4 IT Project Management Tips for SMBs

How to save costs and meet deadlines on your next big IT project.

Your business has built up a nice nest egg of profits, and you’re ready to invest some of that capital back into your business by upgrading your IT infrastructure. This is an exciting decision, and it’s likely you’ll see some good returns on that investment as your new IT systems improve efficiency, strengthen security, and expand your company’s capabilities.

But IT projects have a troubling tendency to go over budget and blow past deadlines—a major concern for any business. You don’t want to see your entire savings taken over by this one project, especially if it takes a while to recoup the investment.

Fortunately, when it comes to underlying factors that cause an IT project to run amok, there are some clear culprits that you can head off through efficient project management practices. Here’s a few tips to help you keep your project on track.

1. Chose a primary contact and project manager for your team.

Any good IT contractor will have a technical lead whose job it is to manage their team and ensure the project moves forward smoothly. That person will likely be the person most frequently in contact with your company, and you want to make sure that they can get any information they need quickly and efficiently. You also want to ensure that information they pass on reaches the right channels in a timely manner.

If you don’t have a designated contact running the project, your contracting team will lose time running from one person to another, trying to find someone who can answer their questions. Or, they may pass on important information to the wrong person, causing miscommunications and delays.

As the owner of your company, you may want to be the lead contact yourself, but you should consider whether you have the bandwidth to manage an IT project. If you know you’ll be travelling or in meetings a lot during the course of the project, you should delegate the job to someone who is more accessible.

2. Decide whether to take an agile approach or stick with a traditional structure.

Agile project management has been the name of the game for many years, but that doesn’t make it suitable for every project. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, it essentially means transforming the relationship client-contractor relationship to focus more on a collaborative partnership that can evolve to meet unforeseen challenges rather than a rigid plan that can’t adapt.

This sounds like a good idea, and in many cases it works exceptionally well. But it’s not fool proof. Just as agile management is designed to cut through red tape and help project teams react faster and with greater flexibility, it can also remove the guard rails, causing a project to run off course.

Agile management works best for you if you already expect there to be project changes. In this way, it can help you plan for the unexpected by recognizing that the project scope and/or objectives will need to be revised based on information you learn as the project progresses. However, for projects that have a defined scope of work and a clearly planned sequence of steps, it’s better to stick to traditional project management methods.

3. Plan enough time for system testing and employee training.

Some companies expect to their IT project to run as smoothly as installing a lightbulb. You put the system in, flip a switch, and it runs perfectly. However, IT projects are usually more complicated than this, especially if they involve multiple integrated systems, or if there is software and training involved.

Your contracting team will run tests on their end to ensure everything is running smoothly, but you should also plan to test your new IT system on your own end before you sign off on the project. Furthermore, if your employees require training in how to use the new system, remember to budget that into your project expenditures.

4. Stay grounded and avoid overly optimistic budgeting and scheduling.

Finally, don’t talk yourself into a project by underestimating the costs both in time and expense. It can be tempting to map out a timeline based on wishful thinking rather than reality, then find yourself in a challenging situation when your project inevitably runs past those deadlines.

Instead, talk through project milestones with your contractor at the start of a project and learn from them what they need to make the project run on time. If you have obligations to meet on your end in order to complete the project on time, make sure you’re planning enough time for yourself as well

This is often a case with larger construction projects, where you’re working with an IT company and a building company at the same time. Your IT contractors will want to be part of that planning process, so that the IT system can be incorporated into the building during the renovation work. But for that to be successful, they will need to coordinate closely with the construction team, and any delays on one end will affect the other. Remember to plan for these contingencies so they don’t take you off guard.

The right IT project management can lead your business to success.

Despite some of the horror stories you hear, IT projects don’t have to be a train wreck. Many projects end up in a bad place because of poor planning and communication—a problem especially common in the IT industry, due to the complex technical nature of the work. Companies that move forward with a project based on misconceptions about the industry as a whole are likely to be unpleasantly surprised when things don’t go as planned.

This is why it’s especially important to find an IT partner who can work closely and transparently with your business. Make sure you understand everything your project entails before you start, and look for a company that doesn’t hesitate to explain their procedures to you from start to finish. When you know what to expect, there’s little that can take you off guard.

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