How to Manage a IT Project: 101 Tips and Strategies

IT Project Management….Hard. Frustrating. Sometimes confusing. Yet Unavoidable and very rewarding if you’re good at it. Because ultimately, it’s the trump card for growing your career.
An easy to read and understand roadmap would help, here’s what you need.
Here are the 101 Good Ways to Manage any IT Project:

  1. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.
  2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
  3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
  4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.
  5. Powerpoint rule: When something appears in a presentation, assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly
  6. Work for a boss with whom you are comfortable telling it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
  7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton’s Law.
  8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don’t be known as a good starter but a poor finisher.
  10. In completing a project, don’t wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
  11. Confirm your instructions and the commitments of others in writing. Don’t assume it will get done!
  12. Don’t be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
  13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get it done.
  14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
  15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
  16. Don’t overlook the fact that you are working for a boss.
  17. Keep your boss informed. Avoid surprises!
  18. Whatever the boss wants takes top priority.
  19. Promises, schedules, and estimates are important instruments in a well-ordered business.
  20. You must make promises. Don’t lean on the often-used phrase, “I can’t estimate it because it depends upon many uncertain factors.”Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to “cc” a person’s boss.
  21. When dealing with outsiders, remember that you represent the company. Be careful of your commitments.
  22. Cultivate the habit of “boiling matters down” to the simplest terms. An elevator speech is the best way.
  23. Don’t get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
  24. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
  25. When making decisions, the pros are much easier to deal with than the cons. Your boss wants to see the cons also.
  26. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.
  27. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump.
  28. In completing a project, don’t wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
  29. Confirm your instructions and the commitments of others in writing. Don’t assume it will get done!
  30. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get it done.
  31. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
  32. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  33. The single best payoff in terms of project success comes from having good project definition early.
  34. On Change and Event Management –  Event management is the same as for any project – the project plan needs to include an appropriate change control process.
  35. On Change Management  - It is always easier to talk about change than to make it.
  36. On Decision Making  - Rien n’est plus difficile, et donc plus précieux, que d’être capable de décider. [Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than being able to decide.]
  37. On Earned Value Management –  Whilst you can practice good project management without EVM, you cannot practice EVM effectively without good project management.
  38. On Human Resources and Motivation –  True motivation comes from achievement, personal development, job satisfaction, and recognition.
  39. On Human Resources  - Whatever we do must be in accord with human nature. We cannot drive people; we must direct their development… the general policy of the past has been to drive; but the era of force must give way to the era of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and lead, to the advantage of all concerned.
  40. On Knowledge Management –  If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.
  41. On Leadership  - Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them towards a certain goal.
  42. On Lessons Learned and Organizational Culture –  In NASA, we never punish error. We only punish the concealment of error.
  43. On Lessons Learned  - What we learn from lessons learned is that we don’t learn from lessons learned.
  44. On Negotiating  - Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.
  45. On Organizational Structure  - Nobody knows how Honda is organized, except that it uses lots of project teams and is quite flexible.
  46. On planning – Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.
  47. On Program Audits  - External audits are routine in the financial area. I fail to understand why nonprofits don’t use them more in the vital program area.
  48. On project management methodology and approach  - This ad hoc approach to project management – coupled as it frequently is, with an on-the-job training philosophy – is pervasive. It is also pernicious.
  49. On Project Selection  - My personal philosophy is not to undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.
  50. On Public Speaking and Presentation Skills  - The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
  51. On Quality  - You can only elevate individual performance by elevating that of the entire system.
  52. On Resources  - You can’t turn a herd of turtles into a twenty-mule work team.
  53. On Software Testing  - When end users get involved in the final stages of testing, light bulbs go on, and they often have an “aha” moment. Unfortunately, that is often too late.
  54. On Teamwork  - If you always blame others for your mistakes, you will never improve.
  55. On the importance of the critical path  - A project without a critical path is like a ship without a rudder.
  56. On the importance of the Work Breakdown Structure  - Running a project without a WBS is like going to a strange land without a roadmap.
  57. On the Project Manager’s Role  - Project managers function as bandleaders who pull together their players each a specialist with individual score and internal rhythm. Under the leader’s direction, they all respond to the same beat.
  58. On the reporting structure for new product development and other innovation projects  - Innovative efforts should never report to line managers charged with responsibility for ongoing operations. …The new project is an infant and will remain one for the foreseeable future, and infants belong in the nursery. The “adults”, that is, the executives in charge of existing businesses or products will have neither the time nor understanding for the infant.
  59. On the triple constraints of project management  - Beware the time-driven project with an artificial deadline.
  60. On the value of Project Management  - Trying to manage a project without project management is like trying to play a football game without a game plan.
  61. Keep your approach friendly: People are not looking to make friends at work, but refraining from an aggressive approach towards your employees is a good idea. The whip – your – team – into – submission approach worked with the “Pyramids of Giza” IT project – but it is outdated now. The days when you could bully and scare the s*** out of your team are over. Be diplomatic and assertive, instead.
  62. When taking on a new IT project/responsibility at work, convey to your management the extent of authority you need in order to effectively execute your IT project. Ensure that you have the authority that you need before you start work on your IT project.
  63. Being people-oriented does not mean that you cannot be task-oriented (and vice-versa).
  64. One-to-one: Meet regularly with your team members on a one-on-one basis. When you apply this principle to your kids, it makes each of them feel special.
  65. Nobody appreciates a micro-manager: Don’t sit on the heads of your team members.
  66. Giving autonomy does not mean not keeping track of progress.
  67. Learn how to manage people (more difficult than it sounds, believe you me!), and the rest of your job will that much easier to execute.
  68. As a leader, you should have the ability to bind the team together and give them a sense of “we’re in this together.” For instance, as the head of your family, you can promote bonding by setting aside time for family board games, story-telling sessions, family picnics, family prayers and the like.
  69. Stay visible – As a leader, you need to be visible in good times, as well as when there are problems to address.
  70. Your reputation depends on your perceived credibility and integrity: A very basic item for leaders is to ensure that promises made are promises kept. If action is committed, it must be performed.
  71. Personality: As a leader, does your personality influence and inspire your team?
  72. Leadership CAN be learned. Focus on these areas to improve your leadership skills:
    1. Initiative
    2. Leverage your charisma to influence others
    3. Lead purposefully and with commitment
    4. Develop a result-oriented approach
    5. Cultivate an attitude of optimism
  73. Work on your self-confidence – especially for weakness areas (for instance, if you are particularly nervous around people with an intimidating body language, create a plan to tackle that, and come across as confident and in-control in their presence.)
  74. Cultivate empathy so that you can encourage and nurture your team
  75. Learn to identify winners – and nurture them
  76. Learn to read between the lines to understand the underlying concern that prompted the dialogue
  77. The ability to motivate people so that they stretch out of their “comfort zones”
  78. Improve your decision-making abilities by learning from past decisions
  79. Learn to see the big picture
  80. Polish your Goal Setting skills
  81. Develop Personal Goals and examine them at regular intervals
  82. Effective Time Management
  83. Flexibility: While it is a good thing to be firm and stand by your decisions, It is important that you are flexible enough to realize when plans need to change. View planning as an ongoing process. That way, you can change course midway without too much damage, if the original plan is not working. Are you open to continuous planning and updating of the plan?
  84. Effective personnel management (Managing your team / family unit)
  85. Stand up for your team. When your employees are in the right, have the guts to take up their case.
  86. Don’t let team members intimidate you with technical mumbo-jumbo. Don’t feel stupid when you ask them to explain what they are saying in layperson’s language.
  87. Match assignments with skill sets: Is every team member equipped to handle his part of the assignment? If not, then you are in deep trouble!
  88. Creative Solutions: A Japanese story – when a little girl kept wearing the wrong shoe on the wrong foot, her parents found a solution. There was half a smiley face on either shoe. The smiley face was complete only when she wore her shoes the correct way. Problem solved. It can be as simple as that if we use our creativity.
  89. When you pressure your team to deliver faster than is humanly possible, don’t be surprised to see a poor quality, bug-laden product.
  90. Agree on rules: In IT project management, once the design has been completed, the design and production staff create a style guide for future reference. Make the rules of the game clear to all players involved, and to any players who join in later on.
  91. Building Trust: Build trust within the team by demonstrating to each team member that everyone is important and creating a sense of personal value and contribution.
  92. Retention should become a core strategy. Something that all leaders should do on a regular basis is to “let your best people know you treasure them, count on them, and want to reward them in as many ways as possible.”
  93. Look beyond money: There should be an effort by the manager, IT project manager, or business executive to determine what the non-monetary interests of the key players are. Translated to a family situation, don’t sit smug thinking that you are doing your bit by bringing in the bacon. Your family needs more than that from you – your attention and interest, for instance.
  94. Say thanks, offer words of support, and show appreciation for good work.
  95. Reward your key players as often as possible. People generally won’t work for people who just don’t care for them.
  96. Provide Challenges – Encourage your team to stretch beyond their comfort zone. This will help them see just how far they can go.
  97. Rewarding works better than nagging: A reward can be something as simple as a coin or a note of appreciation – as long as your employees perceive it as a symbol of recognition, it works.
  98. The buck stops here: You are accountable for your task / IT project. However, this does not mean that you do not delegate. Delegate work to your team members, let them know that they are accountable for their assignment/s, and ensure that they have the resources so that they can deliver successfully. Decide the plan of action beforehand, and decide how follow-ups will happen.
  99. Ownership: Have an attitude of owning your work.
  100. Minimize your supervision – Provide a sense of autonomy. Freedom is a major motivator and builds trust on both sides. (Tip: But don’t tune out completely.)
  101. To motivate, you have to empower. Motivation involves not only being enthusiastic and pumped up about approaching the task, but also involves being equipped with the tools and the ability to complete the assignment. When you delegate an assignment, convey to the team member that it is now THEIR exclusive responsibility that the job gets done. If it doesn’t, they will be held accountable.
  102. That was rule 101 – But there’s more to IT Project Management, so forgive me….:
  103. Accountability of Self: Take a couple of co-workers into confidence about your expectations from yourself. Besides making your goals clearer to yourself, this helps others keep track of your progress.
  104. Clear, open communication is a prerequisite for a healthy, result-oriented work environment.
  105. Keep them posted: A lack of information is a fertile ground for rumor, gossip and insecurity. Keep the team in the loop about information concerning and affecting them.
  106. When in doubt, ask: Don’t refrain from asking “stupid” questions – they may save miscommunication and misunderstandings, resulting in saved time and money!
  107. It is bad policy to wait till your team members find out important information concerning them from other sources. That information should come from you.
  108. Ask questions and listen to suggestions.
  109. Feedback: Provide it often and ask for it. Keep an open mind. (Tip: Don’t expect all feedback to be pleasant and positive.)
  110. Listen: It’s always important to listen, but even more so in tough times. Listen for undertones.
  111. Be Open: While you should not be a dumping ground for grievances, you SHOULD be accessible enough for team members to openly discuss concerns or delays. (Tip: If you are not open, you’ll find out about the concern or delay later in the game when there is less time to fix it.)
  112. Touch Base: One-on-one and in meetings, meet up with your team members (or family members). (Sitting in front of the television with the family does not count as touching base!)
  113. Pride: Have you read the Japanese story about the janitor who described his work as “Contributing to the progress of his country?” His logic – if the executives did not have clean toilets to use, they couldn’t be very productive, could they? That is the kind of pride you need to have in your work / IT project.
  114. Keep your sense of humor: It helps – especially in situations where no one feels like laughing. (Like the time a short executive stood on a chair so that she was at eye-level with her colleague, and she quipped, “Maybe now we can see eye-to eye?” The laughter that followed this lightened up the tension that everyone in the room had been feeling up to that point.)
  115. Have fun @ work: It’s true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull becdcoy. And fun, on the other hand, recharges your batteries and lets you approach work with a fresh mind.
  116. Celebrate achievements – even mini-achievements: Celebrating at every landmark gives your team something to look forward to, and lets them remember that they are making steady progress towards their goal – IT project completion!
  117. Give praise: When a team member does something great, let them know it! Make sure your praise is sincere. Also, your praise will be valued only if it is given when it’s due.
  118. Help Others Help Themselves: If a team member / family member has a mental block, you can guide this individual to tear it down. (Tip: Tackle such issues early on, because a negative frame of mind can be highly infectious.)
  119. Use impatience to your advantage: Channel the energies generated by your impatience to propel the process faster.
  120. Procrastinators don’t make good IT project managers. Find a way around your weakness (procrastination) if you want to achieve your targets.
  121. Do you like what you are doing? If not, why are you still doing it? Money is not compensation enough for being trapped in a role you do not like. Because for every hour you spend doing something you don’t enjoy, you are giving up doing something that you do.
  122. Be Informed: Know not only what is happening in your organization, but also keep track of changes within other organizations that may impact your team members.
  123. Analyze after the event: A postmortem offers valuable insights for future reference.
      1. () Do I know what is expected of me?
      2. () Do I expect I can perform that which is expected of me?
      3. () Do I expect a reward of value to me personally?
    • Ask yourself
  124. Use stress as an ally: Let stress work as the red flag that tells you to take action.
  125. One key element in dealing with stress is taking control. A feeling of helplessness increases stress. So take some action that reflects that you do retain some amount of control over the situation – even if that little control is only over your reaction to the stressor.
  126. Nothing beats being organized. Keep an organized filing system, for instance, even something as simple as storing documents chronologically will go a long way in saving you time and stress when you need to locate information.
  127. Keep a daily journal where you jot down the day’s highlights. Then, set aside an hour on Saturday night/evening to analyze your week. What did you do wrong? What did you do right? What will you do differently the next time in a similar situation? This practice will help you grow professionally and personally in the long run.
  128. Make daily lists and cross things off. Keep a personal scorecard and grade yourself weekly.
  129. Buy a Daily Planner; now actually use it.
  130. Plan ahead: Before you plunge headlong into work, spend some time planning your IT project.
  131. Break down work into tasks: Breaking down the IT project into smaller tasks (and mini-tasks if required) ensures that you have a systematic approach.
  132. Keep it visible and visual: Plotting a chart or graph about work progress and tacking it in a prominent place on your soft board (or keeping the softcopy on your desktop) ensures that your progress is visible to you.
  133. Infrastructure: A reliable server lays the foundation for efficient work. Good infrastructure and equipment translate to smooth functioning for any task.
  134. A step-by-step plan is the best way to ensure you know where you are going.
  135. In IT project management, the bulk of the work happens after the planning phase. How well this implementation of the plan happens depends on how thorough and specific the planning and documentation was. Bad planning translates to bad implementation.
  136. Good planning alone does not ensure good implementation. Follow-through becomes vital here. As the leader, the IT project manager ensures that the team sticks to the plan.
  137. As a IT project manager, you need to check that everyone is following the functional spec and style guide, that they are using the proper naming conventions and version controls, and that backup files are being saved on the server. Rules are useful only insofar as they are implemented and followed.
  138. Be prepared: Know your stuff front-wards, back-wards, and every way in between. This does not mean that you need to say everything you know. Being prepared helps you to quickly answer questions and convey that you know what you are talking about.
  139. Understanding the goals: A IT project is truly successful only when you are meeting the need for which it was created. Identifying the scope and requirements at the outset and also acknowledging that in the real world, these can change is a good starting point.
  140. Getting it right from the outset: The most important part of a IT project’s life cycle is the identification of its requirements.
  141. Manage conflict (especially within the team) at an early stage – before it reaches crisis proportions.
  142. The best way to side-step petty politics – nip conflicts in the bud.
  143. Remember that no two people view the situation with the same pair of eyes – they actually see different things. This helps in understanding differences of viewpoints and eventually resolving conflict within your team.
  144. Create the Team Charter; and keep it up-to-date: A team charter is a code of conduct developed by the IT project management team and later adopted or modified by the IT project team. It defines the mutual expectations of each team member of one another. As a IT project manager, hold yourself and others accountable to be consistent with this code.
  145. There is no such thing as a zero-risk IT project: There is no such thing as a risk-free life.
  146. If you want to understand a risk fully, identify its causes as well as its effects.
  147. How do you respond to risks? There are four ways:
    1. a) Aggressive responses: You can achieve avoidance by removing or changing a cause, or by breaking the cause-risk link so that the threat is no longer possible.
    2. b) Third party: You involve a third party to manage the risk.
    3. c) Size: You can change the size of a risk, thus reducing a threat.
    4. d) Acceptance: You accept the possibility  of the risk, and create a fallback plan to recover from negative impacts.
  148. When a IT project is desperately troubled, first take action to contain the damage then worry about recovery, just the way a first aid or rescue teams first “contain the damage” and consider other options after the victim’s condition stabilizes.
  149. Checklists for risks: Trouble sometimes stems from omissions. It is easy to “forget” key components of a work package. A checklist reduces the potential of leaving out important considerations.
  150. Naps, Breaks and Vacations: The rejuvenation trio
  151. Take a break: When you feel overwhelmed, take a break; get your mind off work for some time. Chances are, you will be able to handle the situation better after a break.
  152. Get enough sleep: There is no substitute for sleep. All else being equal, a well-rested person is better equipped to meet the challenges that the day presents, as compared to a person who has not had enough rest.
  153. When you plan a vacation and want to really enjoy it, ensure that all the work-oriented nitty gritty is taken care of, and out of the way.
  154. Manage your vacation as a IT project (a lot of planning) if you enjoy doing a lot of things rather than just lying around idly all day (which is also an excellent way to recharge your batteries, by the way).
  155. Remember GIGO? Garbage in, Garbage out: Eat low-energy fast food and be prepared for irritability, mood swings, and blood sugar swings. Eat healthy, wholesome and nutritious meals to bring out the best in you.
  156. A healthy personal life translates to a well-balanced, healthy person. Make sure you are not succeeding at the workplace at the cost of your family and loved ones. Given enough time, they will learn to live without you around – without complaining about it. Tip: Pets are wonderful to shower you with (unconditional) love when nobody else will.
  157. No job in the world is worth neglecting your kids for. Your kids will outgrow their strong dependence on you – the job will always be there (one or the other). If you are not there for them when they need you the most, don’t count on their unconditional acceptance and love for you later on.
  158. Keep the stakeholders updated: Keep the sponsors and stakeholders posted about the progress. This becomes more important when there are unforeseen problems or newer risks; like when there are delays.
  159. Understand the need: When working on the IT project, it helps if you understand what need your IT project will fulfill. Sometimes (make that often) your client’s description the IT project will not match his need. Ensure that what you are doing will serve the purpose that it is meant to serve.
  160. When to give in and when to hold your ground: Once a IT project has started, the client will almost always want you to incorporate changes and add tasks. Sometimes requests are legitimate, and it is possible to incorporate them without throwing the IT project off track. But when the client’s demands require significant changes, you need to take a call. Michelangelo Buonarroti’s ceiling of the Sistine chapel IT project is a classic case in point. The original IT project involved creating twelve paintings. By the time the IT project was completed, over  paintings had been created, costing the artist his health and youth.
  161. When stakeholders do not respond to information or do not respond in an expected manner; create alternative, proactive communication mechanisms to avert trouble.
  162. Don’t forget to ask, “What does my client want to be able to do as a result of this IT project?” Translated to real life situations, every time you work on something, ask yourself what you (or someone else) hope to accomplish from that activity. The answer can be as simple as “feeling refreshed and rejuvenated” to something as complex as “moving towards my dream of contributing to a cleaner and healthier planet”.
  163. Whether working with offshore teams or just a diverse group at home, today’s IT project environment is multicultural. Be open to and aware of your IT project stakeholders’ cultures. Not only should we respect our colleagues’ cultures, but we should understand and EXPERIENCE them. Go out for Dim sum with the team or learn a new phrase in another language.
  164. While modeling is an excellent tool for overcoming some cross-cultural communication issues, multi-cultural IT project management may still take extra time to get the requirements and ensure that important facts are captured.
  165. It is important to plan more time for capturing requirements when working in multi-cultural environments.
  166. Meeting in Person to Develop Relationships Saves Time and Money in the Long Run. In some cultures tasks are completed based on established relationships and, ultimately, trust, rather than simply being driven by schedules. Attempting to forge ahead with tasks before spending social time with clients can well lead to incomplete requirements. While it may not be standard practice all over the world, when PMs are working in some other cultures taking the time to meet face-to-face can save time and money for your IT project and organization.
  167. What is a wise approach? It is an approach that gives us the ability to see things clearly and minimize the probability that we will be reactive and ineffective in achieving our goals and objectives.  Wisdom is the synthesis of knowledge into active, practical use.  A wise person moves through life with equanimity, un-phased by the chaos surrounding her.  A wise person has choices.  He is not unconsciously driven and reactive.
  168. “Only the person who learns to relax is able to create, and for them, ideas reach the mind like lightning.” Even in face of chaos, pressure and stress, relax! How? Relaxation is not the same as tuning out and turning off. It is not somnabulence. Learn to rest in the moment. Cultivate the ability to quickly focus on your breath and body just long enough to find your “center”. Then engage.
  169. Serve someone. Serve everyone. That is the secret of wise leadership. There is a difference between a leader who serves and one who just leads. “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” Such a leader asks if “those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” When the motivation is to serve, posturing, politics and self-serving gains are replaced by useful effective action.
  170. Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations … that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. ” They may be useful, or they may lead to habitual, reactive behavior. What paradigms condition your behavior? Do they help or hinder you? Do you have the courage to question them? Do they provide established basis for analyzing problems, or do they limit your ability to act in the way that is best for the current situation.
  171. Desiring the impossible gives rise to suffering It is also the root of many failed IT projects. When undertaking a IT project, you have the duty to question authority, to push back. Ask questions, rather than voice objections. Why is this the deadline? What if it isn’t met? What do you really need, and by when? What assumptions are you making? What would you give up to get what what you really need? Will we have the right resources at the right time?
  172. The Good, The Bad, The Continuous Improvement: We learn at least as much from bad experience as we do from good. Yet, blaming, fear of punishment and models like “I’m so smart, how can I make mistakes” lead us to avoid looking at and learning from our mistakes. Continuous improvement begins with the candid acceptance of the existing situation, particularly its flaws. If you don’t accept what is, you can’t change it.
  173. How to Push Back when Negotiating: When pushing back to negotiate a rational schedule and budget you need solid footing. Come to the table with a well articulated plan, complete with assumptions. Use your communication, task definition, estimating, scheduling, and risk management skills and knowledge to offer realistic alternatives. Seek win-win solutions. What if you are forced to accept an irrational schedule or budget? Try to do your best to negotiate expectations that can be met given the IT project’s scope, resources, and risks. Do your best to work within the IT project’s real-world conditions.

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