Project Management: Maintenance Vs New Development

Project Management: Maintenance Vs New Development

So you've done a bit of DIY around the house. Do you now have the skills needed to build a new house?

Many IT project managers spend years managing system maintenance - making changes to existing systems. They may even become quite good at managing such projects. Does that equip them to manage projects developing new, green field site systems?

If you're making a smallish change to a system you can often give it straight to a programmer and tell him to get on with it. The programmer is there at the very beginning of the project.

So when you give that project manager a new system to develop, who does he know from experience he needs right away? Programmers. Strange as it may seem, first-time managers of new developments have done just this - immediately hired programmers only to have them sitting around with nothing to do.

But surely nobody would hire a project manager with no experience to manage an important new development? Maybe not, but that isn't the problem. It's in-house IT departments where the problem lies. For years they have maintained their systems very successfully and now they want to embark on a new development. So they select their best PM and give him the job. And nobody appreciates the pit they just dug themselves.

Project Managing New Software Development

What makes software development so different from maintenance? If it's home DIY vs building a new house the differences are obvious. With DIY you just go and buy the stuff and next thing you're rubbing down the walls, sawing the timber or laying the paving. Building a new house from scratch would entail finding some land, getting planning permission, hiring an architect and goodness knows what else before you got anywhere near hiring a brickie. We can all appreciate there's a world of difference between a bit of DIY and a new build.

Trouble is, PMs experienced in systems maintenance don't appreciate there's a similarly huge difference when they step up to a new build project. And their brickies sit idly by as the truth dawns expensively.

With new systems, the project definition, scoping, business case, requirements definition and design stages (see the details) can account for half of the project's elapsed time. And what new PMs also don't realise is that whereas the definition, requirements and design stages are usually easy and almost non-existent in some small maintenance projects, on new build projects they are where the real work and the real difficulty lies - the programming is the easy bit. The programming hoards won't be needed for quite a while after project start. (Though having one or two key programmers on board during the design stage can steer the design team away from arbitrary decisions that make build much more expensive and troublesome than it needs to be.)

Novice Project Manager

The moral of the story is if you have been managing maintenance projects, no matter how large, complicated or difficult they may have been, a new build project will be different, one that you are not equipped to handle, and ten times more difficult. If you do some reading, get some training and hire people who have got experience of new development you might be OK.

Managing your first systems development project is different. You're a project management novice all over again. If you realise this you're half way to saving your career.

Project Management Book

This free Project Management Book will give some insight into the complexity of managing new-build software development projects.

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Project Management: Maintenance Vs New Development

Copyright M Harding Roberts

If, after years of managing software maintenance, you're managing your first green field site software development project you're a project management novice all over again.

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