement plan and identify vendor selection criteria for your project.

2.   Summary

If you find yourself to be managing an IT project and you’re not a technologist, you might be somewhat at a disadvantage but you should be able to successfully take the project through at least the Initiation and Planning stages, if not the entire project lifecycle.  The secret is two fold. First, begin identifying and analyzing your project stakeholders early in the project initiation phase.  Careful analysis of the roles, capabilities, and needs of the project stakeholders will help you indentify who has what subject matter expertise and will help you to start building relationships that will help you in the planning stages, and ultimately create a shared-ownership project culture.

Second, find a high-level generic pattern for the project. Through analogy, look in the organization’s assets to find a similar project.  If none exist, then see if there are similar projects based on your own project experience or in the market.  Use these analogous projects to answer the five fundamental questions (1) What needs to be done (2) How do I do it (3) When will it be done? (4) How much will it cost, and (5) Who will do the work?

The answers to these questions will help you write the project charter, and will create a starting point for collecting requirements and defining the project scope.  By starting with a generic pattern, you can defer the technical details of the project until a little later when more information becomes available.  This is progressive elaboration.

Thus you avoid succumbing to the paralysis that often afflicts project managers who encounter a new technology for the first time.  Through the magic of progressive elaboration, you CAN put off until tomorrow what you don’t know today!


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