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7 min read

IT project management: Do you have what it takes?

Learn what it takes to launch your career in IT project management. Discover the challenges, solutions, and best practices that contribute to success.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Regular project management is challenging enough, but IT project management is a step above the rest. It takes a special breed to carry a complex, high-risk initiative with intangible outcomes across the finish line.

Project management for IT is a specialized field. If you’re pursuing your Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, wishing to specialize in information technology, or are an experienced PM looking to make the switch, here’s everything you need to know.  

What is IT project management?

IT projects exist within all industries. These can range from simple processes, such as software deployment, to complex initiatives, like mobile application development or network reconfiguration. IT project managers are responsible for planning, developing, and overseeing these undertakings.

Although the project developer and scrum master are accountable for delivering the product or service, the project manager primarily communicates expectations to the team, monitors progress, and controls spending. 

What does an IT project manager do?

Project management for IT professionals requires wearing many hats. In addition to the teachings of the Project Management Institute (PMI), IT PMs need a combination of skills to run a successful project. They must leverage technical hard skills (e.g., network and operating system knowledge) alongside soft skills, like conflict management, negotiation, and adaptability. 

Their primary role is to oversee the IT department, ensuring the team executes their work on time and within budget. Day-to-day, an IT project manager can expect to:

  • Create a project plan to establish goals and outline the development process

  • Establish the project schedule and budget

  • Communicate project status reports

  • Allocate resources, including staff and equipment

  • Define project roles and assign tasks

  • Strategize how to deliver project outcomes on schedule and within budget

  • Leverage IT project management tools to track progress and performance

  • Assess project risks

  • Develop and implement IT risk management plans

  • Conduct status meetings with team members and stakeholders

Thankfully, the technology exists to simplify this project management job. Project management software and tools, like Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and project road-mapping applications, can do much of the heavy lifting.  

What are the phases of an IT Project?

Whether your team follows an agile or waterfall workflow, every IT undertaking progresses through similar phases. Each project stage includes the following goals and milestones that push the work forward:

1. Initiation phase

The project manager determines whether the project meets a business need. They also review necessary resources to decide whether it fulfills the viability threshold and if its return on investment (ROI) justifies the time and effort.

2. Planning phase

The IT project manager collaborates with the rest of the team, including: 

  • The scrum master, if they’re using agile methodology

  • The information systems manager

  • The project coordinator for complex initiatives

Together, they establish clear goals, identify risks, and set the budget.

3. Execution phase

This is when the team sets the deliverables. The project manager delegates tasks and monitors progress to ensure the team meets milestones. They also facilitate communication between team members so everyone remains in the loop. 

During the execution phase, the team may discover the project plan requires adjustment. The project manager handles scope issues and potential ramifications so the working group can move forward.

4. Monitor and control phase

Within the execution phase, the manager uses project management software to track progress in real time. They also monitor the following metrics:

  • Time 

  • Cost

  • Scope

  • Quality

  • Project risk

The PM determines whether the project is on track for completion by comparing actual results against project plan goals. They use a road-mapping application and apply course correction if necessary.

5. Closure phase

Once the team finishes work, the PM ensures all deliverables are complete and approved by the client. They hold a post-mortem meeting – called a retrospective in agile – to discuss what went well and what can be improved. Soliciting the project team’s feedback is critical, as it helps the project manager strengthen their approach.

Common IT project management challenges

Studies have determined large IT projects tend to:

  • Run 45% over budget

  • Take 7% longer than expected

  • Deliver 56% less than the predicted value

Whether they’ve just started project management or held PMP certification for years, all IT project management professionals encounter similar challenges. Here are some of the most common.

No project mandate

Without a project mandate, you’re flying blind. The document includes: 

  • The business case

  • Project justification

  • High-level requirements

  • Success criteria

The project mandate influences every project management decision. Write it down and share it with stakeholders to build alignment. Store the document in your project management tool to ensure its accessibility.

Unclear expectations

After establishing a mandate, a project manager must gather stakeholder requirements and expectations. Once again, document them and ensure they’re accessible within the project management software. You and your team will repeatedly refer to these documents. 

Poor communications between IT and the business

Communication between the client and the team is essential to a successful project. Each group speaks its own language, so the project manager must act as a translator to facilitate a clear understanding. Clarity between parties prevents costly miscommunications.

No user input

Agile methodology asks project managers to incorporate user feedback into the project. Even if your team is only partially agile, you should consider user input at the outset to identify gaps between client expectations and market demands. Progress is smoother when stakeholders listen to users and keep them informed throughout the process.

IT project management solutions

Successfully managing projects for an IT department is challenging. You can improve the process for everyone by making a few simple adjustments.

Budget

Discuss objectives, features, and timelines with executive management if you stretch resources. You need management support for your strategy before adjusting the project plan.

Scope

Scope creep endangers success. Implement a change management process to keep it under control and address its impact on timelines and budgets. Even if you didn’t include scope change in the mandate, you can still negotiate time and resources.

Timeline

Market and economic conditions are constantly in flux. Factors may shift, changing a project’s strategic importance, which impacts your delivery time. Discuss resource allocation to accommodate the updated timeline before making promises. Keep your team members engaged in the project during slowdowns.

Team composition

Long initiatives may experience staffing changes. Turnover can be frustrating, but you can maintain continuity by carefully redistributing departing employees’ remaining assignments. Avoid taking on the work yourself. Secure temporary support from outside the organization if workload is an issue. 

Best practices for IT project managers

On top of honing your project management skills, consider adding the following best practices to your process:

Retain a strong technical lead

IT projects are complex, integrating multiple components into a single solution. As the team progresses, new information will come to light, so you need a technical expert to explain the implications. A solid technical lead helps you make informed decisions.

Develop a standard process 

New project managers should begin crafting a structured workflow, especially for bigger projects. This process should: 

  • Define projects

  • Estimate costs

  • Plan work

  • Mitigate risks

  • Escalate issues

  • Manage changes

  • Report progress

Be iterative

Flexibility is baked into agile project management, but waterfall-based teams need contingency plans, too. Establish distinct project phases that produce tangible deliverables the client can interact with. This lets them offer feedback you can integrate into the next phase of work.

Conduct system integration testing

Developers often perform quality assurance testing on their work, but tight schedules may limit this process. Secure a dedicated QA team to thoroughly test the product before release.

Organize an approved decision-making structure

IT projects frequently experience changes caused by technological developments, market adjustments, or unexpected technical issues. Under these circumstances, you must act decisively to maintain the project’s viability.

Weekly updates let team leads review and adapt to detailed requirements and imminent issues. Monthly steering committee meetings help executives inform senior stakeholders about progress and make decisions regarding issues escalated by the team leaders. 

Communicate

Organizations often rush IT projects or apply unrealistic expectations to maintain their competitive edge, but this may result in poor user adoption, inadequate testing, or outright failure. The project manager must push back against unreasonable deadlines or unworkable scope and communicate risks to the stakeholders.

How Tempo can maximize your IT project management

A project manager’s career is rife with dynamic challenges. Fortunately, project management software can simplify your workflow. 

Road-mapping applications are indispensable project management tools. Tempo Strategic Roadmaps is a Jira-enabled tool that quickly and easily converts your project plan into a boardroom-ready road map. With an illustrated plan, you and your team can quickly spot dependencies, evaluate risks, and build alignment behind your project goals.