Anytime you see the words large scale combined with seven challenges in one article title should give the reader pause. The word solutions in the title can be an obvious path to success for large, complex information technology (IT) projects. But first, we need to understand what a large-scale IT project is.
Large-Scale IT Projects and Their Scope
In short, a large-scale IT project is any project that threatens the continued existence of a business if the project fails. This definition covers any scenario involving large-scale IT projects.
When we specifically focus on an IT project, the project can consist of a wide area network (WAN) with one or more metropolitan area networks (MANs) or local area networks (LANs) inside a WAN. A large-scale IT project can also be a complex rewrite or creation of a complex IT application using DevOps best practices.
How Large-Scale IT Project Challenges Have Changed
Regardless of size and scope, a large-scale project’s constraints are still time, project scope, and budget. The most prominent challenge project managers face today is working in a distributed work environment with stakeholders in different geographic locations and time zones.
The COVID-19 lockdown period accelerated remote working, and now, remote work is an option many companies still offer. Employees involved in a project as a stakeholder may routinely find themselves taking their laptop home and logging into a collaboration tool at 8 p.m. on the West Coast for a London meeting at noon if they work for an international company.
Another influence that impacts projects today is the effective use of artificial intelligence (AI) and the required project management skills to take advantage of AI technology. In addition, smart environments with the Internet of Things (IoT), deep geographical information systems (GIS), and augmented reality (AR) require project teams to have those skill sets embedded in the group.
What is Challenging for Project Managers in Working on Large-Scale IT Projects?
One of the biggest challenges in working on a large-scale IT project is scope creep.
Solution: The first step is clearly defining what the IT project is supposed to accomplish. The accomplishments can be written in a mission statement with actionable verbs, or the project manager (PM) can list three goals using actionable verbs that clearly show what the IT project is supposed to accomplish.
Go in-depth on the various factors that contribute to scope creep. | project-management.com
Vague goals and requirements
To prevent scope creep, project managers must have definitive requirements about what needs to be accomplished versus vague requirements. For example, having a requirement to run a batch job weekly is vague, so a requirement must list the day of the week and the time the batch job will be run.
Solution: Specificity and clarity are necessary to prevent scope creep and to state concrete requirements that produce tangible results.
Timely communication is the key to effective communication. As soon as a team member has a hint a milestone may be missed, that fact must be communicated to the PM.
Solution: Use collaboration tools to make sending messages to the entire project team easier. Select a collaboration tool with a highlight feature to message in red, signifying the message as a priority, or use a unique character next to a person’s name to get their attention.
Learn more about the crucial role project management software plays in organizational communications for large-scale projects. | project-management.com
Limited involvement of stakeholders
Stakeholders need to attend all meetings to avoid issues that may have already been addressed in previous meetings. Going over a topic already discussed in an earlier meeting can eventually cause a delay in meeting a project milestone.
Solution: All stakeholders involved in a project need to sign the project charter that states active participation is required. Additionally, a stakeholder’s first-line supervisor must sign the project charter acknowledging the importance of involvement from the section. Assigning an alternate to participate in the meeting if the primary person cannot increase the likelihood of one hundred percent participation in every meeting.
Lack of required skills from team members
Team leaders need to be sure their team members keep up to date on new and emerging skill sets. For example, if AR is being used to demonstrate the design of a data center to a group of key stakeholders, the multi-million dollar project can be in jeopardy if project team members lack the skills to work within the R environment and guide stakeholders through the project’s key points.
Solution: Part of requirements gathering is knowing what skills are needed from start to finish of any proposed project. Using a project initiation plan will help identify skills required for a project.
Lack of risk management practices
Complex large-scale IT projects are susceptible to something going wrong at some point. Hence, risk management involves having foresight, predicting what may go wrong during the life cycle of a project, and having contingency plans.
Solution: Implement a project risk management system that identifies potential risks and the mitigation of those risks.
Read more about the elements of risk inherent to any project, regardless of its scale | project-management.com
Lack of accountability
One or two team members not fulfilling their task assignments can derail the whole project and impact the team’s morale.
Solution: Using a project tool that shows responsibilities and assignments available for all to access helps foster accountability. Also, having regular meetings that allow team members to talk freely about project progress fosters accountability.
What Tools Do PMs Use for Regular IT Projects, and Are They the Same as Large-Scale IT Projects?
Complex IT projects require detailed reports, timely and effective collaboration, and milestone functional test points. But before discussing project management tools, project managers must use project management best practices. Let’s review the best practices:
- Hold a project kickoff meeting
- Clarify the project purpose
- Communicate constantly with project stakeholders
- Formalize project roles
- Create a detailed work plan
- Define quality standards throughout the project life cycle
- Create a risk response team
- Document everything
- Schedule routine check-ins with team and sponsors, and get feedback from all members
- Manage scope creep
Organizations may use various best practice concepts, but the idea is to have a best practice plan that will meet the anticipated needs of the large-scale IT project.
What Are the Key Tools for Large-Scale Projects?
Once best practice items are defined, you want to select tools that will help your IT project stay on schedule.
Gantt charts show phases, tasks, and milestones. Gantt charts help project teams plan work, define deadlines, and allocate resources. Gantt charts can be used for any project, but they are ideal for simplifying complex project information.
The logic network shows the sequence of events throughout the project. Project managers can also add time to each activity to calculate the project duration. In addition, logic networks help PMs understand a project’s dependencies and identify milestones and a project’s critical path.
PERT (Program Evaluation and Technique) charts analyze the tasks involved in completing a project. PERT charts also focus on the time needed to complete tasks and identify a critical path.
Work breakdown structures (WBS)
Work breakdown structures are used to show the deliverables needed to complete a project. The deliverables are broken down into smaller units that are scheduled and assigned to a person with a cost associated with the smaller units.
What Impact has Remote or Hybrid Work Had on Large-Scale IT Projects?
Remotely working does impact productivity. Project teams feel motivated when working in offices conducive to doing work and having daily meetings with project managers. When your home environment does not have an office space for work, it’s easier to be disengaged. Screen fatigue enhances disengagement if project team members must sit in front of a computer all day. Technical problems can also be a nuisance and impact work productivity.
Daily communication that outlines project tasks helps keep the project on track. When required, end-of-the-day meetings may be necessary. Providing employees opportunities to talk with mental health staff can keep productivity high and offer a safe place to speak freely without embarrassment or punishment. Employees need to stop working when it’s time to get off work; if not, this can lead to burnout.
What Skills Are Needed to Complete a Large-Scale IT Project?
One mandatory skill a project team must have is a person with a project management professional (PMP) certification, and this person is usually the project manager. Soft skills are rarely mentioned, but all good managers have these soft skills:
- Empathy is needed to read people in situations and adapt to certain situations as well as to connect and build trust with others.
- Emotional intelligence allows managers to gauge their emotions and build professional relationships.
- Emotional control allows managers to control and regulate their emotions, especially when they are under pressure and stress rises. Managing stress levels while under pressure helps managers make better decisions.
- Communication skills involve more listening and observing rather than talking. Good communication skills include observing non-verbal communication, and after assimilating what was said and observed, managers intelligently address the topic.
- Self-awareness means knowing yourself and identifying skills you may not possess, but willing to work on improving any lacking skills you identified.
During the initial planning of a project, whether it’s formalizing project roles or creating a detailed plan, software and technical skills should be covered early in the planning process. What is needed for a project depends on the IT project, but it’s covered early and thoroughly documented. A project charter signed by a chief information officer (CIO) or chief executive officer (CEO) signifies the organization supports the project with the required resources.