Wednesday 27 April 2022

Project management in IT - How it works?

In the article we will tell you what the essence of project management in IT companies is, what stages any projects go through, we will analyze the basics of managing them. And also , let's talk about the principles, methods of project management and explain what a project manager actually does.

You can make websites, develop applications and launch online services as you have to: without deadlines, a clear plan and synchronization of the team. But then the result is unlikely to be similar to what was conceived at the start. And you can manage these projects like a car: plot a route from point A to point B, think over stops, stock up on snacks and fill gasoline into the tank in time - this will be project management.

Why manage projects at all

To understand what project management is, what its purpose and essence are, you must first understand the types of activities – this is how specialists and teams work.

Globally, two types of activities can be distinguished: process and project. Process activity is the repeated repetition of the same thing, for example, sculpting dumplings in the workshop, and design is the implementation of a unique idea, for example, the development of a new recipe for the same dumplings.

Project activity is more complex than process, because it is impossible to build project work once and for all and put "on the conveyor" - unique difficulties and tasks arise in it every time. Let's compare:
Process activities

  • monotonous
  • repeating
  • stable
  • Project activities
  • varied
  • unique
  • variable

For example, project activity is the development of a website, the launch of a mobile application or service, and the process is the modeling of dumplings, the production of the same spare parts, sewing identical dresses. In the process activity, each day is similar to the previous one: that on Monday they kneaded the dough and sculpted dumplings, that on Friday. But in project activities there are no such days: everyone throws up new tasks and difficulties.

There are many uncertainties and risks in project activities, so it never goes according to plan, no matter how well it is drawn up. Managing a project means constantly balancing between many restrictions, because the number of people who can be attracted to the project is limited, the timing and budget are too. At the same time, anything can happen to the project, especially if it is long.

Here are a few of the risks and uncertainties that typically threaten IT projects:

  • key developers will leave;
  • the requirements for the project will change on the go;
  • the customer's goals will change; the project will be unclaimed;
  • sponsors or partners will leave;
  • the budget will run out.

Maneuvering between these risks is the task of project management. Because despite the difficulties outside and inside the team, the project must be done well and on time.
Maneuvering between resources, team forces, technical capabilities and deadlines, budget, project requirements is handled by a project manager, or in other words, a project manager - he monitors the balance: he makes a plan, controls the process and corrects errors.
But first things first.

Project Team and Project Manager Role

To understand the concept of project management, you need to start from afar – with the project participants. Typically, there are four groups of participants in any project:

  • initiator or customer;
  • stakeholders;
  • users
  • performers;
  • manager.

Here's more about each group.

The initiator of the project or the customer is a company or person who wants to implement some idea, for example, to launch a website or redo an existing one, update a mobile application or create an online store. The initiator is also a stakeholder, because the fate of the project depends entirely on its decisions. Separating initiators and stakeholders is not quite right, but we will do it for simplicity.
Stakeholders are people or organizations that influence the course of a project with their decisions. For custom IT projects, it can be the customer himself, the lawyers of the customer company, the commercial or financial director, the investor. For example, a lawyer can prohibit storing user data on a foreign server, and the financial director can cut the project budget. Stakeholders can be contractors, partners, government regulators, and even the media.

Users are people who will use the product and benefit from it.

Executors are specialists who will implement the project: design, code, write, draw up documentation and keep records of finances in the project.

Manager – the last group consists of one person – a project manager.

The project begins for the manager with a discussion of the project requirements and ends with the involvement of the first users. In this case, the manager is as if on top and the only one sees the project as a whole. He controls the work of all project executors, from designers to developers. The manager is aware of all the processes and can therefore organize and guide the participants towards the achievement of the project goals.

The manager participates in the project at all stages: from discussing requirements with customers to attracting the first users after the launch of the product. Each stage has its own nuances, so we will tell you more about them.

Stages of project management: from idea to launch

In the IT sphere and beyond, projects are organized in approximately the same way - usually there are four stages in them.

Step 1: Project initiation. At this stage, the goals of the project are determined: whether it is really necessary for the company, whether it is realistic to implement it, whether there are resources. The main stakeholders are also identified. The better the details are worked out at this stage, the easier it is to implement the project later.

Who is involved: the initiator and other stakeholders, the manager.

What happens: At this stage, the initiator has an idea that he wants to implement. He tells the manager about it, and he communicates with stakeholders and the team, if there is one, and assesses the prospects:

How much resources and effort will it take to the project?

What difficulties may arise from a legal point of view?

Which ones with the technical one?

As a result, the manager must answer three main questions: is the idea feasible? What is its economic benefit? Why do this project at all? And then formulate a goal to which performers, stakeholders and the initiator will strive in the course of work. Or refuse to implement the idea if it is unrealizable or does not bring benefits to the company.

If the project is taken into work, the manager clearly formulates the goals and prepares its description.

Step 2: Planning. If the idea is feasible and benefits the company, the manager and stakeholders 

determine the scope of the project. A project scope is a set of tasks that are required to complete a project.

Only after determining the scope of the project, the manager together with the team draw up a plan for its implementation. It happens that there is no team for the project yet, and then the manager is looking for suitable people.

Who is involved: stakeholders, team and manager.

What happens: At the planning stage, the manager, together with the team, decomposes the work. Decomposition is the division of large tasks into parts in order to estimate each of the time costs and find out how long it will take for the entire task.

Even at the planning stage of the project, checkpoints are determined. These are intermediate goals that must be passed in order to implement the project.

After the project is decomposed into parts, and each part is evaluated over time, the manager determines the relationships between the parts. And it shows this on the Gantt chart:

A Gantt chart can be simple: project milestones and deadlines without details

And it can be complex and detailed: the stages are divided into sub-stages, steps, tasks, and all this is tied to deadlines.

The essence of the Gantt chart is to illustrate the plan of the upcoming work on the project as clearly as possible. Sometimes it happens that a small task depends on the performance of several other tasks, which are also engaged in different people. The better the chart, the less likely it is to risk and uncertainty. A good plan saves the team time and nerves, and customers money.

As a rule, the basic work plan does not coincide with the actual one. This does not mean that you need to forget about the plan and do as you have to. The plan may change as the project progresses, but it always helps to keep the planned deadlines for the completion of the project in mind. It also helps to monitor how much the team deviates from the intended course.

When the Gantt chart is ready and agreed, the project manager holds a kick-off meeting. On it, he tells stakeholders and the team everything about the project in order to officially start work.

Step 3. Execution. At this stage, the team does what was planned by the manager earlier.

Who is involved: The whole team.

What happens: The team works on a project in small sprints – this is a period of time, usually a week or two, during which a certain number of tasks are solved. In each sprint, both designers and developers work in parallel. Ideally, at the end of each sprint, the team gets a new small but working functionality, for example, a working technical support section in a mobile application.

Step 3.1. Monitoring. The manager checks the plan and reality.

Who is involved: the initiator, stakeholders, manager.

What happens: While the team is moving according to the plan, the manager makes sure that no one from this plan falls out and does not violate it. If some project participant does not have time, the manager understands why this is happening, and helps to cope with the difficulties. Monitoring and execution go hand in hand.

Step 4: Completion. The team is preparing to celebrate the victory.

Who is involved: the team and the manager.

What happens: Work on the project ends. At the final meeting, the manager holds a retrospective – this is a meeting in which the manager and the team analyze what was done well and what was not so good, where the problems arose and how to make sure that the next time there were none. The manager also talks about successful and failed decisions and compares the basic initial plan with the real one.

Such retrospective analysis helps all team members to grow professionally. And the manager, in order to constantly grow, also needs to study the standards of project management.

Project Management Standards

Project management standards are a set of rules and recommendations for the manager, compliance with which increases the chances of successful completion of the project.
Standards can be international, national, and can be determined at the company level. International and national standards are applied in the development of expensive international and national projects, respectively.

The standards can prescribe the features of project management in a particular company: how to properly initiate projects, how to decompose and how project participants communicate with each other.

The manager chooses the appropriate standard according to the size and cost of the project. The most well-known and universal set of rules is the "Code of Knowledge on Project Management" from the Project Management Institute (PMI):

  • Standards serve two important functions: they collect previous experience of employees and allow people to communicate within the project in the same language.
  • The ability to understand and apply the rules described in the standards is the highest aerobatics for a project manager: this proves the structure of his thinking.

Project Management Methodologies: Scrum, Kanban, Waterfall Model

We have already said that there are always many risks and uncertainties in project activities. To combat them, IT uses project management methodologies from the agile approach - these are agile methodologies, for example, scrum and kanban. They are flexible, because they allow you to quickly get the finished product, bring it to the user and immediately collect feedback. And then just as quickly use it to adjust product requirements. Quickly develop - quickly get feedback - immediately correct. This greatly increases the chance that the product will actually solve user problems.

Scrum, or Scrum, is an agile methodology that is most often used in the development of IT projects. The team works in sprints, and at the end of each one receives a finished product for users, takes into account feedback from them and stakeholders and immediately adapts the product to new data. With this approach, you can respond quickly to changes.

Kanban, or Kanban, is a task management system using visualization. The Kanban board sequentially displays the steps in the production cycle and the corresponding tasks for each step.

The most familiar and obvious example of a Kanban board is a board in Trello. Each column on it is a step, and each card is a separate task. On it at any time you can see at what stage this or that task and what else needs to be done:

Scrum and Kanban are methodologies that are based on flexible project management principles. They allow you to quickly release the product to users, get feedback from them and stakeholders and take it into account in future releases. But they didn't always exist.

Waterfall model. Before the advent of agile project management methodologies, teams worked on a waterfall model. It assumes that people will be able to use the product only after it is completely ready. For example, the waterfall management model is suitable for the construction of a residential building, in which residents will be able to settle only after the completion of construction.

Schematically, the waterfall model of project management can be represented as follows

The waterfall model required from the performers strict observance of all the rules and technical specifications, as well as special attention to the documentation for the project. It could happen that the company diligently developed the project for a year, and at the end of the year it learned that it was no longer needed or made completely wrong. That's because the waterfall management model does not allow you to change the design requirements during the development process.

How to Become a Project Manager

A project manager is a person who is responsible for achieving project goals. And he does everything possible and impossible to ensure that the project is successfully launched. Therefore, he must keep in focus the full picture of what is happening. He helps the project participants to do their job well and not to think about organizational issues: the designer does not have to check the estimates, the tester - to monitor the quality of the text, and the layout designer - to think about the documentation of the project. And the manager solves problems, settles conflicts and gets resources out of the ground.

To become such a superman, you need to study the theory of project management and have a good understanding of all the components of project management. Plus, develop five skills:

  • sociability, because the manager needs to communicate a lot with people of different professions;
  • critical thinking to select only the essential ones from a variety of opinions and proposals about the project;
  • the ability to structure information and turn chaos into coherent systems, because there will be a lot of information;

courage, because failures in project management are inevitable, and you need to have the courage to inform the team and the customer about them in time, admit mistakes, learn and try new things again;
skills to quickly delve into new areas, because the manager is a little immersed in each area with which his team, stakeholders and initiator work. Today — in the development of sites, tomorrow — in the creation of mobile applications.

At the same time, the manager does not have to program or design well himself, but he must talk to the performers in the same language and be able to effectively organize their work.

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