The vast majority of CTOs have been involved in at least one torturous IT project. The larger the project, the more potential for mismanagement, meaning big projects all too often run over budget, sail past crucial deadlines and cause huge stress to all involved.
We’ve identified five of the most common mistakes made by IT project managers under pressure, and key advice on how to avoid them:
Not being clear on priorities
It’s very rare for an IT department to just be running a single project. Most have a few on the go concurrently, which can lead to team members tackling less crucial projects while more challenging – and also more urgent – tasks are allowed to slide.
It’s down to the project manager to keep staff abreast of which tasks need to be prioritised, and to do so on a regular basis. Communication, as always, is king. Periodic updates on a project’s most critical tasks will save a huge amount of hassle further down the road.
Not holding an initial meeting
While it can be tempting just to dive into a heavy project with just email communication, an initial, face to face meeting with the whole team is invaluable. Expectations can be clearly defined, roles and responsibilities laid out and a sense of accountability instilled in every stakeholder. A couple of hours now can save you days of confused headaches in the long run.
Forgetting about people power
It’s all too easy for CTOs or project managers to zone in on time pressures, quality, budget and scope, while forgetting about the people who are actually going to do the work involved. As always, it’s essential to find a balance between managing effectively and micromanaging – you’ll reap the rewards in quality, results and minimal delays.
Again, it all comes down to communication. If everyone – from sponsors and suppliers to team members and other stakeholder – has a clear understanding of their roles, everyone will share a similar vision and damaging errors can be curtailed.
Getting carried away with changes
Most IT managers will have experienced the phenomenon known as ‘scope creep’ at some point in their careers. It’s when constant new requests and supplementary features start to impact a project’s vision, and is recognised as an insidious issue in project management. Before you know it, a whole project can be irretrievably compromised.
Combat the problem by asking the same questions for every new feature. Are they consistent with the project’s vision? Are they genuinely valuable or just suggested on a whim? If you can make sure you keep a determined eye on project objectives, you’ll save a lot of time later on.
Lack of pragmatism
While a clear project vision is essential, you’ll also want to ensure you remain pragmatic where necessary. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, something unforeseen happens or a project goes horribly wrong.
Yet again, timely communication can save the day before it gets to crisis point. If you keep stakeholders up to date with the information they need to make prompt decisions – budget changes, resource adjustments or deadline expectations – you’ve allowed time for a change of course that might just save a project.
Ever gone into work with a splitting headache or horrendous back pain? Maybe you’re one of thousands of tech employees who’s stayed in the office past 10pm, getting very little done, just so as not to appear a slacker? Presenteeism – showing up to work for the sake of appearances when you’re ill or otherwise not performing at optimum levels – is as big a problem as ever. Report after report shows that the phenomenon costs organisations billions in profits every year in lost hours, with tech companies of all scales especially prone. So what can CTOs and senior IT managers do to minimise presenteeism? Here’s our top five suggestions:
Look past appearances
We’ve all had colleagues who are capable of Oscar-worthy performances when it comes to their apparent productivity. “God,” they exclaim, when another employee arrives for work at 9am, “I’m wiped, been here since 7 this morning.”
A 2015 study conducted at a US management consultancy firm found that 31 percent of men and 11 percent of female employees had mastered this art of appearing to be workaholics. These workers had taken to subterfuge in order to meet corporate expectations – disappearing from the office without telling anyone, for example, or secretly making arrangements with colleagues so they could spend time with family. Worryingly, the tactics worked. These ‘shirking’ workers were perceived as equally as productive as their genuinely hard working colleagues, and rewarded accordingly. To avoid this highly damaging problem, it’s down to bosses to encourage and implement humane hours and to keep track of real productivity levels in an appropriate way.
Get to the root of the problem
Unrealistically high workloads can all too easily lead to employees avoiding taking time off, fearing that they’re likely to burden colleagues and/or return to the office with a daunting mountain of work to get through. It’s down to senior managers to combat this issue – support, communication and realistic distribution of tasks are absolutely key to reducing work-related stress and all the problems it brings. Look to companies such as Google and Appster for tech company-specific tactics for dealing with it successfully and dynamically, from workplace venting sessions to company-sponsored fitness programs.
Flexible working means increased productivity
Successfully implemented flexible working policies have been shown time and again to have a huge impact on presenteeism. Despite common perceptions, it’s not just working parents who can benefit from genuine workplace flexibility – if it’s done right, studies have shown that it increases productivity and profits, while reducing stress and presenteeism. There’s plenty of guidance out there at various levels for forward-thinking companies looking to try it for themselves, from set ‘no meeting’ days to full blown abolition of prescribed office hours.
While the notion of a Bring Your Own Device policy is sound enough in theory, creating a clear and effective set of rules for your organisation can be easier said than done. The specifics of a BYOD strategy will necessarily vary from company to company, but there are a few basic questions they all need to answer. What happens if a device is lost or someone leaves the organisation? What strategies should be put in place to protect devices from external eyes? Which applications and data can be accessed, and by whom? With this in mind, we’ve put together the most important points for CTOs to bear in mind when writing a BYOD policy:
Your first port of call is to identify precisely which functions can be accessed by which users. It’s also a good idea to specify what behaviours are considered acceptable – the company needs to ensure it’s protected from employees who may have illegal downloads or other illicit material on their machines, for example.
A decent BYOD policy contains clear rules as to which apps are prohibited and permitted. Whitelisting and blacklisting are the most popular ways to keep both the device and your organisation’s IT resources secure. Make sure your policy clearly states that the company has the right to prohibit particular apps, and should also ensure it covers firewall and other security settings, as well as any antivirus apps. The creation of a BYOD policy might necessitate a revision of a company’s whole security approach. It’s essential to be clear what information is sensitive, which approved employees are permitted to access which information in which circumstances, and what to do in the event of a breach. Now also is the time to familiarise yourself with the expanding range of mobile device management (MDM) tools, which allow for configuration, security and monitoring of tablets and smartphones.
While some companies are prepared to pay for monthly services and device costs, partially or in their entirety, others are more guarded over their purse strings. A decent BYOD policy needs to lay out what the company is and isn’t prepared to pay for. It’s possible to obtain a detailed breakdown of monthly phone and data usage from third party services, but it’s often more straightforward to just reimburse employees for a certain percentage of monthly charges.
This sounds obvious, but it’s vital to put a policy in writing for each device user. Not only does this protect companies in the event of a violation, it also makes employees more conscientious about their professional mobile usage. As with the entire policy, this agreement needs to be as clear as you can make it in order to avoid potential misunderstandings later down the road.