Managing Information Systems Projects

Technology has advanced over the years and is changing the way businesses operate.  New projects are being initiated to move from independent systems into ERP systems, and some companies are even utilizing the internet and intranet.  Companies are building apps for mobile devises to attract new customers or streamline information.  With the changes in technology business must adapt and plan projects to maintain or achieve competitive advantage.  In this article I will describe the process of managing information systems projects and the skills needed to effectively manage these projects. 
Projects & Project Management Skills
The way a project is managed can determine its failure or success.  The responsibility of the project manager is to initiate, plan, execute, and close the project within budget and time constraints.  Successful project managers tend to maintain quality workers and manage resources efficiently.  They should be technical leaders that can solve problems through effective management and social skills (soft skills).  Project managers must be able to leverage their skills to meet these qualifications:
  • Customer's Needs or Requirements
  • Time and Resource Constraints
  • Manage People
  • Communication
  • Documentation
  • Methodologies
  • Organizational or Technological Changes
Projects, which are planned activities that have a beginning and an end, are created to solve a problem or help the business to gain a competitive advantage.  An example of a project that creates a competitive advantage could be the development of apps for mobile phones so customers could have access to relevant information.  The business can service the customer faster, easier, and more accurately than others in the same industry.  Many of the internal projects are formed to fix problems within the department systems of accounting, sales, inventory, or other business department systems.  Any proposed project must be analyzed by the project manager to make sure that the project is beneficial to the company both financially and operationally.  Which projects that are chosen and initiated by firms are usually decided based upon by the company's management policies on which projects are acceptable and which projects are not.

Keeping IT spending under control is a constant struggle for CIOs. But it's not an impossible task. Here are some of the most common reasons for budget overruns, and reasons may fail along with some potential solutions. 1. Ineffective Communication During the Budgeting Process. 2. Overconfidence at The Outset of Projects. 3. Scope Creep. 4. Overreliance on Silver Bullet Solutions to Cost Cutting. 5. Lack of Discipline Around Costs for Existing Systems.  (Reference 20)

Project Management Process
For this section of the document I will describe the project management process as stated in the 'Modern Systems Analysis and Design', by Jeffrey Hoffer, Joey George, and Joseph Valacich text and compare the text to other resources which will be cited throughout.  The basis of the project management process will still follow that of the text as this is the basis for this document.  Based on the text the project management process consists of four steps which also have sub-steps which are:



                        1. Initiating the project
                        2. Planning the project
                        3. Executing the project
                        4. Closing the project



"Managing a project can be very time consuming and inefficient, especially as the complexity of projects increase. For example, managing a project may involve determining and acquiring resources (e.g., workers, materials, and/or equipment) needed to complete the project, scheduling the project, making sure that various tasks are completed on schedule, and keeping the project on budget." (Referance 12)
Initiating the Project:
Once a project has been initiated, preparing the projects scope is the first step in the project management process. 'Project Scope' is the sum of all the work needed to complete a project; or the material, resources, and time needed to deliver the product or service.
"Good scope management ensures that all the work required, and only the work required to complete the project, is included in the project. As a Project Manager it is your responsibility to ensure effective scope management throughout the life of your project. By applying a well planned and structured approach to scope management you can ensure this. This Scope Management Plan Template will help you to start planning the scope management process for your project." (Resource 8)
A project manager must have the skills to determine the project scope. Determining the project's scope is part of the initiating a project step in the project management process.  There are 6 steps to initiate a project, these steps are as follows:
  1. Establishing the project team - Project managers must select people that have the skills needed to help in completing the project.  A project team can be as small as two people, usually the project manager and the customer, or the team may be larger depending on the scope of the project.
  2. Establishing a relationship with the customer - Project managers must be able to understand the needs of a customer.  To create a good working environment with the customer, project managers must maintain good open communications and build trust.  Some companies have departments that serve as interpreters for the business.  The purpose of the interpreter is to help facilitate meetings with the customer and the MIS department resources, as well as translate the business needs/desires into technical terms that the MIS department can understand.
  3. Establishing the project initiation plan - During the initiating process of a project phase, the project manager must obtain a written request of the project and any documentation of the current processes. The project manager must also define how and when the team communicates, give a list of tasks and assignments, and create a timetable in which all the steps of the project are to be completed.
  4. Establishing management procedures - The project manager must effectively drive the team's communication, reporting, job assignments, and project changes.  Along with these tasks the project manager must also deal with the funding and billing of the project.  Some companies already have pre-written policies and procedures the project managers must abide by.
  5. Establishing the project management environment and project workbook - The most important part of this step is to update the project workbook throughout the project.  The workbook helps all the parties involved in the project from the customer to the project team by listing the plans for the project.  It includes the data flow diagrams (inputs & outputs), procedures, and standards. 
  6. Developing the project charter - The project charter is a document that lists what the project will deliver for the customer.  This is usually a one page document which includes:
        • Project title
        • Authorization date
        • Project manger
        • Customer
        • Estimated Beginning and End dates
        • Stakeholders
        • Assignments & Responsibilities
        • Project Objectives
        • Assumptions
Planning the Project
Project planning ultimately affects the execution and the outcome of a project.  As discussed earlier, companies that have departments to help facilitate team meetings and translate the business needs into technical terms, help the project managers to monitor the project.  The departments may help manage any changes to the project, and update the progress of the plan.  This allows the project manager more time to evaluate the resources needed to complete the rest of the project and create the short and long term plan for the remainder of the project.  During these meetings the project manager can assess risks and scope creep, that tend to slow the project down.  The project manager has many functions during this phase, most of which are as follows:
  1. Describing Project Scope, Alternatives, and Feasibility - The project manager must know what the problem is and how complex the project will be.  The project manager must have a idea of what the project will look like, how to get there and how to track the performance of the project.  This is basically the scope of the project.  Alternative solutions are generated after the scope and are usually documented by the project manager.  Finanlly the project manager must assess each solution to make sure that the project fits in the constraints of the business.
  2. Dividing the Project into Manageable Tasks - This step in planning the project is where the tasks are identified individually and organized in a sequential fashion.  A task is work that is to be completed by one person with knowable objectives that can be easily measured.  Tasks should not be shorter than one-half day and not longer than a few weeks, to reduce complexity of the project.  A Gantt chart is one way to display the tasks through a horizontal bar graph usually organized by start and end dates.  Some tasks require the completion of another task while others can be started at the same time.  Managers will need to update the chart to be able to clearly see how close or far a project is from completion.   

  3. Estimating Resources and Creating a Resource Plan - Once the tasks have been identified and organized project managers must plan for the resources it will take to accomplish the tasks.  To be most effective managers must understand how many resources are needed and for what amount of time.  People and time are two costly resources in a project.  A frequently used method or tool that managers use to apply the resources to specific tasks is COCOMO (COnstructive COst MOdel).  COCOMO uses information from prior projects to help managers plan the resources needed for the current project.  Managers must assign these tasks to individuals that they feel can complete the assignment, as well as allow them to develop new skills for future projects with out slowing the project down.
  4. Developing a Preliminary Schedule - In this step, the project manager puts together a timeline of the tasks and the resources needed to complete the project for a client/customer.  These dates can be modified and adjusted until the terms and timeline are agreed apon by the client/customer.  The dates or timlines can be reflected on a Gantt Chart or in other documents that are presented to the client/customer.
  5. Developing a Communication Plan - Communication is crutial to the success of a project and the project manager.  At this step, the manager prepares a set of guidelines on how and when information is reported.  Project managers must coordinate the work and inform the stakeholders that will be affected by the project.  When preparing a communication plan the project manager must answer these questions:
      • Who are the stakeholders?
      • What information should be provided to the stakeholders?
      • How often and when does information need to be reported?
      • Who will gather, generate, collect, store, and verify the integrity of the information reports?
      • Who will organize the reports?
      • Who will be the contact points for the questions that are generated throughout the project?
      • What tools of communication will be used to send information to the stakeholders?
  6. Determining Project Standards and Procedures - The project manager is responsible for the finished product which includes documentation/procedures and the listing of the different tools used in the project.  This will help in training the customer and in cross training.  The technical documentation can also help new team members understand what the product is supposed to do and what the code is actually doing in the operation.
  7. Identifying and Assessing Risk - It is up to the project manager to identify and assess the project risks.  These risks can be met with resistance to change, to new technology, to limited resources. or even changes to the project.  Project managers need to identify these risks throughout the project in order to determine the consequences and take actions that can help reduce these risks.
  8. Creating a Preliminary Budget - Project managers must determine the cost/expense budget for the project.  The manager must prepare a Cost-Benefit analysis to justify the project and show how it is beneficial to the business or customer.
  9. Developing a Project Scope Statement - This is a summary of the size, duration, and outcomes of the project for the stakeholders.
  10. Setting a Baseline Project Plan - The last step in the planning process of the project is to estimate the tasks and resources needed to execute the plan.  This serves as a check on all the 9 steps completed prior to the baseline project plan.  If the baseline project plan varies, then the manager must identify the change in the project and repeat the project planning process before proceding to the execution process.

Executing the Project
The third stage in managing a project is to effectively execute the project to the plan.  The analysis, design, and implementation phases are the main activities that occur during this stage.  The activities that project managers conduct during this phase are as follows:
  1. Executing the Baseline Project Plan - Project managers are to execute the plan by assigning tasks to team members, train new members, expect the quality of the completed parts, and to keep the project from falling behind.  The project manager manages the execution thorugh regular team meetings.  Project status meetings are held to determine risks and completions of tasks.  Team Review meetings are held to identify the quality of the completed tasks.  There are many other meetings the project manager will elect to have to help with executing the project to the baseline project plan.
  2. Monitoring Project Progress against the Baseline Project Plan - Depending on the risks identified throughout team meetings, the project manager my need to make changes to the tasks, budget, or the allocation of the resources to deliver a successful project.  Monitoring these tasks helps identify risks as well as give the project manager time to react to the situation at the time of the risk.  Project managers have meetings to discuss risks and how to avoid them in the future.
  3. Managing Changes to the Baseline Project Plan - Throughout every project thare are many reasons that change the execution of the baseline project plan.  Some of these changes are requested by the customer, changes that are due to schedule slips, or other unforseen reasons.  Project managers must be able to react to any of these changes in the project to allow them to get back on schedule, or discuss with the customer about the change in the plan and the cost impact of the changes.
  4. Maintaining the Project Workbook - As discussed in the initiating phase this workbook is to record all the progress and documentation of the project.  This will also give insight to the reasons for any changes or the risks that may occur throughout the project.
  5. Communicating the Project Status - The project manager is responsible for communicating the status of the project to any neccessary stakeholders throughout the execution process.  This can be done in many modes of communication, but creating project meetings is generally the best practice.  Most of the information passed along to the stakeholders are the results of the tasks and the plan.  Communication is changing in the world today, many are looking to social media such as Facebook or Twitter to transmit information.  Instant Messaging is another newer technology that is being utilized for communication within a team, and Skype is becoming a new way to conduct long distance meetings. (Resource 15)
Closing Down the Project
Project managers must bring projects to final closure.  There are two types of project closedowns which are natural termination and unnatural termination.  Natural termination is the successful completion of a project which meets all the requirements of the customer.  Unnatural termination is the unplanned or cancelation of an existing project.  There can be many reasons that a project manager would terminate a project before completion, such as performance, inadequate information, or the project is no longer deemed needed by the customer, but the main reason projects are terminated before completion is due to the lack of time and/or funds.  If a project is naturally or unnaturally terminated project managers must perform several duties during this phase of project management, such as:
  1. Closing Down the Project - This signifies the end of the project.  Project managers must reassign their resources as well as give the team members feedback on their performance. Project managers can give praise and credit to the employee's file, give carrer advise, or terminate employees based on their performance in the project.  This can be difficult during a non-successful project.  The next step is to communicate the completion of the project to the client/customer as well as other stakeholders.  The final step in closing down the project is to finalize all the documentation and the expenses incurred.
  2. Conducting Postproject Reviews - After the project has been closed down the management and customers must meet to discuss what went well in the project and what did not go well.  Identifing the problems and the successes of the project may be easy, but determining how the project could have been done better can sometimes take more thought.
  3. Closing the Customer Contract - This is where all parties must sign a document that states that all parties agree that the project has been completed as described in the initial phase (contract) and that there are no obligations or duties left for the project manager or the team to fulfill in the contract.