8 types of IT projects and their business impact

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If IT is the lifeblood of your business — and it is — then IT projects play a vital role in keeping your organization healthy and thriving.

These projects can range from small localized projects (first aid) to systemwide enhancements (blood transfusions) to complete digital transformations (something akin to a heart and brain transplant all in one!).

IT projects can be proactive or reactive, small or large, quick or years-long. It’s important to understand these projects based on their business impact.

Below, you’ll learn all about IT projects — why they matter, how a program or project manager helps, and 8 of the most common IT project categories.

Why do businesses take on IT projects? 

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Businesses take on IT projects for the same reason as any other project: to improve capabilities and/or gain a competitive advantage.

More specifically, businesses take on IT projects because IT is the backbone of business in the 21st century. Even your ability to read this article relies on multiple IT projects — at your business and ours. Executing IT projects is the only way to keep moving forward.

Often, when a company hits a roadblock to growth, IT is involved, either as the problem itself (an IT solution that needs fixing or upgrading) or as the solution to the problem (using technology to solve other business problems).

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What does an IT project or program manager do? 

IT project managers do what project managers do — that is, plan, schedule, manage, and otherwise oversee one or more projects, steering them toward defined goals throughout the project lifecycle — just in an information technology context. They build project plans, define project scope, set milestones, and coordinate team members. 

Depending on the organization's structure, IT project managers may also take the lead on risk management for the project. In larger companies, a risk management office will likely handle this function.

Because IT projects involve a high degree of specialization and technical language, IT project managers (and IT program managers in larger enterprise operations) must possess a level of technical ability in the types of IT projects they manage. Of course, all of this is in addition to any other project management experience or certifications the PM possesses.

That doesn’t mean an IT project manager needs to be as skilled as the people they manage, but the IT PM should be able to understand the nature of what’s happening and knowledgeably discuss it with project team members.

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Sophia Matveeva encourages organizational leaders not to fret about specific skill gaps, and the advice is good for IT program managers, too: 

“Most leaders don’t need to learn to code. Instead, they need to learn how to work with people who code. This means becoming a digital collaborator and learning how to work with developers, data scientists, user experience designers, and product managers — not completely retraining.”

IT project managers contribute to technology project success by serving as dedicated resources. With the reassurance that someone else is planning, monitoring the schedule, and looking out for bottlenecks and roadblocks, technical team members can focus on their work with greater confidence.

What are the most common types of IT projects? 

IT projects can cover a wide range of disciplines, sizes, and scopes. These are the eight most common categories of IT projects most businesses encounter.

1. Software development

First up is software development. Companies sometimes need to develop software (or to have software developed for them) for various internal and external reasons. 

This software might be designed for customers or be a company's primary product. Other software development projects are for internal tools that will never be customer-facing. 

There are unique considerations for software development project management. Traditional project management methodologies often don’t work well for these projects because software development teams typically have to work without knowing precisely what the deliverables will look like in the final form. There can also be differences in software development team structure: you may have multiple specialists whose skills may overlap significantly or hardly at all, and it’s up to the project manager to keep everyone on the right task at the right time.

Software development projects also may not have a defined length. Designing a simple internal tool might take weeks, while a complex enterprise application may take years (or even be on a perpetual iteration cycle, as would be the case for major products from Microsoft, Adobe, and the like).

Quick note: We’re using the term “software development” fairly generously here by lumping in web development (including web design workflow and app development), testing, software QA, and Software as a Service (SaaS) interfaces. While these all have unique challenges, they have more in common with software development than the following categories.

2. Infrastructure improvements

The only downside to continuous technology improvements? Your older tech looks worse and worse as it ages.

Infrastructure improvements are inevitable in IT. From the laptops and desktops employees use to get work done to the servers and network infrastructure keeping your digital assets running, everything has to be upgraded eventually.

Infrastructure improvement rollouts can take hours or months, depending on how involved the upgrades and replacements are. There’s also no set cycle unless you create it, which is why we recommend building an IT roadmap and structuring your IT budget accordingly.

3. Cyber security projects

We live in an era when data breaches and ransomware attacks are so commonplace that we've grown numb to their reports.

…At least until one hits us where it hurts.

Businesses undertake cyber security projects to improve their security posture. Sometimes these occur in response to an incident or breach, while other cyber security projects are more proactive than reactive.

Businesses should regularly audit their cyber security practices and threat readiness. Where vulnerabilities are found, it could be time for a new system (and, therefore, a new IT project). 

4. Cloud projects

Cloud projects are any IT project that is primarily about the cloud. A cloud migration is the best example here, where a business moves an application from running on on-premises servers to cloud-hosted ones. 

This is a loose category because the cloud touches practically every business, yet that doesn't make every project a cloud project. Businesses typically undertake cloud projects when a cloud service provides more business value than the current solution.

Full cloud migrations can be yearlong or even multi-year projects. On the other hand, moving a single application or function to the cloud usually means a shorter project duration.

5. Data management and analytics

Big data may be the future, but first, we have to figure out what to do with all that data.

Data management and analytics projects help companies do just that. Businesses often collect large volumes of data without knowing how to use or manage it effectively. This data needs to be processed, and processes need to be established for collecting and managing future data, so it stops piling up in unstructured databases, warehouses, lakes, and so on. Analytics projects then take processed data and turn it into digestible insights.

Businesses implement these types of projects when they desire to learn from their data or improve the way they collect it. Analytics projects can be time-limited or ongoing.

6. Enterprise resource planning (ERP)

ERP projects usually involve implementing ERP software, which helps large businesses (enterprises) run more efficiently. ERPs automate data entry and certain types of analysis and bring numerous functions under one software umbrella (including inventory, human resources, finance, and operations).

Businesses implement ERP software to gain efficiency and better understand where their resources are being spent. Implementing an ERP solution is a complex affair because it tends to span departments and take over functions that used to be spread across multiple software systems.

7. Digital transformation

Digital transformation projects involve taking a business or organization from its current state and approach to technology and methodically rebuilding it from a digital-first standpoint.

These massive projects should significantly reshape not just behaviors or technology use but the entire wiring of an organization. They span years and may have components that run continually and indefinitely.

Why might a business take on a digital transformation project? Because doing so is necessary for survival in many cases. Today’s digital landscape offers businesses an overwhelming number of technology choices. Sporadically implementing one tool or another will lead to localized improvements, but eventually, these one-off improvements will start to compete with and contradict one another. 

Digital transformation reimagines the way business gets done, including how businesses improve their processes and outcomes. 

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8. Legacy systems

Legacy systems are those systems you’ve been using for some time, have come to rely on, and don’t intend to upgrade or replace in the next cycle.

They’re a two-edged sword: on one hand, they must work well. Otherwise, you would’ve moved on from them by now. On the other hand, legacy systems can create significant challenges moving forward.

It’s not uncommon to encounter a legacy system that isn’t supported by a more modern solution. You’re ready to upgrade to a cloud-based ERP, for example, but you can’t find a way to harmonize that one legacy system with it.

Another challenge is legacy systems that the manufacturer has stopped supporting (or where the manufacturer no longer exists!). These can create security concerns over time as no one is left to patch vulnerabilities if they are discovered.

A legacy systems project is designed either to replace a legacy system or to find a way to integrate it with another new technology 

Common considerations with IT projects

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IT projects are prone to specific challenges. We’ll highlight three of those here. 

  • Constant change: There is no IT crystal ball. The next big thing might turn out to be the next big flop, or that game-changing new software company might get acquired and put out to pasture by a large firm with no intentions of duplicating the capabilities. Even when you do the research and pick proven solutions, IT will continue to evolve.

  • Unclear definition of success: Some IT projects, especially software projects, must begin before the end is defined. Iterative development is good, but at some point, the definition of success must be nailed down. If this can’t be done upfront, schedule it for the project timeline.

  • Clarity in communication: IT projects come with technical complexities that stakeholders may not innately understand. Plus, various key personnel on an IT project may struggle to communicate details in everyday nontechnical language, leading to confusion among team members and stakeholders alike.

Manage your IT projects effectively to scale your business with Teamwork.com

IT projects are critical for business growth. To remain competitive, your business must maintain its current IT capabilities and explore new ways of using new tools and technologies.

But every single IT project requires planning, scheduling, and efficient project management. There are so many details, steps, dependencies, and possible points of failure with any IT project. Organizations need a project management software solution that empowers them to manage and track IT projects so they can keep growing and scaling.

Teamwork.com is project management software done right. Designed for the needs of teams like yours, Teamwork.com adds project visibility and provides powerful scheduling and planning tools that keep your team informed and on track.

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