We are living in a world where thousands of new business ideas are being created daily. Usually, brainstorming business ideas is fun and easy. It is a creative process when everyone is very excited. Once you have created an initial vision and shaped your idea, it is time to plan and execute it properly.
However, project planning and executing is often a considerable challenge. When the routine arises, you need to have some stable processes and proper project management to accomplish your project. You must execute it in time and within the expected budget. But modern project management is full of challenges, especially when it comes to leading multidisciplinary teams where everyone is working remotely.
Nowadays, in IT, agile project management is the most popular choice when it comes to choosing between various management styles. It’s expected because Agile, at its base, is very flexible towards changing requirements, which is the case for almost every IT project nowadays. Another considerable benefit of Agile and its framework Scrum is that it drives massive collaboration and transparent communication during project execution.
Major Challenges in IT Project Management.
Engagement of Stakeholders
Collaboration is crucial when leading a multidisciplinary team, and it is crucial to increase stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder engagement is a compelling way to significantly decrease the feedback cycle and make the project much more flexible towards necessary changes dictated by the current situation on the market.
Stakeholders are often the key visionaries. And, there is a significant risk to build a product that will miss it’s market fit because there is a lack of stakeholder engagement in the project. It’s often one of the major challenges for a project manager to establish effective communication between the multidisciplinary teams and stakeholders.
Communication in a Multidisciplinary Team
When it comes to leading a multidisciplinary team, where everyone is working remotely, communication is one of the biggest challenges. There are many examples of failed projects caused by either miscommunication or lack of communication.
Historically, one of the most famous project failures caused by miscommunication is the Tower of Babel; God mixed the languages of the builders, and it completely ruined the entire project.
Project Management Institute conducted an anonymous survey among professional project managers worldwide to determine which project performance factors are most closely related to project failures. As a result, 43% of project managers surveyed responded that project communications factors were a key factor in the projects’ failure.
Another real-world example of project failure caused by miscommunication is Airbus A380; it was the world’s largest commercial aircraft back then. Different teams from across the globe, including Britain, Spain, France, and Germany were involved in the plane’s construction. Unfortunately, German and Spanish Airbus facilities used an outdated version of the computer-aided design software (CAD), while British and French sites migrated to a newer version. This caused overall configuration management problems and led to a significant delivery delay. Moreover, the production costs increased by billions of dollars.
When the team members make assumptions, instead of synchronizing tasks and goals with everyone in the company, it often leads to unrealistic deadlines. This leads to building useless products that do not provide any value to the customers.
Managing Remote Team
Remote team management is another big challenge for modern project managers, and more companies nowadays follow the “Office not required” approach. So overcoming communication challenges is another big priority for the project manager. The goal here is to build effective communication with everyone, including stakeholders.
The key to transparent communication is to decrease, or even completely avoid, private messaging. That means you should have as little private channels as possible and diminish the usage of direct messages.
It’s up to a project manager to build up a culture of public communication. It’s hard and takes time. But, your team and stakeholders realize the benefits of transparent communication when it leads to a constant increase of the product value with minimal time and resources spent. Remember, it’s always better to over-communicate than under-communicate.
How to Overcome the IT Project Management Challenges
The four main activities which aimed to eliminate miscommunication and deliver products based on your milestone plan are planning, daily updates, demos, and retros.
Let’s start from the second milestone, daily updates! The project status meetings are a way to seek or provide daily updates from everyone in the team. These are useful to synchronize status and resolve existing blocks.
If you already manage a development team, you know that daily updates have a particular structure that came from Scrum. It’s a set of 3 questions; What did you do yesterday? What will you do today? What is blocking progress?
Many companies use the same set of questions every day, five days a week. But, this often leads to boredom across team members, as you are forced to answer the same three questions over and over again. So, the engineers and designers can find themselves paying less attention or switching focus during such meetings.
This is especially a problem when your team is working remotely because your team works in different time zones, and the definitions of yesterday and today become blurry.
This problem can be easily solved with what we’ve already discussed above, proactive communication. If you communicate proactively, the importance of daily standup becomes much lower because everyone is solving their issues in real-time and not waiting for a meeting to resolve a block.
Transparency is a key to address another question of the meeting, “What will you do today?”. Transparency with the scope and tasks for the current iteration helps to solve the issue, “What should I do next?”.
Power of Planning
To achieve transparency, you have to prepare a ground for it. Remember we mentioned the planning meeting earlier? Its main goal is to synchronize everyone in the team for what we are going to build during the next iteration. Planning plays the most significant role in the upcoming iteration because it’s essential to set a measurable goal that everyone in the team understands and accepts.
The manager should take into consideration the opinion of everyone in the multidisciplinary team, and in the end, achieve consensus. Stakeholders' engagement is critical during the planning because it’s crucial to set a goal based on the current vision and priorities dictated by the market. If planning is a major challenge for you, and you have difficulties setting up and facilitating it, here is one of the approaches you can use for your project.
Planning should always start by setting a goal. The key questions to be answered are, “what do you want to achieve by the end of the iteration?”, “Why it’s important to achieve?”, “What is needed to be done to achieve the goal?”.
Next, if you have properly filled and refined backlogs, you should determine backlog items that are ready to be taken, and that will contribute toward the iteration goal. In case when you don’t have those items available, you should create them. Having backlog items prepared before planning significantly decreases the amount of time spent during the planning and make it less annoying for everyone.
Once you defined backlog items, you should check everyone’s availability for the upcoming iteration. Imagine a situation when you have planned a release, and you discover that your designer has planned a vacation and will not be able to provide the necessary designs for the feature you are developing.
Working for the Goal
After goal-setting, it’s time for the team to decide how they are going to achieve the goal with the resources they have for the sprint. The team needs to understand if it’s possible to achieve the goal because it’s quite common that business owners want a lot of stuff to be created in a short amount of time.
The central part of the planning is always a negotiation between the development team and business representatives on value and effort. It is an absolutely healthy situation, but it’s up to the manager to properly facilitate the process.
The top tip is that almost always it’s possible to reduce the scope but save the value you want to bring. The features can be simplified but still carry the initial value. It is a powerful way to handle the negotiation and come to a consensus.
The last, but not least, schedule a couple of demo days during the iteration. Remember, that you have to decrease the length of the feedback loop and demo meetings are necessary exactly for that, to ensure that you are indeed building what was planned.
Developers should also estimate, in hours, every task they do to make the control easier. When you set a general goal for the iteration, it is not important to focus on how much time it takes to execute a particular task. The team has a goal that they are going to achieve, and that’s what matters. If at the end of the sprint, you’ll get the product increment that will fit your goal, nobody cares about the time spent on a specific task.
Let’s get back to the problem of daily updates. With proper planning, everyone can see the remaining scope and pick another task when the current one is finished. This approach will help you to transform your daily meetings into free-format meetings when it is not required for everyone to answer three questions. Instead, you can use the time to make announcements, provide marketing updates, or even have several minutes for informal talks.
One of the key responsibilities of the project manager is to create a comfortable environment for team members with more freedom for talented individuals and with less control. Engineers by nature, prefer effective and productive solutions, and this is also relevant for communication in the company. So it’s the manager’s responsibility to set up efficient processes that everyone in a multidisciplinary team finds convenient to manage.
Overcoming the IT Project Management Challenges with Tools & Software
We talk a lot about transparency and the importance of proper planning to achieve the iteration goal to deliver product increment in time. The question is, how to accomplish that transparency? What project management tools and software can be used?
Actually, we can reuse the same approach we’ve already used with communication; make everything public. Everyone in the team at any given moment should be able to view the scope and tasks of the current iteration. So when it comes to agile project management, the easiest and the most efficient way to do so is to use Kanban boards.
The Kanban board at its base is straightforward. It’s just a board with columns and cards. The main point of such a board is that it should be publicly visible for everyone in the company. If you have an office with an in-house team, you can use the physical board, or just a plain wall, as a kanban board. You can add drawings, sticky notes, and viola, your board is ready to be used.
However, when it comes to a remote team, you have to use an online board. There are many tools that you can use for that. The most suitable tools for everything discussed above are Troop Messenger, Trello, and Pivotal Tracker.
Trello represents a classic kanban board with a simple structure. It’s just a plain board where you can create columns and cards. Columns usually represent one of the task’s lifecycle state; To-Do, In-Progress, Done, etc. Trello is very simple and yet very customizable. You can create whatever structure you like, as many columns as you want, and each card has a lot of additional fields, labels, and other stuff to suit your needs. Trello is a perfect fit for small to mid-sized projects with small teams. Setup is quick, and the tool itself is easy to use.
Other Crucial IT Project Management Challenges
There are a lot more aspects also in IT project management which you can manage using the best project management tools. GoodFirms has listed the top tools for each feature category such as alerts/notifications, collaboration, document management, dashboard, expense tracking, idea management, portfolio management, project planning, reporting, and forecasting, etc.
As a small business, if you are looking for the best free and open-source project management software solutions, there are very good options in this category as well.
There are a lot of challenges in modern IT project management, but the most common problem lies in communication and transparency.
Communication is Vital
No matter whether you work from the office or as a remote team, find a way to set up effective communication channels. In this case, you will forget about misunderstandings, missed deadlines, and building features that no one uses. Encourage proactive communication in the team and remember that privacy is your enemy here.
Create an environment where personal engagement on every level and stage is more than welcome. Use public boards with all the necessary info about the project and current scope. If your team gives real-time updates, it will help everybody to be on the same page and provide better visibility for stakeholders of how much value the team contributes.
Set up measurable goals that everyone in the team understands and accepts. Be realistic, at times even pessimistic, about deadlines. Also, reduce the scope but save the value and follow the goal you set up.
I have already listed the top tools and software that you can use to overcome the challenges in IT project management. However, if you have used any software for IT project management, don’t forget to post a review here!