What Every IT Service Manager Should Know About Project Planning 

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IT service manager | IT project | IT project manager

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 

– Dwight D. Eisenhower 

So now what? Are we useless because we need to plan for projects in addition to everything else we are responsible for as IT Service Managers?  

IT Service Managers CAN Catch a Break 

Planning a project is actually an area where an IT Service Manager CAN catch a break. It all derives from the simple divide-and-conquer mentality. The actual technical execution of the project will be planned by the Lead Tech responsible for the delivery of the end product 

When planning, New Project Managers may find that what they are doing is repetitive from most of the other projects they’ve done before. There may be some variations, which can usually be captured in Project Phase templates. These can then be added to the masterplan as needed.  

The Gathering what is Known for a What Was Sold Meeting 

Throughout the Initiation phases information is collected and should be stored in a central repository.  Once the sales opportunity closes requiring a project, the IT Service Manager’s responsibility is to make sure all information to plan the project has been gathered and is available.  

The What Was Sold (WWS) Meeting is the transition from the Initiation Phase to the Planning Phase. After the WWS is over, the Planning Phase commences with everyone (including the New Project Manager) going to their respective corners to plan their portion of the project.  

This is all usually done apart from the salesperson, who is now free to move on to the next prospect.  

 What if the Start of Your IT Project is Months Out?  

If for some reason the start of the project is several months out, it may be best to wait about three weeks before the start of the project for the Lead Tech Planning time.  

In this case, a Pre-Install meeting may be needed to refresh everyone’s memory. The attendees should be the same as for the WWS meeting, except procurement may no longer be needed. This assumes, of course, that parts have been ordered and are sitting somewhere, readily available and burning capital monies.   

5 Steps to Planning a Project for the New IT Project Manager    

1) Communications Plan 

A communications plan needs to be developed so that everyone involved with the project feels warm and fuzzy, as well as communicated to.  Doug Rabold strongly suggests using a ResponsibleAccountableControllingInformed (RACI) chart as the primary communications planning document.
In his 12 Project Management Steps for Non-Project Managers,

I also strongly recommend weekly conference calls with everyone involved in the project, and with the Lead Technician and Customer as required attendees. The beauty of this is that once the hard work and long hours have been put into developing a 360 Communications Plan, it can then be used over again from one project to the next.   

2) Risk and Risk Mitigation Plan 

Risk Mitigation is less of a plan and more of a brainstorming session that can be part of the WWS meeting. More importantly, it is a constant topic of conversations between the WWS and start of the project.  

This question must be asked every step of the way: What could go wrong with this project, and what can we do to prevent it?  Leaning on Lessons Learned from previous projects is critical 

If the project has anything to do with relying on a new circuit (electrical, data, or phone), it is fair game to ask the question “Has the circuit been ordered yet?”  It is also a great example of a conversation that needs to happen both frequently and consistently throughout the project’s duration.  

3) Scheduling 

  • It is a good idea by the time the WWS meeting is held to have the Lead Tech already scheduled.  Lead Tech scheduling drives the conversation as to when the project will be executed, including the Customer’s expectations, Parts Need by date, etc. 
  • After the Lead Tech planning time, additional scheduling will be needed, such as specialty skill supporting resources, additional hands for Rack and Stack, production impacts (especially cuts), and so forth.   
  • Time should be allowed every week for scheduling change requests, as they most certainly will arise. The most common reasons are parts availability, customer availability, and more/less time to complete than expected. Yes, a significant number of projects will usually end ahead of schedule once project management expertise and rhythm are in place.  
  • Identify the critical path and monitor these tasks more closely. Some tasks can slip or be pulled forward without impacting the overall project. Tasks on the critical path, if changed, impact the overall timeline of the project. Therefore, it is key that the critical path is known, called out, and monitored for changes.   

4) Professional Service Automation (PSA) Project Built 

In the PMI world, this is called a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).   

For most of this article, “projects” has meant process.  In this section — and only this section — it means the PSA tool.   

The New Project Manager will create the project in the PSA tool and fill in the high-level tasks, phases, and milestones. The New Project Manager or Lead Tech (after the project plan has been developed) will populate the rest of the tasks in the project.  

If this type of project has been done before, the last project can now be tweaked and used as a template with Lesson’s Learned previously in mind.   

5) Coordination 

Most of IT Service Managers’ project management time will be used to coordinate and schedule.   

The list of factors they must consider in their planning includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Salesperson – who did the majority of the initiation phase  
  • Lead Tech – who planned and will do the majority of the execution phase  
  • Customer – who is paying the bills and is expecting the deliverable as anticipated  
  • Procurement  
  • Accounting  
  • Supporting Techs  
  • Incidents – last but not least, keeping the day-to-day MSP work from disturbing and disrupting the project team — especially the Lead Tech.  


Speaking of Lessons Learned: 

  1. What do you have to add about your experience managing projects?  
  2. What’s your biggest peeve?  
  3. #1 tip?  

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