IT project management is no joke.
Among PM roles, it’s easily one of the most demanding and involves seriously high stakes.
Why? Because IT projects are complex and expensive.
Switching between software. Migrating servers. Onboarding new users to a platform.
These are the sort of projects likely to experience overrun because they involve so many people. Specifically, stakeholders that don’t understand the steps involved.
Still, effective IT project management is integral to any given business.
And with business tech spending expected to increase by 5.5% in 2022, new projects are likely incoming (in addition to what you’re already wrangling).
In this guide, we’ll break down the best practices for IT project managers and what they need to know to better manage their team.
What is IT project management?
IT project management is the planning and execution of information technology-related initiatives for an organization. This includes software, hardware, security, and infrastructure.
IT project managers organize and oversee all things tech, communicating with departments and stakeholders to ensure any project's successful rollout.
Some big-picture responsibilities of an IT project manager include:
Managing software rollouts, updates, and replacements
Researching and anticipating system changes
Addressing potential security risks and data breaches
Upgrading networks and infrastructure
Evaluating company-wide (and individual) IT-related requests
Not only do successful project managers oversee all of the above, they do it all while keeping in touch with everyone involved in the project.
Generally, the PM side of IT project management takes priority over the "IT." IT project managers are charged with ensuring that projects are completed as efficiently as possible — a vital objective given that, on average, 11.4% of an organization's resources are wasted due to poor project management.
Translation? It’s more important for IT project managers to excel at organization and communication versus being an all-knowing tech wizard.
As a result, mastering project management methodologies like waterfall, agile, and scrum, is integral to moving projects forward when juggling so many tasks and relationships.
How IT projects fit into the project management lifecycle
Every project can be broken down into phases. For IT projects, the project management lifecycle consists of the following five phases:
The initiation phase of the project begins with defining the project's objective. From there, a detailed project proposal must be created. Many organizations also choose to run feasibility studies during the initiation phase to ensure that the project is viable before spending any more resources on it.
Project planning is begun in the initiation phase with project proposals and feasibility studies, but further planning is needed before an IT project can move forward. This includes things such as planning out the project's scope, creating a project plan, setting a budget, and allocating resources.
The project execution phase is where the final deliverable is developed, with development teams working on their assigned tasks.
Throughout the execution phase, project managers must closely monitor the project's progress, keeping tabs on the project's cost, quality, and risks.
Once an IT project is complete, there are still a few final tasks to attend to. This includes following up with the customer/client/stakeholders once the project is delivered, setting up support teams, and creating training resources for the product's end-users.
Common IT project management methodologies
Today, there are so many different project management methodologies for PMs to choose from that it can sometimes be hard to know which aligns with your agency's project goals. Below, we'll touch on a few of the common methodologies — but for a more in-depth discussion, check out Teamwork's guide to project management methodologies.
The most traditional approach to project management, the waterfall methodology entails completing tasks in a linear, sequential order. Like its real-life namesake, progress flows in one direction with the waterfall methodology, with teams fully completing each stage of the project before moving on to the next.
The agile methodology is designed to eliminate some of the constraints of the traditional approach to project management. It gives teams the freedom to revise and adapt projects throughout the development process rather than waiting until the project is completed to review and amend.
The scrum project management methodology is a subset of agile project management. With the scrum methodology, projects are split into short cycles known as "sprints." These sprints typically last one to two weeks, with project teams reviewing their performance following each sprint and adapting as needed before starting the next one.
The hybrid methodology combines the waterfall and agile methodologies. With the hybrid methodology, projects are planned using the waterfall methodology and executed using the agile methodology.
What does an IT project manager do and why does it matter?
The specific duties of an IT project manager aren’t one-size-fits-all. Day-to-day tasks and priorities typically include:
Gathering project requirements and input from stakeholders
Estimating budgets and resources for IT-related projects
Running regular risk assessments
Checking in with various departments during projects to assess progress
Handle communication with vendors (RFPs, contracts, negotiations)
But if you ask an IT PM what they do all day, chances are they’ll say “meetings.”
That’s because IT project management requires near-constant cross-team collaboration. Delegating tasks and staying in the loop is crucial for both the success of any given project and keeping your business up and running.
Below is a quick breakdown of the big-picture duties of an IT project manager and why they’re so important.
Set realistic goals to keep projects and their participants on schedule
In many cases, the rollout of an IT project has organization-wide consequences.
Think about it. A business or marketing initiative might impact a select few employees.
But tasks like server migrations or organizational software changes impact everyone.
If an IT project drags on too long, headaches are inevitable. Specifically, you don’t want to force employees to deal with downtime because of an unexpected delay in getting the hardware they need.
That's why project milestones are so crucial to longer, in-depth projects where a simple "task completed" won't suffice. In fact, Milestones give a target date that works as an important moment or goal in the project in which the next phase can be completed.
Realistic goals and schedules keep these issues from snowballing or happening at all. Also, consider that tech moves quickly. Dragging your feet results in mid-project changes that throw a wrench in your progress (think: a significant update or price increase during software adoption).
Motivate and push teammates to ensure projects are completed properly
Again, IT projects are often complicated. Not all of your colleagues are going to be tech-savvy — and that’s totally fine.
That said, you should still strive for efficient and effective projects.
As a result, IT project managers often have to press participants for their confidence and confirmation. Doing so means managing expectations and ensuring that those involved are putting in the legwork.
Control project resources to avoid budget overruns
No surprise here: Resource planning is central to IT project management.
Software is expensive. And hardware even more so. Implementation is time-consuming and intensive.
You can’t afford to underestimate the cost of your project and its resources. Literally. Research is key here, as is getting buy-in from stakeholders to ensure your project budgets cover what’s needed for a job done right.
Using Teamwork's Resource Scheduling feature gives you a bird's-eye view of your team's workload, and the dashboard lets you break down individual projects or view them against others. This helps you from over or underutilizing anyone on your team.
Anticipate risks to keep your company compliant and out of trouble
The most pressing tasks of project managers involve anticipating and preventing security snafus. This might include:
Data breaches (both organizational and among customers)
Shadow IT (and recurring, costly software licenses)
IT project management requires you to be proactive rather than passive, especially when it comes to security. Risk assessment and having a pulse on your company’s IT activity are must-dos.
Sequence tasks the right way so your business doesn’t come to a halt
Hey, did we mention that IT projects are complicated?
Sequencing is a critical piece of project management for IT. You’re rarely dealing with a laundry list of tasks. Instead, you have to map out a specific game plan and order of operations.
For example, you wouldn’t want to accidentally break your company’s website or payment portal during peak hours because you rolled out an update too early.
What are the biggest challenges of IT project management?
It’s well-documented that many IT projects experience overruns and missed budgets. So, where do IT projects usually go wrong? What can PMs do to nip problems in the bud before they turn into major issues?
Below we'll highlight a few of the biggest challenges associated with IT project management and offer some actionable solutions for overcoming them.
Distributed (and isolated) teams, communications, and data
As of 2021, 17.9% of U.S. employees work primarily from home. This rise of remote work has mostly been a positive for companies and employees at large.
But distributed teams can complicate things for PMs. From remote support and handling security issues to aligning schedules and addressing hardware issues, many of the most common virtual team challenges are front-and-center for IT.
Solution: Get all of your team members working within the same project management software. This makes it so much easier to schedule virtual meetings, provide updates, and stay in touch with your team — no matter where they're located.
Managing stakeholders’ expectations (re: project requirements)
Especially in regard to scheduling, many stakeholders just don’t understand what most IT projects entail.
Maybe their timelines are totally unrealistic. Perhaps they want a premium solution on a shoestring budget.
Either way, it’s your job to say “no” and push back against pipe dream projects.
Solution: More explicit project proposals and research. This applies to your own proposals and what others bring to you.
Lack of documentation and accountability once a project is underway
A huge problem among IT PMs is shouldering the blame when a project goes sideways. To avoid the blame game, you'll need to document anything and everything related to your projects. This includes:
Deadlines and milestones
If a project fails, how do you know who dropped the ball? On the flip side, how do you identify top-performers when something goes right?
Since the burden of proof here falls on the manager, it becomes your job to set up projects in such a way that everything is documented. That includes tasks that don’t belong to you.
Solution: Again, work within a project management platform that documents and tracks tasks for you. With the Teamwork Project Health Report, teams, stakeholders, or clients have access to a detailed report breaking down the project.
By requiring teammates and stakeholders to input details themselves, nothing gets lost. This allows you to thoroughly detail every little nuance of your project.
How to get more done with IT project management software: Best practices for success
If you’re tired of living in Microsoft Projects or feel that your planning isn’t where it needs to be, we’ve got you covered.
Ideally, you need an IT project management tool that’s easy to use, collaborative, and allows you to practice your project management methodology of choice.
And that’s where Teamwork comes in.
To wrap things up, let’s look at a few IT project management best practices that our platform enables:
Stay in touch with real-time status updates
Timely communication means that projects never stall and you have a constant pulse on your team’s progress.
Whether it's through team chat or updates via Kanban boards, tools empowering real-time communication mean you and your team don’t have to wait around for answers. Instead, you can create a communication culture that eliminates bottlenecks and keeps project participants in the loop.
Consolidate your team’s communication and document all of it
It's important to consolidate and document the entire project life cycle — from the initial proposal to the end result.
Developing an internal communications strategy is a game-changer for busy teams that struggle with deadlines and accountability. With a tool like Teamwork, each step of project progress is presented visually and easy to understand at a glance.
For IT teams working with clients, it's even more essential to streamline communication by knowing where the request came from in the first place. Teamwork makes it easy to see who's making the request — your team or the client.
Use schedule breakdowns and forecasts to monitor milestones
Speaking of visuals, having an actual roadmap of your project progress is helpful for managing both your expectations and those of your stakeholders.
For example, Gantt charts ensure more accurate projections as you understand whether you’re on track to hit your deadlines (see below). These sorts of data visualization tools are perfect for reporting progress to the rest of your team.
Teamwork’s multiple project views mean that both you and your teammates can keep track of their schedules the way they see fit.
Kanban view? Gantt chart? Calendar? Task list? It's totally up to you.
Stay on target with resource, budget, and individual time-tracking
From money spent and available resources to who’s been doing what on any given project, Teamwork allows you to monitor all of these data points in real time.
This is huge not only for accountability's sake, but also to understand whether or not you’re at risk for an overrun or budget issues.
You can also keep an eye on your teammates' progress to ensure that no one is overworked, overloaded, or burnt out. With Teamwork, you can encourage balanced work across projects to keep employees happy and productive.
Upgrade your approach to IT project management with Teamwork
Being a top-tier IT project manager means mastering the arts of organization and communication. That’s because IT projects don’t slow down. Between the projects themselves and the people they impact, you have to constantly be on your toes.
With so many moving pieces to oversee and relationships to manage, anything you can do to streamline your processes and communication is a huge plus. That's where Teamwork's powerful project management software comes into play. With Teamwork, you can streamline team communication, organize project workflows, and stay on top of project progress like never before.
To see for yourself how Teamwork empowers improved IT project management, sign up today for free!