January 03, 2001, 1:22 PM — What's the difference between projects that fail and those that succeed?
According to veteran project manager Ed Esposito, it boils down to the difference between traditional project management, which focuses on administrative tasks, and proactive project management, which is about mitigating risk.
"With traditional project management, you make a formal project plan and then have a lot of meetings to report status. Proactive project management always looks out to future milestones, identifies the risks and puts together a contingency plan," says Esposito, director of IT services for health insurance firm Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts in Boston.
Esposito should know. His group has just finished a complex network upgrade on time and on budget. With the help of outsourcer Inacom of Omaha, Neb., the 20-person team upgraded a Fast Ethernet LAN to a mixture of Gigabit Ethernet and SONET and replaced the Hewlett-Packard OpenMail system with Microsoft Exchange. What's more, the company rolled out 3,500 new PCs as part of a standardization effort. With the LAN upgrade complete, the company is ready for the next step of NextGenBlue, a massive enterprisewide network overhaul to support emerging business applications.
The basics of good project management are well known: Get buy-in from management and users, communicate project goals, set a critical path, manage deviations from that path, and above all, pray. But seasoned project pros also have a number of tricks up their sleeves to help keep their plans on track. Here are some of the best project management tips from the trenches:
Get help when you need it. Like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, many companies attempt to mitigate risk by calling in an outsourcer to perform the upgrade while maintaining control of the overall project, says Steve Furman, vice president at Robbins-Gioia, a project management consulting firm in Alexandria, Va.
Train project management neophytes. They need to learn how to set milestones, approach problems analytically and create contingency plans before they can take the reins for the first time, Furman says.
Pick the most user-friendly tool you can find. Many project management packages are extremely robust and are designed to handle multiyear software development projects. If you're in charge of a simple network upgrade, you won't need - or want - that degree of power.