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Why IT Needs Program Management not Project Management

By Andrew Townsend

TheServerSide.com

It’s not easy being a project manager.

According to various industry surveys, ranging from a 2007 Dynamic Markets Limited survey to last year’s Java Trends Survey that was done through TheServerSide.com, over 50% of IT projects fall behind schedule, 50% go over budget and more than 40% don’t deliver the business value that end users were expecting. And it gets even worse. Apparently, one out of four software projects simply gets cancelled after getting started. Given, there is no shame in putting the kibosh on a project every once in a while, but if you're scuttling 25% of your work, you know that there is something seriously wrong with the project management process.

Factors that make IT prone to project pitfalls

One of the big problems with the IT development process is that speed is often given priority over other considerations. The fact that so many highly agile project management methodologies have been created specifically for the IT field is evidence of this mind set. Flexibility and efficiency are good, but the emphasis on shaving a schedule to the bone leads to unrealistic timelines and missed deadlines.

This failure to plan and allocate enough time for each scheduled activity - especially quality assurance - is a factor that often leads to the other nemesis of project management: budget overruns. IT spends a huge amount of resources fixing problems.That money could be put to better use by preventing problems in the first place.

Finally, when an IT project does fail, it’s easier to ignore this fact or sweep it under the rug compared to other industries. After all, the “stuff” that was created typically exists as vaporware that by its inherent nature can be made to disappear. There is no half-built, Ryugyong Hotel, sitting out in the open where everyone can see it. Rather than introspecting and deconstructing what went wrong, it’s always easier to jump onto a different project in the hopes that the fragrant smell of a quick “win” will make up for the horrid smell of a prior failure.

Program Management Offices offer a real solution

Maybe instead of project management, the IT world should be thinking about program management as a step toward correcting the aforementioned issues. Program management is used in large organizations that run multiple projects simultaneously. But the principles can also be applied in situations where you manage projects consecutively. This approach takes both a broad and long view of how projects are administered. To stop the cycle of ballooning budgets, blown deadlines, and busted expectations, it’s imperative to:

  • Determine your actual business objectives so you can undertake proper goal alignment. Decide how things should be done to achieve these goals (policies), outline what actual steps to take (processes), and describe why you are doing these things (principles).
  • Look at all completed, cancelled, current, and anticipated projects as part of a complete portfolio. That way, you can identify recurring problems and start developing preventive techniques instead of just “after-the-fact” fixes. This type of strategic planning can boost the success rate of all future projects.
  • Put fair and logical rules in place to govern resource allocation if your organization runs multiple projects concurrently. This is especially critical if there is more than one project manager in your organization. The person with the strongest personality may end up hogging resources whether they need them or not.
  • Create benchmarking standards that will be used to evaluate the progress and success of all projects (and the performance of project managers). Benchmarking is essential for creating accountability. Project metrics should be based on data that is relevant to business objectives, verifiable, repeatable, and cost effective to collect. Subjective responses can be used in addition to objective numbers as long as they are interpreted using some type of consistent framework.

One way that program management is implemented in the IT industry is through the creation of a Program Management Office (PMO). This approach puts one person or a group of people in a position to be ultimately responsible for how projects are administered.

It takes time, but the results are worth it

Businesses that implement a PMO typically report a significant improvement in project success rates. The longer a PMO is in place, the better the results. A study from the Center for Business Practices reported that a mature Program Management Office supports project completion on schedule and on budget almost 65% more often than a brand new PMO. So, the next time you discuss the budget for IT projects with your company executives, consider asking for resources to establish a PMO. You don’t want your organization contributing to the dismal statistics for IT project failure when you could be a success story instead.

06 Jun 2011

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