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Project Management is a Changin'

Written by Ken Kinlock
Published on Monday, 30 April 2012

Kinlock ProjMgmt JugglerWe are seeing a trend in IT project management methodologies : the need for projects to be smaller and faster. Gone are the days of the multi-year, beaucoup dollars, cast of hundreds kind of  project. Rather than planning a huge project from start to finish before  holding the "kickoff meeting," CIOs need to fly with shorter projects which keep the customer on top. There is a need to learn to manage unknowns until they are known. There is also a need for speed in project management methodologies. CIOs must adapt their IT project management methodologies while still limiting risks and taking care of business problems.

Project management is still a methodical approach to planning and guiding project processes from start to finish. What's different now is that the five stages of IT project management methodologies (as defined by the Project Management Institute) -- initiation, planning, executing, controlling and closing -- need to be applied to smaller projects. These projects have to make a quick difference for the business, because speed is now a  competitive weapon for the company. So, CIOs are adapting agile methodologies for projects companywide and considering cloud-based project collaboration tools.

Agile methodologies
Just as in software development, with agile project management, a project is completed in small sections referred to as "iterations" (or "modules"). Agile project management encourages us to respond to problems when they occur in the project. Doing it this way can save resources and keep us on time and budget.

Niel Nickolaisen, CIO at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City, is a strong proponent and practitioner of agile project management for its emphasis on flexibility and interaction with empowered stakeholders.

"Using agile methods, we meet with our stakeholders and have them define their requirements and prioritize which requirements they want to see and use first," Nickolaisen writes. "We then deliver an early version of the product and have them give us feedback -- not feedback on a document, but feedback on something they can actually see and use."

When a traditional project management methodology is used, Nickolaisen notes, change is met with resistance and seen as a disruption to the plan. But attempts to put the kibosh on change could be ignoring the reality that sometimes changing scope or requirements is the right thing to do. "In practice, we can become more agile if we break our projects into phases. At the end of each phase, we can ask ourselves what needs to change."

Once the risks, categories, and sources are defined, Nickolaisen will identify the specific project tasks that will mitigate them. Generally, if the source of a risk is uncertainty, Agile or iterative methods are applied to reduce it: "For example, we would do a small pilot to define our as-yet-uncertain benefits. If the source of the risk is complexity, however, we decouple and simplify what we can," he explains. "At the end of each project piece or iteration, we then update our risk profile and mitigation steps -- again, anticipating that risks, like everything else, will change."

So how does the Cloud fit into IT project management? Instead of expensive server-based project management software, many companies, particularly smaller ones, are moving to Cloud-based project management services.

As an aside. Do you remember projects from a few years ago? Kick Off meetings that filled the company auditorium? Victory celebrations where everybody got a T-shirt? I wonder what the ROI worked out to be on some of those projects.

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