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Most IT organizations provide services in any one of three logical categories. First, IT solves customer problems in support of existing products and services. This type of service usually involves a help desk or call center, hardware and software support personnel, and training and documentation services. The objective of problem resolution is to address the end user's specific performance issues as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Second, IT responds to service requests that call either for the extension of existing products and services to a new employee or for the modest expansion and enhancement of an established product or service to existing employees. Here, too, a help desk or call center is often the intake mechanism for service request work, typically complemented by dedicated support and maintenance teams assigned to customer servicing and delivery. Neither problem resolution nor service request efforts entail large capital outlays or major changes in platform technologies. In most instances, however, they do consume significant IT team resources to service, fix, or build upon what is already there. Generally speaking, the customer's expectation is that delivery will be immediate or nearly so.
The third category of IT team activity — projects — encompasses the significant expansion of existing products and services or the introduction of new ones. Unlike the first two categories, project delivery typically requires major capital outlays; larger, more complex scopes of work; a project management infrastructure; the involvement of external technology partner providers; and long (as opposed to short or immediate) delivery timeframes. To differentiate projects from maintenance and support work, most IT organizations establish a quantifiable threshold level for the project designation and its associated management overhead. For example, an IT undertaking is typically viewed as a project
If the IT investment under discussion leads to the establishment of a new IT product or service
If the IT investment exceeds a certain dollar amount, where the clip level for a particular project varies from enterprise to enterprise (e.g., $10,000 for some; $100,000 for others)
If the IT investment requires the participation of two or more IT operating units or external partner providers for delivery (i.e., scope and complexity factors)
If the IT investment involves high levels of complexity or risk (e.g., multiple technologies, emerging technologies, systems integration)
Bear in mind that the entire purpose of project management is effective risk mitigation so as to deliver IT projects on time, within budget, and in keeping with customer expectations. New IT products and services typically require broad-based participation and call for business process, as well as technological, change. These efforts will benefit from the rigor of a project management methodology that comprehensively pursues IT delivery requirements and process workflow adaptation. Similarly, if the parent organization is investing a significant sum of money in an IT project, the executive team will expect a professional approach that ensures the realization of its business objectives and a reasonable return on the investment. Furthermore, when many players, especially across business-unit silos, complex work processes, and diverse or new IT components are called upon to deliver the IT solution, the challenges to successful delivery are high. Here, too, it makes sense to rely on the discipline of systematic project management practices.
Once the IT organization designs and implements a common process in keeping with its own needs and corporate culture, project management will help streamline delivery and eliminate more costly one-off exercises. The key to success here is the broad adoption of simple, uniform — yet flexible and well documented — processes by IT personnel. Flexibility is important because each project and each customer relationship has its own unique dynamics. With a project in which the IT organization and the customer have lots of experience together, the management process can be more informal. Conversely, high-risk projects demand considerable rigor in the application of project management principles. But do not confuse rigor with rigidity. The process must be pliable, refocusing work effort and related resources as business requirements evolve and as emerging technologies transform the IT landscape. Bear in mind this need for flexibility and adaptability when applying the frameworks discussed below.
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