Only 15% of project managers work on only one project at a time. In fact, the majority (59%) run between two and five projects at any given time.
Couple that with the research that shows how project managers are expected to juggle all of their project tasks while exhibiting excellent technical, digital, and leadership skills, and it's enough to make your head spin. This might be challenging enough to pull off for one project at a time, but five?
In the information technology (IT) industry especially, projects can get complex quickly and require specialized skills. IT project managers have their work cut out for them! To help, we’ve put together nine actionable tips that IT project managers can implement right away to support their team’s success and maximize efficiency.
What is an IT project manager?
An IT project manager is a specific type of project manager responsible for leading and managing technology-related projects. These commonly include hardware and software development, security, infrastructure, and website building and management. The ultimate goal of an IT project manager is to successfully deliver projects that meet — and hopefully exceed — client needs.
What does an IT project manager do?
Individuals in an IT project management role oversee all aspects of information technology projects, from pre-planning and strategy, through post-project analysis. Some specific duties include:
Defining project scope
Establishing goals and objects
Planning project schedule (within budget)
Setting and adhering to budgets
Assigning tasks and resources
Monitoring progress throughout the project
Communicating with stakeholders like IT managers and client leads
Analyzing success after the project concludes
Gathering feedback from key stakeholders
How do you become an IT project manager?
There are many different paths someone can take to become an IT project manager, but many common steps include specific education, gaining technical project management skills and knowledge of the field, and building working experience.
To become an IT project manager, most people need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field like computer science, information systems, or business administration.
Beyond formal education, there are also certifications that can boost your knowledge within the field — like Project Management Professional (PMP) or Project Management Institute (PMI) certificates. In fact, many organizations even require these additional certifications: More than half (51%) of organizations have even been found to require project professionals to hold some type of certification for their role, according to PMI’s 2020 Pulse of the Profession report.
Skills and knowledge
When it comes to know-how, skills, and knowledge beyond education, an aspiring IT project manager must focus on building leadership and communication skills. In fact, the same PMI report cited above finds that organizations are placing a high priority on leadership skills when discussing talent development in support of successful projects. These two skills are at the core of all IT project management work, and without them, it will be difficult to be successful.
Lastly, relevant experience can contribute to a career as an IT project management professional. Building a skill set through internships, entry-level positions, or volunteering opportunities is most common. Non-profit organizations often look for volunteers for various positions, so that could be a place to start for anyone seeking to start to dip their toes in the IT project management world.
Additionally, while gaining experience, it’s key to stay up to date on industry trends, technology, methodologies, and best practices in the IT industry. This can help continually improve skills and knowledge, and also provide talking points to tap into during job interviews.
9 essential tips for IT project managers
Now, let’s dive into some of the most important IT project management best practices to apply immediately to ensure successful projects from inception to completion.
1) Clearly define project goals and objectives
Before any project starts, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. To do this, create a project plan. A project plan should include clearly defined project goals, objectives, and anticipated deliverables. A project plan is essentially a roadmap any project manager or any team members can follow at any stage of the process.
Make sure the goals set for the project are SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. SMART goals can go hand-in-hand with the anticipated outcomes for the project. This can be a great time to also think about key performance indicators (KPIs) that need to be tracked throughout the project.
2) Establish communication channels for collaboration
IT projects have a lot of different project team members involved, so an IT project manager must clearly establish which channels they will use for communication for the project life cycle.
One key function of a great IT project manager is ensuring everyone is on the same page. This can be made exponentially easier by choosing a communication channel that works for everyone, such as a communication tool within a project management software like Teamwork Chat. Teamwork Chat allows for real-time communication via chat or video, and integrates seamlessly with the platform’s project management tools. You can create specific chat channels for individual projects, search past chat messages, and turn chat messages into tasks within your Teamwork workflow.
3) Regularly check in with the team and make adjustments when necessary
Because there are often many cooks in the kitchen on IT teams, regular check-ins will ensure the project moves along smoothly. Regular check-ins can also help manage expectations, which will help safeguard against confusion or misunderstandings down the road.
Check-ins are best done on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If done bi-weekly, consider scheduling quick check-ins (no more than 30 minutes) at the beginning and end of the week. The first check-in of the week can be used to discuss what needs to be done over the course of the week, and the second check-in can be used to follow up.
It may also be helpful (especially for remote or hybrid teams who don’t have the option to pop over to a coworker’s desk) to set up a group Zoom room at a specific time midway through the week that members can jump into to ask questions or troubleshoot issues that have come up and pivot as necessary.
4) Use the right tools for tasks and workflows
Next, it’s important to utilize the right tools as an IT project manager. These tools will make workflows more streamlined and help to eliminate missed tasks. When assessing different tools, it’s important to understand your project management style.
Your unique style will usually guide how you decide to leverage project management tools. For example, someone using waterfall project management (which is highly linear and hierarchical) will use their project management tool differently than a project manager who prefers an agile style (which operates in short, iterative cycles that expects goals to shift throughout).
Teamwork is built to incorporate seamlessly to multiple project management styles, including a variety of tools useful for any style. The time tracking tools keep projects on track, on budget, and provide historic time logs that help support more accurate time estimates for future projects. Teamwork’s profitability reporting feature also helps evaluate returns to see which projects are the most profitable, and which team members are contributing the most. Finally, Teamwork’s resource scheduling and workload planning help ensure that your team has the resources on hand for every project, and that no team members are over or underutilized.
5) Manage project risks sooner than later
No project is without risks, but the key is to anticipate them and take steps to mitigate or manage them before they get out of control. Identify potential risks, and create contingency plans to minimize the impact on the project if they do occur.
For example, there is always a risk that one part of the project will take longer than anticipated, requiring team members to work more hours. It can be daunting to think about potentially extending a project timeline, increasing budget — and sharing all this information with the client. However, planning ahead affords you the time to plan for certain worst-case scenarios and create a less stressful environment for your team.
The upfront work may seem tedious, but will always pay off. Discussing potential risks upfront with clients shows dedication and thoroughness in the project management process.
6) Be open to feedback and other opinions
IT project managers must be comfortable with feedback and hearing the opinions of others. Whether the feedback is coming from team members or a client, it’s important to build opportunities for feedback throughout the project management process.
It can be helpful to break the project into milestones and ask for feedback at those times. For example, producing the first iteration of a hardware prototype may be one milestone. At this point, you could ask the client for a preliminary round of feedback.
The second part of this is actually listening to the feedback and responding accordingly. The worst thing a client can feel is unheard or worse, ignored. When a client has feedback, hear them out, don’t take it personally, and adjust accordingly.
7) Lead by example
Walking the walk is a huge must in any type of leadership role but especially in project management. IT project managers must demonstrate the importance of collaboration and teamwork. They should act as a role model, and encourage team members to work together to achieve common goals.
In addition to leading by example for fellow team members, IT project managers should show other teammates how to properly work with clients. This could include things like taking feedback, communicating with clients effectively throughout the project, and working to resolve concerns as they come up. The emphasis on client experience cannot be understated because an unhappy client will make it exponentially more difficult to complete the project in the set time frame and at the quality they expect.
8) Encourage and promote team collaboration
Similar to leading by example, a great project manager will encourage and promote team collaboration. There are so many moving parts when executing projects, so it’s essential to build team camaraderie, which will ultimately positively impact the project’s end result.
Some ways to do this include: assigning tasks and responsibilities based on team members’ strengths and interests; encouraging creativity and innovation; and supporting open communication by providing opportunities for team members to share their thoughts, ideas, and feedback.
9) Celebrate milestones and successes often
Lastly, celebrating successes throughout the duration of a project — not just at the end — can be a great way to boost team morale and ensure team members feel appreciated. These small celebrations can be done during team check-ins or via personal messages to individual team members when they complete a complex task or go above-and-beyond in some way. It’s also been found that recognition is tied to happiness at work. A survey from Survey Monkey and Bonusly reveals that 82% of people are happier when they’re recognized at work.
Increase your team’s productivity with Teamwork
In addition to all the tips outlined in this article, to be an amazing IT project manager, it’s important to have IT project management tools to lean on during every phase of the project management life cycle.
Teamwork can be a perfect tool for teams of all sizes. From helping run scrum and sprints more efficiently, to integrations, customizable templates, and real-time metrics to keep an eye on project progress, Teamwork can be used to support any level of project execution.
Explore Teamwork today and sign up to get started!