Project management has been alive and well for the past decade, but some aspects of this profession remain misunderstood. That is the case when project interdependence could substantially hike implementation cost and time—if you don’t watch out.
Imagine you’re piloting an airliner. You and your crew’s job is getting the plane and passengers to the right destination. While flying is your main task, you still must scan the sky for other aircraft—even if ATC has you on radar. But project management has no control tower, so projects can pile-up, overlap and become interdependent. Your role as project manager is to anticipate such risks in advance and monitor them closely throughout deployment.
Competition for resources—sharing human and material resources with other projects—is the first bullet to dodge.
Business resources are often the toughest to obtain. Rolling out a new order-taking system could, for example, mean requisitioning scarce in-house specialists. If a pair of business line experts are assigned to the project, their manager will still need to keep the department running with remaining staff—which could cause tension. If a second project, say from Marketing, requires similar expertise, the first will have to share business resources—even though this wasn’t part of the original plan.
Inadequate technical and material resources can cause a second bottleneck. The project manager may need disk space, servers, and so forth, for testing the system before it goes live. But your computer system may already be at its limit, with different projects competing for the same environments. Finding specialists for 30- or 40-year old legacy systems is also a hurdle. Since most IT projects mean replacing obsolete software, this situation crops up often.
Integration on the Way
There may also be overlaps between or interdependencies among existing projects. This is particularly true when integrating applications. If a company is planning to replace its ERP system—containing all its financial, commercial, logistical and other information—alongside a transportation optimization project, the first must conclude before launching the second, which depends on data from the first. This means the second project must be integrated with the first and their integration dates must suitable for both.
Such interdependencies may arise while a project is underway, triggering delays and cost overruns. If your firm has a project office, should it—or the corporate architect—be able to anticipate and prevent such issues? In theory, yes. In practice, probably not. This is partly because the devil is in the details of interdependencies, which fall outside the project office’s grip. It is also because planning only starts once budget approval has been given. Interdependencies and risks of collision only actually become apparent in planning, which is under the project manager’s control.
What’s the answer? Ideally, you should forecast potential conflicts and overlaps during the preliminary or feasibility phase. The project manager will then keep an eye on other IT and business projects to avoid coverage gaps. Clients do not always understand or appreciate the constant vigilance entailed—but preventing problems before they occur is essential in getting your passengers to their destination.