A true understanding of project management is as important a skill for tech leaders as any coding language. Tech professionals new to a company’s leadership team may come from a position in which they’ve only ever headed up small groups or projects. As the scope of leadership expands, project management skills become a crucial component of successfully navigating IT projects.
But what are the most critical factors in managing an IT project? Below, 16 tech leaders from Forbes Technology Council offer their insights into the crucial steps tech leaders should take to successfully guide an IT project to success.
1. Encourage a culture of fast learning.
Organizations would do well to cultivate and encourage a culture of “learning faster.” It is critically important for project managers to understand a daunting task that stakeholders have—making strategic decisions in an ever-changing world. Project teams that can implement innovative ideas and deliver real value to the marketplace faster and better than the competition win. – Jabari Butler, Healing Community Center
2. Strengthen your prioritization skills.
There is usually more work than resources. It is important to be very strong in prioritization. One way to prioritize is to work backward from an objective and identify the projects on the critical path. Once these critical projects are identified, they should be funded adequately and executed efficiently. – Ashish Bansal, Twitch
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3. Focus on outcome-based KPIs
Focus on key performance indicators that are outcome-based, such as customer experience, which reduces the cost of customer acquisition and adds lifelong customer value. These are more relevant than typical project metrics focused on time, cost and scope. – Ashok Reddy, Digital.ai
4. Build in a contingency plan.
You know what they say: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Planning is crucial to successful IT project management. One aspect that is often overlooked is contingency planning. A proper plan should include contingencies for scenarios likely to impede project execution. – Justin Stanley, TokenEx
5. Remember the four key aspects of management.
Project management, just like any type of management, should cover four aspects: planning, organization, motivation and control. It will only work if all four elements are present. You can’t simply start the execution without a proper plan; at the same time, your plan will fail if you don’t spend enough time onboarding the team and giving them your full support. – Alex Tsepko, Skylum
6. Understand the problem statement.
First of all, understand the problem statement. What problem are you trying to solve? This will help determine and confirm the right success criteria and tell you when the project is “done.” Sometimes teams get caught up in a shiny new solution or have different reasons for wanting to get something done. If the team can align on a clear and concise problem statement, this helps with alignment and focus. – Caroline Wong, Cobalt.io
7. Estimate the required time and resources.
One of the keys to successful IT project management is the ability to establish an estimation of every task’s effort and the time that will need to be invested. Having a better understanding of how long certain tasks will take will allow you to better allocate resources inside your team, which boosts productivity. – Sagi Gidali, Perimeter 81
8. Adapt your communication style as needed.
The key is the ability to communicate. A project manager sits in the middle of organized chaos. This means they have to be able to change their communication style to fit the style of each segment (and sometimes each person) in their audience. Knowing how to pivot on the fly requires an incredible amount of emotional intelligence and perception. – Jeffrey Ton, InterVision
9. Repeat and improve based on feedback.
The key is repetition. Any project management technique can be effective if repeated and improved based on the feedback. Methodologies based on books never work out of the box; they need to be adjusted according to the team dynamics and have to be followed religiously. – Amit Ojha, Green Wave Ingredients
10. Leverage executive sponsorship.
Executive sponsorship goes a long way toward keeping all stakeholders accountable for progress throughout the process. Having one voice set the tone for strategic alignment brings greater clarity and focus to the collective efforts of the larger team. More importantly, that sponsor must remain engaged on paper and in practice, reviewing the project holistically to solve problems as they present. – Meghann Chilcott, XIL Consulting
11. Let those close to the work make decisions.
Assign decision-making authority to those who are closest to the work, not those with the biggest salaries. Managers in general, and project managers in particular, are rewarded for “managing up” well. The temptation is then to delegate decision-making upward as well—but the further away a decision is made from the person doing the work, the worse decision it will be. – Paul Lanzi, Remediant
12. Understand the motivations of all the stakeholders.
Most people think that project management is simply about organization, structure and reporting progress, but what differentiates a project manager is the ability to manage relationships. A firm understanding of all the stakeholders, including their motivations, will help smooth out any rough edges around execution. – John Bellone, SS&C Health
13. Invest in tools that promote collaboration.
In today’s remote work environment, it’s essential for teams to invest in tools that create a seamless employee experience for every project. By breaking down communication and collaboration silos through solutions like a virtual network operations center, teams can complete projects faster, more efficiently and from any location in the world. – Phil Tee, Moogsoft
14. Focus on product management.
The key to project management in today’s world is that it needs to be focused on product management. That’s the currency for the new normal. Product management encompasses a complicated set of projects and value streams feeding into the product release. Effective project managers understand this and plan accordingly so dependencies will be complete by the time someone is ready to work on a piece. – Bob Davis, Plutora
15. Stage progressive planning activities.
IT projects often involve planning beyond the iteration level to provide a long-term, holistic view of the investment and the steps needed to realize the vision. Instead of adopting a big-design-up-front approach, tech teams should stage planning activities and use progressive elaboration to address priorities, estimates and commitments at the vision, roadmap, release, sprint and stand-up levels. – Christopher Yang, Corporate Travel Management
16. Do some hands-on work.
As project requirements evolve and customer feedback quickly alters priorities, it is fundamental that the project manager thoroughly understands the technology the team is working on. Taking the time to dig into the code, working hands-on with the product or conducting a test round are all essential for a tech leader to fully grasp the project status and the team’s needs. – Wolfgang Thieme, BehrTech