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Project Management Survival Guide Part II: Three Ways to Stay Clean While Doing the “Dirty Job” of IT Project Management

by Phillip Smith

Last week we talked about the dirty job of project management, and how the complexities involved in leading teams and implementing IT projects often make the PM’s job even messier than Mike Rowe on a sweeps week episode of Dirty Jobs.

Luckily for us, there are three tried and true guidelines for cleaning up even the messiest project—or even better, keeping it in check before things get out of hand. Here they are:

  1. Stabilize requirements and schedules
  2. Set up repeatable processes and tasks
  3. Allow team members to develop specialized skills that can be called on as needed.

1. Stabilize requirements and schedules

Stabilizing the requirements and the schedule is about managing the stakeholders.  It’s an art form that requires patience and understanding, and the good sense for compromise and protection of the project team.  If you lose too many battles here, the project may be successful, but you won’t have a team left to execute the next project.

2. Set up repeatable processes and tasks

Setting up repeatable processes and tasks is all about maturing the project team.  While every project is unique, the execution is not.  For example, there is always a design document.  Use the same template every time.  Use a reliable review process with team members who have the right knowledge.  Hold the design to a high quality standard, schedule enough time into the plan to do it right, and execute this way on every project so that all team members understand the expectation. Continue reading


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Project Management Survival Guide Part I: Why Managing an IT Project is Different from Managing a Non-IT Project

by Phillip Smith

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Dirty Jobs then you’ve seen Mike Rowe get up close to some type of difficult and risky task. He usually reports on a sensationally dirty, greasy, goopy process that leaves him in need of a bath. While I suspect that he’ll never create an episode about IT project management, those of us in the industry know a dark secret: every day, we’re at risk of being slimed.

As IT project managers, we face risk and issues head on, often leading unproven project teams through difficult times to meet objectives set by a client with a limited timeline and budget.  We negotiate, we coach, and we deliver bad news.  We drive our teams like cattle and defend them like our firstborn.  We gather data that points to frightening conclusions, and then challenge ourselves to overcome.  We follow detailed processes and also make time for the soft stuff necessary to keep leadership, people, and clients synchronized. We’re surprised with ever-changing expectations, unforeseen expense, and impromptu meetings.  We travel, we sacrifice, and we deflect credit to the people that did the “real work”.

And when we tell our kids what we do for a living, they tilt their heads sideways and say something inspirational like “huh?”

At this point a sane person would ask, “Why do we do it?”  I’ll save that answer for a different article on a different day.  Instead, I’m going to explore some of the reasons this job is so demanding compared to other industries, and next week I’ll give you some suggestions for getting through its unique challenges. Continue reading