Marathon's Project Management Methodology and the Hidden Gem in Successful IT Projects
What is IT Project Management?
IT project management is the oversight of any information technology project that a business engages in, and the project manager (PM) is responsible for the organization, planning, execution, and monitoring of the process to completion. In fact, the project management process is the glue that holds all the pieces of the project puzzle together. At Marathon, we know that a solid project management methodology and process gives businesses a leg up on completing valuable projects successfully. Over the past 14+ years, our project management methodology has resulted in a 100% successful project completion rate.
What does an IT Project Manager do?
As an IT project manager, I find it can be a challenge for resources and stakeholders to understand what the PM does and how we provide value. On a daily basis, I am guiding and managing Marathon’s IT projects through the five phases of the project life cycle: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Control, and Closing.
As an example, I may spend part of a day with our sales team discussing requirements and estimates for a new project (initiating phase) or helping a development teamwork through an issue mid-development (executing phase). Every day is different, and every day brings new challenges depending on what is going on within the project. Days are often unpredictable, especially when project issues pop up or if there are impediments present. Despite this, every managed project follows a measured approach to ensure the project brings value to the client and all project goals are met.
The Project Management Methodology
Marathon’s project management process and delivery method has ten phases, and in this article, I will dive into five of them and explain the PM’s role in each phase.
1. Concept and Formation
In the early stages of a project, Marathon starts by gathering information from the stakeholders and asking questions to learn more about the project. For example, a few questions might be:
- What is your business and business goals?
- Who is your audience?
- What is your timeline?
- What is the specific budget that we need to meet?
- What are the challenges that Marathon can help fix?
With this information, we can start determining how to best provide our services. At the earliest phases of each managed IT project, Marathon takes steps to identify scope and to minimize issues later. Occasionally, clients ask for a project estimate before we fully flesh out the requirements, so asking detailed questions early on is critical for outlining the most accurate estimate possible.
A valuable aspect of this stage is the PM who will manage the project upon contract approval will be the one who creates the estimate. Because the PM takes ownership of the project before an agreement is in place, they will have the most intimate understanding of the business goals and needs. The PM will also be the one held accountable to make sure the project is delivered within that estimate.
2. Requirements Definition
This phase is critical for the client, the PM, and ultimately for project success. Our goal is to have the greatest understanding of the project requirements before we start design and development. Ideally at the end of this phase, there is an agreement between all stakeholders on a definitive list of business, design, and functional requirements.
Here are some examples of each type of requirement if the IT project is a website (not all inclusive):
- Is your organization looking to have higher search result rankings on Google?
- Does your organization have a look and feel in mind?
- Does the website need to be ADA compliant?
- Are you interested in content like a Blog or News and Press Releases?
- Is your website going to integrate with any other systems?
- Does your website need to be in different languages?
- Are any animation components required?
- Is your organization going to require a specific permissions structure for who can access the Umbraco back office?
There are many deliverable assets that are created by the end of the requirements definition phase for a managed IT project that include:
- Documented Requirements
- Project Delivery Plan
- Project Schedule
In many organizations, there is a business analyst (BA) that handles the task of requirements definition. At Marathon, however, the PM and BA roles are one and the same. So, not only does the PM take ownership of the estimate, but they also take ownership of the requirements. Once requirements are defined, the PM can create the project plan that guides all key stakeholders and resources through the rest of the project.
If the IT project is a website, the objective of the design phase is to create a final website site map (list of website pages and structure) and design all website components and modules. In this phase, we bring to life the requirements that we have defined. The designers work with the PM to go over the requirements, and the PM sets deadlines to ensure that the designer is on track to meet project target dates. As designs are completed, the PM will review the work with the designer internally to ensure all requirements are met.
Next, we conduct a design review with the organization where we collect feedback and make approved updates per the feedback. One of my favorite meetings is the design review because we get to see our client’s first impression of the designs, and we get a first-hand look at the visual conception of their vision. During this phase, the PM ensures that the design requirements are being tracked and met and that the project is staying on schedule. If there are changes requested to the design, the PM determines if the changes can be absorbed in the budget or if a change order is needed.
4. Development and Quality Assurance (QA)
This phase is often the longest, most complex phase of the project. Larger development projects can include 500+ hours of development, and in many cases, multiple developers are working on a single IT project. During this phase, the PM works behind the scenes with the development team ensuring that all functional and design requirements are met and the project is continuing on-schedule. This includes ensuring that all environments and infrastructure components are set up correctly. On most projects, I like to hold an internal team review at certain milestones to ensure development is on track. Typically, I meet with the development resources multiple times a week to ensure I have the most up-to-date status to provide to our client.
As the development phase ends, the project enters the QA phase. The QA resources run the IT project through a series of tests to ensure delivery of a quality product. Examples of tests that are executed on IT projects include:
- A design review to ensure the project meets what is outlined in the design specifications.
- Cross-browser testing which ensures the project looks and behaves correctly across multiple browsers.
- ADA Testing which is a type of testing that ensures the project meets ADA compliancy standards that are agreed upon in the contract.
- Integration testing with other systems if necessary.
These comprehensive tests ensure that the IT project has met all project requirements and proves ready for production.
5. Implementation and Operation
Once Marathon’s internal QA phase is complete, the PM prepares the project team and client for user acceptance testing (UAT). UAT is where the client will conduct their own reviews of the project and sign off on the finished product. The ultimate objective of implementation and operation is to deliver the final solution that has been formally approved by the client to the production environment. Once the IT project is in production, there is a period where we deliver post-production support. During this phase, the PM formally closes out the project and hands the project off to our on-call support team. An important task for the PM is to ensure the client is completely satisfied with the solution post-production, which is one step of project closure.
Key Success Factor - Project Communication
There are many key success factors that are defined within projects, but I wanted to highlight my favorite: communication. Have you ever engaged with a vendor or consultant to implement a project and during the process, you didn’t understand what the status was? Have you ever wondered:
- Is the project scheduled to be delivered per your expectations?
- Are we under budget?
- How much of the budget is expected to be used by the end of the project?
- What was accomplished in a certain period?
A critical success factor embedded in all phases of the project for Marathon is communication. We start each project with a kickoff meeting that outlines the goals of the project and gives the designer time to conduct a discovery session with the client. Then, after the kickoff meeting, weekly project status meetings are set up for all key stakeholders from the organization and the Marathon team. Finally, weekly project status reports are sent out to communicate accomplishments, schedule and budget status, issues and risks, and action items.
Although the project manager is not designing a beautiful user interface or developing clean, fast-loading code, they truly are the hidden gem in an IT project. It is the PM who guides the project from start to finish, ensuring through our project management methodology that the project stays within schedule and budget constraints and has been implemented per the agreed upon requirements. The result, which we aim for with each and every project, is a successful launch of a new product that stands on quality work and provides the most value to our clients.