IT project management: The standards of change

IT projects are a vital element in the activities of the IT domain. For a project manager what standards are there to help organise their work and how do they relate to the other IT activities and standards?

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IT projects are a vital element in the activities of the IT domain. For a project manager what standards are there to help organise their work and how do they relate to the other IT activities and standards?

The IT domain offers services related to the information used by the organisation. When we look at the internal working of the IT domain there are two important fields of operation. First ensuring the continued availability of services currently offered by IT and used by the business. Second building new services or changing current offerings to keep aligned with the ever changing requirements of the business. Creating new services or changing current services are often organised in the form of projects.

Wikipedia defines project management as “the discipline of planning, organising, securing and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific engineering project goals and objectives.”

Pure project management methods

When looking at the above definition for project management it is clear it is not just for IT Projects but applies to any type of project. The second observation is that the goals and objectives are a given in this definition.

When we look at project management an important organisation to start with is the Project Management Institute the Wikipedia page gives an overview of the PMI and their offerings. Note worthy are that the PMI offers certification and owns the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The PMBOK is a world-wide known and accepted standard for project management which offers a common language, structure and definitions for those using the standard. However PMBOK was created as a standard for any type of projects not specifically for IT Projects. As a result it can be challenging to decide what sections are applicable and how they should be used to structure IT projects.

Developed specifically for the management of IT projects is PRojects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE 2). The Wikipedia page gives a good overview of prince 2. Furthermore the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) maintains the official website for the method. The official website also shows that OGC owns a number of related models such as ITIL (a best practice model to help organise the operational section of the IT Domain).

Since the deliverables of the projects are handed over to this part of the IT Domain alignment between these organisations (and the models used) is important. The strength of Prince 2 is that it offers a lot of help to internally structure IT Projects. Since the OGC is an institute from the British Government it is no surprise that Prince 2 is widely accepted and used in Europe. Even more so it is one of the leading project management methods worldwide.

Critics of Prince 2 say it is too much internally focused towards organising the internal project structure and does not offer enough focus on the interaction of the project with the “outside world” and “what comes next”. Prince 2 advocates counter that the method is OK but that it’s the way the method is used that does not pay enough attention to the outside world. Furthermore that ITIL and Prince 2 are developed, ran and maintained but the same (OGC) institute helps to ensure aligned between the two models which should help to facilitate the hand over from service creation into service production.

Other relevant models for project management

How to organize the interaction between the project (manager and team) and the environment? Depending on the size and nature, a project can have many different external stakeholders.

For a Project Manager stakeholder management is a very important skill. Stakeholder management is all about indentifying those who are affected or who can affect the project, understanding their needs and managing their interests. Unfortunately there is no generally accepted standard approach for stakeholder management. The above link to Wikipedia gives a general introduction and a starting point for those interested in the subject.

ITIL

We identified one stakeholder already: IT Operations, charged with the run and maintain of the deliverables of the IT project. For a project manager who does not like negative surprises at the end of his projects it is good to ensure a basic understanding of what drives this stakeholder. ITIL as one of the leading process frameworks for this stakeholder would help facilitate the relationship. Owned by the OGC (also owner of Prince2) the day to day management of the model is left to the IT Service Management Forum (itSMF).

The ITIL model is the leading process model for the operational management of IT Services. According to critics it is too much focussed on Infrastructure Management and does not pay enough attention to Application Management. With the introduction of ITIL version 3 the model also addresses topics regarding the strategy and design of Services but it still does not address the topic of Project Management.

An even more important stakeholder is the project owner. Somebody (usually in the business) has a requirement for a new or changed IT Service and, just as important, can make available the resources mentioned in the definition of project management. Mismanagement of this stakeholder is arguably the primary reason of IT Project failure. Clear and correct translation of the requirements from the project owner and limitations set by this stakeholder into workable project goals and objectives is a science if not an art in itself.

Business case creation and management is a field of expertise focused on structuring and improving the Project Owner/ Project Manager interaction. Especially with bigger longer running projects, circumstances change over time and the initial owner requirements might change during the course of the project. So Business Case management does not stop at business case creation, continued validation and updating of the business case is also part of this discipline.  Since this is a relatively new area of attention there is currently no clearly leading method for Business Case Management. Prince 2 offers some assistance here. So does the ISACA framework for Business Technology Management (ValIT).

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