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No small task is trivial – by Marina van Wyk

Recently, while working on home renovations, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between our relatively small DIY painting job and IT projects in general.

Little things like buying painter’s tape, choosing the colour, sanding down little imperfections in the walls, removing old paint on the trimmings and smoothing out the corners – they all take up a lot of time before you start the ‘real’ job of painting the walls and the ceilings.

Similarly, IT projects have a range of small and trivial activities that need to be done before the development work is up and running full steam.

As a project manager, you often need to take care of getting team members’ access to the network, sorting out templates and document repositories, interviewing project staff, putting together a team and even the seating arrangements.

These little tasks are often overlooked, and when the project kicks off and the pressure to deliver is on, resources are thrown into the typical development lifecycle straight away.  If those preparation tasks have not been completed, the project is bound to have delays or you may need to accept that the deliverables are not going to be 100% complete or meet your organisation’s standards.

You may argue that you can start a painting job without getting all the tools ready.  “The hardware store is only 15 minutes away, right?”

The same goes for an IT project.  You can get your resources to start work before organising access to the right tools or sorting out access to a document library.  But how will that affect your project down the line?

Once the project is underway, switching your focus from your daily responsibilities will be a distraction, at best.  At worst, your team will quickly get used to manual work-arounds or accept the fact that information sharing and communication is not encouraged on your project.   And we all know the implications of not having  free communication flow across team members!

Without a doubt, the small set up tasks prior to the project kick off can be distracting or may get you involved in the organisational politics or technical detail that looks never ending, without offering any tangible outcome.  Some project managers avoid them simply because these activities are tiring and plain boring.

What can you, as a project manager, do about this?

Delegate

First of all, delegate! If you have the luxury of having a project administrator, you’re probably already doing this. If not, ask your team members for help.  If your business analyst hasn’t started on collecting requirements, they will be more than happy to assist with putting together a list of templates.  Your developer may be available to talk to the helpdesk to organise the appropriate security groups and access.

Plan

Next, do what you do best – plan!  Estimate and ‘time-box’ these set up activities in the context of your project.  If your project is only two months long and it’s taking you more than a week to arrange the logistics, you will know that the set up tasks are taking too long and it’s time to start prioritising.

Focus on the outcomes

Above all, remember the value of having set up tasks completed and focus on what is going to bring the most benefit to your project – delivery on time, team communication or high quality documentation.  After all, your professionalism will be assessed based on quality of your project’s deliverables.

Marina van Wyk is a Senior Business Analyst with 10 years’ experience in IT project management having worked for Vodafone, Auckland Council, Vero Insurance, Datacom and Simpl. Marina will provide regular guest blogs for Psoda giving a BA’s view of project management.

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