Let’s face it: IT projects are notoriously complex. So is managing them.
With shifting client requirements, unknown endpoints, finicky development languages, and the constantly evolving nature of technology itself, information technology projects face more potential hurdles and pitfalls than their analog counterparts.
To overcome these challenges, IT project managers have specialized training and often more experience. But they also leverage project management software to simplify their workflows and iron out some of the inevitable wrinkles.
This post covers the responsibilities of an IT project manager, the types of projects commonly assigned, the most common challenges faced, and — most importantly — how project management software can help overcome those hurdles.
IT project manager responsibilities
The IT project manager is a vital role for agencies with sufficiently complex IT needs. A subset or variety of a technical project manager, this role combines the knowledge and responsibilities of conventional project management (including possible PM certification, expected by more than 50% of companies that employ project managers) with the subject matter expertise needed to understand and succeed in tech and IT.
Because of this dual focus, these professionals are frequently more highly trained — and more highly compensated — than entry-level PMs. They often have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field — if not a master’s degree — and may already have years of experience under their belt as a non-specialist project manager.
Typical responsibilities for an IT project manager include (but aren’t limited to):
Daily IT operations (servers, software, operating systems, cloud technologies)
IT budget planning and oversight
Testing and troubleshooting
Hardware installations and ongoing maintenance
IT risk management (including data backup and disaster recovery)
Oversight of specific IT tasks
As agencies grow larger, it’s common for some of these responsibilities to move to other roles or departments (IT compliance, for example, typically employs numerous specialists and managers in an enterprise).
Additionally, larger firms usually make a distinction between IT managers and IT project managers, with the former handling broader IT management, vision, and goals, while the latter focuses on individual assignments within IT.
Stages an IT project manager will follow for successful projects
Projects following IT project management best practices will adhere to five standard phases:
Project initiation is where the objectives are created and defined. A detailed proposal is a key deliverable for this phase. For IT-related projects, it will be more technical in nature.
Reading and understanding the proposal might require a basic understanding of IT language and concepts.
That means the person who writes the proposal (usually the project manager) must have a thorough understanding of the technology involved.
The planning phase includes:
Refining a budget
Building a schedule
Because IT projects rarely exist in isolation, IT project managers may also deal with planning for integration, adoption, and/or training once the task is complete.
The deliverables are created during this phase as development teams and project personnel follow the project schedule and complete their tasks. Here, the IT project manager shifts into a technical advisor role in addition to schedule-keeping, task tracking, and so forth.
IT project managers monitor progress throughout the execution phase. Cost and quality are two factors to track, as is schedule adherence.
As disagreements or technical hurdles arise, the IT project manager leverages both management skills and IT subject matter expertise to problem-solve and determine the path forward.
At the completion of all deliverables, the project manager informs stakeholders and ensures deliverables reach their proper destination. An IT project manager may also oversee initial support and training related to the software or assignment just completed.
Types of projects an IT project manager oversees
IT project managers are in charge of a wide range of IT-related projects, including:
IT project managers navigate the intricacies of web development projects, from defining goals to coordinating cross-functional teams. The broad strokes of schedule building may be something a standard project manager could handle, but any problem-solving or stakeholder interaction requires a level of technical proficiency.
Web development projects could include:
An internal website
A consumer-facing website designed for the agency (or its client) to promote its goods and services
An ecommerce website
A web app or service accessed through a web portal
Individual landing, service, and product pages
Software development projects tend to dive even deeper into coding and programming, to the degree that a freshly-minted project management professional with no IT background may not know what a single task on the next sprint is.
That’s why software development projects tend to require an IT project manager, someone who can “speak the language” well enough to build intelligent schedules, keep devs on task and on track, and make sure everything is finished on time and on budget.
Software development projects run the gamut from small internal tools that handle agency functions to business- or consumer-oriented retail software products.
Mobile app development
Mobile app development faces similar challenges to software development, so an IT project manager’s role looks similar here.
However, there are a few differences: app store platform compatibility is its own complex system, and many mobile apps require rapid iteration cycles and ongoing maintenance and updates.
IT project managers play a critical role in network configuration projects because without a functioning computer network and IT infrastructure, you won’t have an operating agency (or at least not for long).
They plan and implement IT system changes in a way that maximizes performance while minimizing downtime, keeping the agency online and on task.
Network configuration projects could include:
Cloud migrations and integrations
Standardizing to a common set of network providers and software tools
Agencies must implement new software to keep up with current capabilities, but doing so at scale can be complex.
IT project managers are instrumental in the successful rollout of new software systems; they gather requirements, lay out customization needs, and oversee user training.
Software implementation projects could include building an implementation plan for a new operating system or a modern replacement for an industry-specific software tool. Or they can involve integrating a new cloud or SaaS tool with an existing tech stack.
IT project managers also keep a handle on data-centric initiatives such as data migration, data warehousing, and intelligence initiatives. They help ensure data accuracy, accessibility, visibility, and alignment with business objectives.
Data projects could be:
Moving data from a data warehouse to a data lake
Migrating data to or from the cloud
Cleaning and using data to produce business intelligence
Common challenges faced by IT project managers
IT project managers must navigate numerous challenges and stress points. Some overlap with the hurdles all project managers face, but each has its own flavor or unique attributes in an IT context.
Resource allocation is a responsibility for all project managers, but it can be especially challenging in IT project management.
The process of distributing people, finances, and technology is tough enough when the deliverables are tangible and the parameters known from the outset. But often in IT projects neither is true: the deliverables are ones and zeroes, and the final outcomes may not be known at the start.
IT project managers, then, must navigate the complexities of resource allocation with agility, making adjustments and reallocations throughout the course of the project.
Maximizing team efficiency is an ongoing challenge in IT project management: IT PMs must grapple with the constantly changing nature of software development.
Iterative development, ephemeral feature sets, and a need to begin building without every detail settled all complicate efficiency and time management on software teams.
Managing remote teams
Remote teams are becoming more common across all industries where the practice is possible, but IT teams remain the most likely to be partly or fully remote. To give just one example: Flexjobs rounded up 20 companies that have shifted to permanent remote work, and every single one of them was in IT and software.
Remote teams may be possible, but they aren’t always working well together.
PMO Advisory CEO Te Wu, speaking to CIO, comments on the challenges brought on by a lack of in-person collaboration:
“People are spending more time to get to the same net effectiveness, and I think human relationships are starting to fray.”
Remote teams can face additional difficulties with communication, mutual understanding, and team-building. The IT project manager must navigate this environment, helping team members get to know and trust one another despite physical distance.
Handling project scope changes
Because the end goal is often not known at the outset of software development projects (and several other IT categories), scope changes are inevitable. Still, they can be a significant threat to project success if not managed.
IT project managers must navigate a delicate balance between stakeholder and client requests with the project’s objectives and constraints (time, budget, and resources).
Key features of project management software that aid IT project managers
Many IT project managers turn to PM software to alleviate some of the challenges inherent in their work. These are some of the key features they look for — and that you should prioritize in your own search for the right software solution.
Task assignment and tracking
Task assignment and tracking features in a PM software can help IT project managers and their development teams understand who’s responsible for what and when.
It’s a great help going into a project meeting or sprint and already having a clear picture of:
Where tasks are in their workflows
Where they are stuck or bottlenecked
What’s going smoothly and according to plan
Teamwork.com is perfect for assigning and tracking tasks across a wide range of project management methodologies. Its easy-to-use interface makes task assignments clear and easy to see, both for the project manager and the assigned team member.
Time tracking and timesheets
In a field with so many unknowns, it’s nice to have data to pull from. Historical details on how much time a previous, similar project took can serve as a strong starting point for planning the next deliverable.
Of course, to get this data, teams must track their time. Some project management suites omit this capability, requiring agencies to add yet another piece of software to their stack.
Others, like Teamwork.com, include powerful native time-tracking features that are already integrated with the rest of the project management platform.
Budget and expense management
All projects have a budget (or at least, they should to keep things on track and as profitable as possible). The project manager’s job is to measure progress against that budget, ensuring there’s enough expense room to reach the finish line.
Here again, IT project managers can benefit from budget and expense management features in their PM software, helping them tie work and time directly to costs.
Collaboration tools (chats, file sharing)
Numerous collaboration tools, including video conferencing, chat and instant messaging, file sharing, and collaborative spaces, can enhance the way IT teams work together.
Keeping communications centralized also helps the IT project manager by providing a single source of truth and a searchable “paper trail” for tracking down random bits of information.
It’s helpful when these collaboration tools integrate with an agency's chosen project management solution, too. Teamwork Spaces and Teamwork Chat are impressive additions to the project manager’s toolkit, giving teams dedicated collaborative spaces, instant messaging, video chat, and more.
Risk assessment and mitigation features
Lastly, IT project managers can benefit from risk assessment and mitigation features, either as a part of a broader security or business intelligence suite, or as features within project management software.
These tools can help identify the most likely risks and point project managers toward solutions that eliminate or lower them.
Streamline your IT project workflows with Teamwork.com
IT project management is a strategic way to plan, execute, and monitor projects from start to finish. The discipline faces many of the same challenges other PMs face, but with the added wrinkle of especially complex subject matter that requires everyone on the team — including the PM — to have significant technical expertise.
Teamwork.com helps IT project managers simplify and streamline the project management aspects of their work, bringing task management, resource allocation, time tracking, budgeting, and more into a single portal.
By lessening the load of project management, Teamwork.com enables IT project managers to focus on moving assignments forward with confidence and speed.