How to Tackle a BIG Tech Project

By | 2013/09/19

If you are lucky, you only have ONE really big tech project to manage, like ERP implementation or a huge integration project. If you have several going at once, it is even more important to stay focused on the most important tasks first.

We know to break big projects down into smaller tasks, but how exactly does one do this and can it be done wrong?

The very first step should be to identify the ultimate goal/objective. I like to establish a project vision statement. What does success look like for this project? What are we ultimately trying to accomplish? If we don’t have a clear idea of the end-result, no amount of project management planning will make the project succeed. If we can’t identify the target, we’re not likely to hit it.

At this stage of the project, it’s tempting to want to nail down every detail that comes along. However, while the devil may indeed be in the details, brought in too soon those details may derail you from accurately defining the objectives. For example, I’ve seen countless custom web development projects get derailed by design issues way too early in the process. When mapping out objectives, the exact color and placement of the logo isn’t critical to defining the purpose of the application. Yet, I’m  surprised by how frequently these types of discussions are the focus of the up-front effort.

Here are some questions to ask during the first stages of a tech project:

  • Who “owns” the project? While there may be several project stakeholders, who is the ultimate owner (where does the buck stop)?
  • Why are we doing this project? Does the entire team understand the purpose? Is it primarily about boosting sales, or enhancing customer satisfaction, or streamlining a process, or something else entirely?
  • What system architectures and components are involved in this project? An integration project may involve multiple architectures and programming languages, requiring varying skill sets. A web application may require a separate database with optimization skills not necessarily found in your average .NET developer.  A network project may have security implications that require additional considerations. In any technical project, there are a handful of very high-level components that must be identified early in order to properly determine the overall scope.
  • What types of resources are required to complete our end of the project? Do we have the resources in-house, or must we find external talent?
  • What involvement is required outside of our portion of the project? Technology projects often include people external to our organization – vendors, software support personnel, hardware providers, end-consumers, external clients. We may have no control over these people. How will those relationships be managed?
  • What risks exist?  How might external contacts influence the project? Are there portions of the project that are inherently risky?

Eventually, the real work on the project begins. If you understand the absolute purpose of the project, you’ll be in the best position to keep the project on track, by ensuring every decision contributes to moving the team toward the goal.

One of my favorite project management ebooks is Getting Real by 37Signals. It’s targeted to application developers, but has great practical tips for anyone managing technical projects.  Staying focused on the primary vision and ignoring details early in the process are two easy ways to manage your projects to success.

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