Information Technology (I. T) projects

Over the years, Information Technology (I. T) projects has been known to fail, that is, they are either completed with over budget or not completed within time and budget. Information Technology projects are often complex and detailed in nature and require cognitive knowledge and skills for its accomplishment. I. T projects are often difficult to estimate and manage as some projects are either cancelled or reduced in scope because of over budgeting and time overruns or failure to produce anticipated benefits (Kumar, 2001). Failure of I.

T projects is often characterised by the inability to meet the customer’s requirement or change in requirements during the project. To achieve a successful project, monitoring and control process performance is important, that is, control of Information Technology projects involves the use of appropriate management frameworks/methodologies and planning tools. In this report, we are going to look at the various ways of we can monitor and manage I. T projects, evaluating some management frameworks/methodologies and planning tools used with critical analysis on their functions, benefits as well as their weaknesses.

Project monitoring and control are steps taking to keep track of a project process to ensure its success. Project monitoring is the gathering of information to determine the current state and progress of a Project in relation to its expected state and success (McBride, 2008; Aljibouri, 2003). Despite efforts put into project planning, things do change or occur that cause our project to derail. At this point, an effective monitoring and control process is useful and required to get the project back on course.

It is in the control and monitoring process that we keep track of the project process, identify deviations, and determine and implement corrective actions. Many Organisations tend to manage I. T projects in an unstructured or ad hoc manner throughout its life cycle with limited understanding of the relationship between I. T project implementation and traditional business performance metrics (Stewart, 2008). The attention to schedule and cost are of utmost relevance in project monitoring and control as well as the scope of the project, risk and change control plus the overall performance measurement and reporting.

The essential purpose of project monitoring and control is to alert the project manager to any project inter-dependencies that are becoming critical in terms of delivery date, resource allocation, cost or benefits (Lycett et. al, 2002). The basic challenge of project management in achieving its goals it based on managing effectively its typical constraints which include time, scope, budget. The following activities are involved in monitoring and control of I. T Projects; * The adoption of appropriate management framework/methodology – reporting structure, assessing progress, communication. Use of Planning and scheduling tools/techniques e. g. Gantt chart, PERT, CPA, WBS e. t. c * Data control – reporting progress of risk or staff activities MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORKS/METHODOLOGIES Project management methodologies can be said to be a set of principles or guidelines that can be defined and applied in monitoring and control of projects. Project management framework defines and determines how to initiate and run a project. These various methodologies ensure; * Clearly visible and defined management process for project execution * Defined line of reporting and decision making Risk management * Staff are appropriately trained and suitable to handle and run projects * Commitment to the proposed project. There so many various methodologies available as it all depends which suits the organisation practice. Here are a few of some well known ones below: PRINCE 2 – It is an acronym for Project IN Controlled Environment. PRINCE 2 is a structured project management methodology and a widely used standard for managing I. T projects. It significantly provides assistance with the optimal usage of resources with risk management initiatives to manage projects.

Elkington and smallman (2000), argues that though the PRINCE 2 method has greatly increased the success rate of projects, but it has little in the way of directing project managers in handling project risk. It offers no advice to project managers on risk estimation. PRINCE 2 promotes consistency of project work and also facilitates staff mobility, reduction of personnel change impact. The method also provides for the absolute recognition of project responsibilities in order for participants to understand each other’s role.

The Prince 2 method helps you work out who should be involved and their responsibility. Due to the numerous changes attached to I. T projects, PRINCE 2 has a technique of controlling the impact of change in a project so as to prevent the project from derailing from the right direction. SSADM – Structured System Analysis and Design Method is a method widely used in information system development in the U. K. it is based on data flow diagram. SSADM divides a system development project into stages, steps and tasks and provides a framework for analysing projects in a defined way to manage project.

It aims at improving project management and control, develop quality systems, and establish a framework for good communication among personnel in a project team. It also ensures project continuity if there is a loss of staff without any effect on the project success (Middleton and McCollum, 2001). However, some limitations occur in the use of SSADM as it puts much emphasis on the analysis of the system and its documentation. This causes the impact of over-analysing, and can be cost and time consuming. Also, due to various types of description method, consistency checks cannot be carried out.

The outline diagram can become very unclear, especially with large systems because all relevant data flow have to be included. Agile Methodology – Agile Development is a term that covers several iterative and incremental software development methodologies. This agile methodologies includes Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Dynamic systems development method (DSDM), Crystal, Feature-Driven development (FDD) e. t. c “Agile Software development represents a major departure from traditional plan –based approaches to software engineering “(Dyba and Dingsoyr, 2008).

Each of these Agile methods is unique in its specific approach, but they all share a common core values and vision. Agile method is a new system development methodology which is used by software development teams to improve the software development process in terms of increased productivity of I. T personnel and higher quality of the final I. T solutions (Chan and Thong, 2008). According to Chan and Thong, (2008); Reifer, (2002), agile methodologies, such as Extreme programming (XP) and Scrum have received praise from practitioners because of their abilities to deal with volatile requirements.

Although the deployment of these agile methodologies by I. T personnel is still resistance, industry surveys have indicated that its acceptance in I. T organisations is still at an early phase with many respondents indicating a limited knowledge (Chan and Tong, 2008). Also, in as much as the agile method have generated quite a bit of controversy, but since its entrance into the software community, most projects have continued to deliver high quality software systems within time than the traditional processes. BASIC I. T PROJECT MANAGEMENT PLANNING AND SCHEDULING TOOLS

Different types of planning and scheduling tools exists, but we are going to discuss some of the basic one used in managing Information technology projects like Gantt Charts, CPM, PERT, WBS Gantt chart and Critical path Analysis flow diagrams are two commonly used tools for detailed project management planning, scheduling, costing and budgeting. Gantt chart is a typical scheduling method for most types of projects. A Gantt chart provides a graphical illustration of a schedule which helps in planning, co-ordinating and tracking specific tasks in a project. A key feature of Gantt charts is its focus on systemic rather than algorithmic solutions to utilisation problems” (Wilson, 2003). It specifies complex task sequence, that is, a task or more can be required to be completed before other tasks can start. According to Maylor, (2001), he emphasizes that the use of Gantt chart in controlling information systems projects is beneficial as it shows clearly the overlap of scheduled tasks, which commonly occurs in system development. Gantt chart supports modification of task dependencies, creation of new task connector as well as re-scheduling individual tasks.

It also helps to evaluate the progress of a project. Although, Gantt chart is a widely used and beneficial tool which gives clear illustration of project status, it also has some limitations. Gantt chart do not show task dependencies of one task to another, that is, it is difficult for you to see or tell the effect of a task falling behind schedule of which PERT chart does. Also, Gantt chart does not show the necessity of completing one task before the start of another as Critical Path Analysis will do. Gantt chart is also often used as a reporting tool.

PERT and CPM Type Program Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) and Critical Path Method (CPM) are useful tools that help to manage and schedule complex projects. Activities of a complex projects can be performed parallel and some sequentially. The collection of these activities can be modelled as a network. PERT type network looks for the schedule to minimize the objective function of the total elapsed project time, that is, it determines the start and the finish times of each activity or task. CPM type is based on the critical path method.

It looks for the schedule with the minimum cost in a definite period of time (a case where the cost is associated with each task). CPM provides a graphical view of a project, helps predict the time required for project completion and shows which activities are critical to maintaining the schedule and which are not. “CPM execution can enable monitoring and control over various topics uniquely related to software projects” (Gelbard et al, 2002). The CPM considers a set of precedence relations between the tasks of a project, that is, some tasks must be finished before other tasks can be started (Conde, 2009).

CPM helps to plan all tasks that must be completed as part of a project. When managing I. T projects, CPM helps to get a project back on course by showing you where remedial actions need to be taken as in the case of Gantt Charts. CPM type is deterministic as it uses a fixed time estimate for each activity. According to Chanas and Zielinski, (2001); Yakhchali et al (2009), they emphasizes that the importance of CPM is that the activities duration time are deterministic and known, but the assumption cannot always be fulfilled with satisfying accuracy.

Therefore, in order to deal with imprecise durations, they suggested that PERT method be used, which has conception of random variable with beta distribution to model the activity times. However, CPM is simple and easy to understand, but it does not consider the time variations that can have a huge impact on complex project completion time. For less routine projects, there is more uncertainty in the completion times of which PERT network is an alternative as it allows a range of durations to be indicated for each activity. The reduction of time and cost required for project completion is one of the capabilities of a PERT network.

PERT assumes that the time estimate for an activity lies within the range of earliest time and latest time. It uses a three time estimates (optimistic, most likely, pessimistic) to compute the expected average time. However, PERT technique provides less benefit if the uncertainty of time estimates is relatively small and irrelevant. Chanas et al, (2001) and Conde, (2008) agrees that the PERT assumes beta distributions for the individual task completion times but also that the assumption and some other conditions are not exempt for criticism. “

Apart from that, PERT provides a scheduling mechanism that is based on resource reallocation and ordering the project activities for cognitively driven task like software projects and research/development projects. “The main drawback of PERT technique is the difficulty of obtaining the time estimates” Changes do occur in I. T development projects, of which most often result to failure of the overall project. Controlling changes provides stability to projects. Changes to project agreement must be evaluated and recorded accordingly.

According to Wang et al, (2008), change control facilitates software flexibility by controlling risks due to unstable scope and run-away requirements. Change control is necessary in project monitoring as it ensures; * Prevention of unauthorized use of resources * Proper update of project plan, its scope, budget expectations, schedule and quality * That the recommended change is consistent with external agreements. Monitoring and control process is no doubt necessary in project development by use and application of methodologies, tools and techniques.

However, evaluating the various ways, their functions and characteristics, it can be said that there is no better of f methods as they have their benefits and weaknesses in various areas which other encompasses and vice versa, in other words, there is no-one –fits-all methodology. In practice, project managers have found out that it is difficult to simply use a methodology or tool exactly as it stands. But, it can be said that a good and successful project which delivers quality result, within time and budget are generally dependant on the quality and effort of participants from the project board down to the individual team members.