A guide to how to run a project – with takeaways

Implementing new software systems, developing technical infrastructure, and rolling out innovative technologies in an organisation requires careful planning and execution. While the fundamentals of project management apply universally, technology projects come with unique challenges and considerations.

This comprehensive guide will walk through the end-to-end project planning steps and best practises to set your next technology project up for success.

Step 1: Identify and Analyse Stakeholders

The first critical step in planning a technology project is identifying and analysing key stakeholders. Stakeholders refer to individuals and groups who may be impacted by, have influence over, or are interested in the project outcomes.

Some stakeholders to consider include:

  • Project sponsor: The executive or manager who initiates and funds the project. They define the overall project objectives, priorities, and acceptable levels of risk. Their support is critical to driving progress.
  • Project manager: This person oversees the planning and execution of the project. They coordinate team members, manage schedules and budgets, monitor progress, and report status to sponsors and stakeholders. Excellent communication and leadership skills are essential for this role.
  • Steering committee: For large, strategically important projects, forming a steering committee of executives and managers can provide guidance and help remove roadblocks. Committee members represent various business units and functions.
  • Development/technical team: The programmers, developers, IT professionals, and tech experts will design, build, test, implement and support the technology solution. Having the right technical skills on the team is imperative.
  • Departmental/functional managers: Managers of groups who will use the technology should be included to provide input on requirements, testing, training, and rollout.
  • End users: Employees who interact with the technology in their day-to-day work should be consulted early and often to ensure the solution meets their needs.
  • Outside vendors or consultants: External partners who provide software, components, or expertise for the project need to be integrated into plans and timelines.

To analyse stakeholders, identify their level of interest, influence, and potential impact on the project. Also, consider what each stakeholder needs or expects from the project. Highly influential stakeholders who may make or break the project should be managed closely.

Document a stakeholder register detailing each stakeholder’s role and critical considerations. Referring to this register helps manage relationships and align expectations throughout the project.

Step 2: Define Roles, Responsibilities and Decision Authority

Misunderstandings around roles and authority frequently derail projects. Before execution begins, clearly define who will do what on the project and who has decision-making authority over specific aspects.

Document roles and responsibilities in a RASCI matrix, which maps project activities and deliverables to individuals and groups. For each item, indicate who is:

  • Responsible (R) – owns doing the work
  • Accountable (A) – ultimately answerable for correct and on-time completion
  • Supportive (S) – provides resources or support for completion
  • Consulted (C) – provides input, feedback and expertise
  • Informed (I) – must be updated on progress or decisions

Beyond clarifying everyday tasks, the RASCI matrix should detail who has authority over project changes, approvals, financial decisions, resource assignments, and issue resolution. The project sponsor typically holds authority on strategic matters, while the project manager has authority over day-to-day tactical concerns. The steering committee often weighs in on priority conflicts or budget issues.

Clearly delineating decision authority upfront prevents delays from questions arising during the project. Review and update the RASCI matrix as needed if project team members or authority structures change.

Step 3: Develop a Project Charter

The project charter formally authorises the project and provides a preliminary definition of the scope and objectives. A clear charter sets expectations among the sponsor, project manager and other stakeholders. Elements to include:

Project purpose and justification: Succinctly explain the strategic business objectives and rationale for undertaking the project. Link to specific organisational goals and metrics, as applicable.

Scope overview: At a high level, describe the technology solution, system or capability to be created, and major components and functions.

Objectives and success criteria: Outline the desired business or technical outcomes, measurable goals, target benefits, and value. Include specific metrics that will define success and acceptance criteria.

Significant dependencies or constraints: List factors such as availability of resources or technology, organisational change readiness, and vendor relationships that may facilitate or impede the project.

Preliminary timeline and budget: Provide ballpark estimates for the total duration, budget, and resources required based on initial information. These will be refined during subsequent planning.

Risks: Note any visible high-level risks or assumptions that could impact the project.

Approval: Secure signed approval from the project sponsor and key stakeholders, indicating buy-in.

The charter provides a quick reference point for the core information needed to start the project. The charter can be updated as more details emerge.

Step 4: Conduct Project Kickoff

With the charter approved, officially kick off the project by bringing together all stakeholders for an initiation meeting. The kickoff achieves alignment on project objectives, expectations, processes, roles and next steps.

Suggested kickoff agenda:

Introductions – Allow team members to meet each other.

Review charter – Walk through the project purpose, scope, success measures and timeline at a high level.

Discuss objectives – Allow stakeholders, especially the users who requested the project, to voice goals and desired outcomes.

Clarify roles – Confirm responsibilities from the RASCI matrix. Address any gaps or questions.

Establish communication plan – Agree on communication channels, formats, and frequency for status updates, issue reporting, and approvals.

Review risks – Identify any initial concerns that could impact the project.

Questions and answers – Provide time for attendees to ask questions and raise issues early. Capture all questions and follow up if answers are not available during kickoff.

Next steps – Review immediate next steps and milestones on the horizon.

The project kickoff gets everyone on the same page and initiates project momentum. Follow up with meeting notes and minutes to document decisions and open issues.

Step 5: Define Detailed Project Scope

With high-level objectives aligned, the next essential step is defining the detailed project scope. The scope clearly defines what will and will not be delivered by the project.

Start by expanding on the description of the technology solution from the charter. Specify the required components, architecture, infrastructure, and integrations with other systems and technologies to be used. Detail the specific system capabilities, features and functions with granular requirements.

Identify any out-of-scope items that will not be included or delivered. List limitations and exclusions to manage expectations.

Define acceptance criteria that specify measurable outcomes and quality standards for deliverables to be deemed complete. For example:

  • System uptime meets 99.95% availability
  • Pages load in under 2 seconds
  • Integration with CRM updates records in real-time

Involve all stakeholders in providing input on scope. End-user input is invaluable in capturing detailed functional requirements. Prioritise must-have mandatory features separately from nice-to-have options in case of time or budget constraints later.

Document the finalised project scope in detail and obtain signoff from the sponsor and other stakeholders. The scope document becomes the benchmark to guide development work and evaluate completion. Review scope periodically throughout the project to verify it still aligns with business needs.

Step 6: Develop Detailed Project Schedule

With a clearly defined scope and deliverables, the next step is to break down the project into smaller tasks, activities and milestones to develop a detailed schedule.

Identify natural work phases and segments for the project. For technology projects, this typically includes:

  • Planning phase – Develop requirements, designs, plans, staffing
  • Development phase – Build, configure and customise technology components
  • Testing phase – Execute system, integration, user testing
  • Training phase – Train users and support staff
  • Deployment – Final implementation, rollout and support

Within each phase, determine the granular tasks, milestones, and work products required to complete the phase, again using the scope for reference. Assign owners to each task. Indicate task dependencies where the start or finish of one task impacts another.

Build a project schedule using Excel, project management software or Gantt charts to map tasks to a timeline. The schedule should specify task durations, sequencing and assignment. Schedule tools can auto-calculate start and finish dates based on dependencies and constraints.

Allow time for testing, rework, reviews, approvals and contingency. Have project team members provide time estimates for their own tasks. Build milestones to track multi-week or multi-month progress points.

Circulate the schedule to the full team for feedback. Once finalised, use the schedule to monitor progress versus plan regularly. Keep the detailed schedule updated as tasks are completed or changes occur.

Step 7: Estimate Project Costs and Create Budget

With the project scope and schedule defined, the next step is developing a project budget. Estimate projected costs for:

Labour: Calculate expected labour hours and costs based on the project team’s skillsets and schedule. Factor in resources for project management, analysis, development, testing, deployment and ongoing operations.

Technology: Include costs to purchase or license hardware, software, tools and other required technology components.

External services: Estimate costs for external contractors or specialists to supplement internal skills and bandwidth.

Training: Project expenses for training sessions, materials and resources to educate users and staff.

Other direct expenses: Equipment, travel, office supplies, overhead and any other incremental expenses required for the project.

Contingency reserve: Allocate extra funds, often 10-20% of total costs, to cover unforeseen expenses that emerge during execution.

Compare total projected costs against expected business benefits and value to be realised from the project. Obtain sponsor approval for the budget. Manage and track costs against the approved budget throughout the project. Request additional funds if needed for justified reasons.

Step 8: Plan Project Communication

Clear, constant communication ensures stakeholders remain engaged, aligned and informed. Develop a project communication plan specifying:

Communication channels: Select appropriate modes – email, instant messaging, meetings, intranet sites – to update, discuss and make decisions on project matters.

Content and frequency: Determine the type of information that will be shared and how often. Examples:

  • Weekly status reports via email
  • Daily 15-minute standup meetings for the dev team
  • Monthly steering committee presentations

Target audiences: Tailor content appropriately for different stakeholders and groups. Non-technical audiences need digestible updates.

Glossary: Define key project terms and acronyms used for consistent understanding.

Message templates: Create reusable templates for status updates, announcements and other standard communications.

Escalation processes: Define communication norms for handling risks, change requests, delays or other issues that require input.

Assign communication responsibilities to team members. Establish guides and standards for project emails, documentation and presentations to align messaging.

Follow the communication plan consistently. Solicit feedback to improve plan effectiveness. Frequent, high-quality communication builds trust and shared purpose among stakeholders.

Step 9: Identify and Manage Risks

Project risks refer to uncertain events that may impact the ability to achieve project objectives if they occur. For technology projects, some common risks include:

  • New, complex technology that doesn’t work as expected
  • Scope creep leading to uncontrolled changes
  • Unclear requirements causing rework
  • Inaccurate effort and resource estimates
  • Integration issues with existing systems
  • Lack of end-user adoption and change resistance

Identify potential risks using brainstorming, past project risk logs, and lessons learned data. Assess and prioritise risks based on the likelihood of occurring and potential impact. High-priority risks require proactive mitigation tactics, such as:

  • Conducting proof-of-concepts to test risky technologies
  • Freezing requirements early to prevent scope creep
  • Allocating extra time/budget to high-risk activities
  • Developing contingency plans for likely issues

Document risks and mitigations in a risk register that is regularly reviewed and updated during project execution. Discuss new or emerging risks at status meetings. Include risk management tasks in the project schedule, such as monitoring and re-assessment. Staying agile to address risks helps prevent small mishaps from becoming major problems.

Step 10: Assemble Project Team

A capable, well-resourced project team is critical for successfully delivering technology projects. Use the detailed project plan to identify required roles, skillsets and time commitments needed.

Assemble project teams considering factors such as:

  • Technical abilities: The team’s programmers, developers and technicians must possess the skills needed for the specific technology solution.
  • Subject matter expertise: Include team members with business knowledge related to the project. Their input helps ensure technical solutions meet business intent.
  • Experience: Veteran team members provide know-how to handle glitches that arise. Mix experienced and junior resources.
  • Availability: Confirm team members have sufficient time allotted for project work or adjust schedules/capacity if needed.
  • Culture and team dynamics: Build teams with solid communication, collaboration and problem-solving traits.
  • Scalability: Project demands may fluctuate. Allow the ability to add or reduce team size if required.

Define team norms and processes to work effectively across functions and departments. Provide training and professional development support to grow team capabilities. Recognise and reward contributions to nurture team engagement.

Step 11: Develop a Quality Management Plan

To deliver a high-quality technical solution, processes and standards for quality need to be established upfront. Define a quality management plan specifying:

  • Quality metrics: Identify measurable targets – such as system uptime, response time, and defect rate – that indicate quality for the project.
  • Reviews and testing: Establish signoff processes, quality audits, testing procedures, and user acceptance criteria.
  • Quality tools: Introduce tools or systems for managing defects, version control, CI/CD, automated testing, and code reviews.
  • Quality culture: Instill a shared commitment to quality by providing training, encouraging collaboration, and incentivising high standards.
  • Continual improvement: Analyze processes periodically for areas to enhance quality management. Root cause analysis defects to prevent recurrence.

Apply quality management systematically at each stage, from requirements through deployment. Conducting early technical reviews, defining “done-done” criteria for completion, and inspecting deliverables help ingrain quality. Empower team members to identify quality risks or non-conformances for open discussion. Following robust quality practices leads to solid project outcomes and satisfied stakeholders.

Step 12: Complete Targeted Planning

While foundational project planning provides direction, targeted planning around specific focus areas helps sail through project complexities:

Integration management: Detail how the technical solution will interface and integrate with existing infrastructure, apps, data sources and systems. Coordinate closely with IT support teams.

Scope management: Develop processes to control changes to scope that may arise after initial definition.

Vendor management: Outline selection criteria, contract terms, responsibilities and relationship management tactics for outside suppliers or contractors.

Training planning: Design training content for diverse end users and support staff learning needs.

Deployment planning: Construct data migration, testing, rollout, and go-live plans to transition to the new technology.

Support planning: Define ongoing support requirements for operations and maintenance post-launch.

While often treated as an afterthought, targeted planning in key areas lays the groundwork for smooth execution and rollout.

Step 13: Obtain Project Plan Approval

With detailed project plans in place after all prior steps, consolidate information into a master project plan that encompasses:

  • Project charter
  • Scope statement
  • Schedule/budget
  • Communication, risk, and quality plans
  • Staffing/team plan
  • Targeted specialty plans

Compile the plan in a format that makes it easy to reference key information. Share the consolidated plan with the project sponsor and steering team for approval. Gaining formal sign-off on the project roadmap before major work kicks off sets the stage for clarity and alignment.

Step 14: Conduct Phase Kickoffs

Even with thorough upfront planning, project dynamics evolve quickly once execution starts. Hold phase kickoff meetings before each major project phase to re-sync the team.

Sample agenda for phase kickoffs:

  • Recap phase objectives and scope
  • Review schedule, milestones, risks
  • Align on roles and responsibilities
  • Confirm communication protocols
  • Address open issues and questions
  • Identify resources or support needed
  • Provide training as needed

Phase kickoffs remind everyone about the big picture vision and prevent siloed work. Ad hoc check-ins and brainstorming sessions keep teams nimble to handle mid-course changes.

Step 15: Monitor and Control Project Execution

With detailed plans and rigorous kickoffs in place, projects then transition into delivering the actual work. Robust monitoring and control processes help track progress and close gaps:

Track status: Regularly collect task completion, milestone achievement, and metric-based project health data.

Share reports: Push reports, dashboards and analytics to keep stakeholders informed and highlight trends.

Facilitate decision-making: Escalate issues needing steering committee input promptly for decisions.

Manage changes: Follow change control processes for scope, schedule, costs or quality standards changes.

Address risks: Watch for emerging risks and triggers. Trigger mitigation tactics promptly.

Realign as needed: If projects veer off-track, manage changes in scope or timelines per stakeholder preferences.

Constant monitoring provides early warning signs to intervene before minor glitches escalate into problems. Mastering project control and adaptation enables flawless project delivery.

Step 16: Complete Project Closure

After project completion, a structured closure process provides valuable learnings for future success:

Conduct post-implementation review: Analyze project performance relative to objectives, quality, budget and timeline. Identify gaps and areas for improvement.

Document lessons learned: Note down challenges, surprises, techniques that worked well and recommendations for enhancement.

Recognise team: Celebrate the successes and contributions of the project team.

Transition operations: Hand off technology solutions and documentation to the support team for ongoing operations.

Archive assets: Store project documents, code, dashboards and other relevant assets for reference.

Stakeholder signoffs: Obtain formal signoff confirming acceptance and approval for project delivery.

Retrospectives: Conduct workshops for open feedback from stakeholders and the team on the project.

Update processes: Incorporate lessons learned into project management standards and methodologies.

Thoughtful closure provides a satisfying end for stakeholders and the project team. It also generates valuable insights to enhance project delivery capabilities continually.

Key Takeaways

Planning and executing technology projects well involves carefully coordinating many moving parts – stakeholders, requirements, designs, development, tools, resources, testing, change management, training, deployment, and operations.

While complex, mastering a few fundamentals goes a long way in setting up projects for success:

  • Get alignment early – Use the charter and kickoff to get everyone on the same page with the vision and objectives
  • Plan in detail – Break down the big picture into discrete tasks, schedules, resources and deadlines
  • Communicate constantly – Share regular updates to maintain visibility and engagement
  • Expect uncertainties – Develop risk management, change control and quality assurance strategies
  • Monitor progress rigorously – Stay on top of variances to keep efforts on track
  • Adjust quickly – Be agile and willing to tune efforts to ever-changing dynamics
  • Capture learnings – Continuously assess what worked well (and what didn’t) to optimise

The project manager can effectively manage and delegate responsibilities by breaking down the picture into discrete tasks, schedules, resources, and deadlines. Communication is key in any project, and the team can stay informed and engaged by sharing regular updates. Expecting uncertainties is crucial, and developing risk management, change control, and quality assurance strategies can help mitigate any potential issues. Monitoring progress rigorously ensures that any variances are identified and addressed promptly, keeping the project on track. Being agile and adjusting quickly to ever-changing dynamics is essential for success. Lastly, capturing learnings allows for continuous improvement and optimisation of future projects, but remember, don’t ask for information if you are not going to capture it; there is nothing worse than providing information to someone who doesn’t remember it, or even worse, asks you for the same thing again.

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