Project Management for IT Managed Service Providers

project management

Projects are a major liability for a Managed Service Provider.  They have a significant number of labor hours for the MSP, and a significant investment for the Customer.  Therefore, high visibility within the respective organization.  Any sideways motion or delay can cost either party or both significantly more labor hourshuge financial loss, and disappointment.  To add to this the Resources assigned to the project usually have the highest billable hour rate, are key to providing engineering excellence, and are mentors to the rest of the team. 

But no worries, we assign the responsibility to complete the project on time, on budget, and within scope to the best manager we have.  The one who is spending significant amount of their time tracking hundreds of Break/Fix service requests, driving a major proactive preventative maintenance program for the most important Customers, keeping all Customers happy by meeting their expectations, and fitting in more than a few other types of service requests. 

So how does someone manage projects in addition to their existing full plate?  Enter in  Doug Rabold, ITIL, HDI and his 12 step program for managing projects by non-project managers.   He gave a great presentation, “12 Step Project Management Program for Non-Project Managers,” at last year’s MSP-Ignite Service Manager Peer Group face-to-face meeting.  

IT Service Managers Manage a Fair Number of Projects 

In essence, Doug took the hundreds of pages of PMBOK Guide – Sixth Edition (2017) (Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge) and boiled it down to just two slides for the IT Service Managers.  

Like Project Management Professionals (PMPs), IT Service Managers manage a fair number of projects (mostly between 5 to 20) before the company hires dedicated full- or part-time Project Managers.  

Unlike Project Managers, IT Service Managers have a wealth of other responsibilities. Most are considered to be higher priority than the projects they are responsible for.  Given this conflict of focus, skill, priority, and mental gymnastics, it was no wonder that this was the number one topic the Service Manager Peer Group requested to be added to the agenda.    

Project Management Institute (PMI) is by far the world leader in setting project management standards.  But I would recommend googling project management training and look for something a little lighter than a full PMP certification.  The reason for the suggestion is, for IT Service Managers, project management is an added responsibility.  This is not to say the added responsibility is not important or that it is not part of the Company’s #1 goal.  It is to say, however, that until the company grows its Project Management expertise to hire Project Managers, the IT Service Manager is tasked with managing the projects.  For this, a rich understanding of the process, as Doug Rabold laid out, is necessary, but a 100% focus is not possible (although it may be expected – see the article on “Managing Up”. 

Back in 2010 when I started in the MSP industrythe company did two projects at a time and about eight per year. Today, they do over a hundred projects at a time with a staff of four or five Project Managers and three Project Coordinators.  Not sure every MSP is looking to grow their project management expertise to this level, but based on recent conversations it seems every MSP is planning on managing projects in the near future.  

In IT, Projects Have Always Been King 

Now don’t get me wrong — projects have always been king, mostly due to their lucrative markups. In fact some Resource Planning Analysts have made a career out of figuring out when and how to say yes to projects, so they do not crush supporting Managed Service agreements (which are the economic engine of a Managed Service Provider).    

In so many ways our world is changing, and this includes the volume, type, and quantity of projects.  

12 Keys to Effectively Managing Projects 

The Main Takeaways from Doug Rabold’s Presentation 

I. Project Governance is key #1: Everyone needs to know, weigh in, follow, and agree on:

  • What defines a project 
  • How projects will be managed
  • Where projects fit in the IT service delivery portfolio

II.  Triple Constraint: Time, Scope, and Cost. You can control two of the three, but not all three at once.

III. Five phases of a project (right out of PMBOK): 

  • Initiation 
  • Planning 
  • Execution 
  • Controlling 
  • Closure

IV. Planning includes (recommend googling IT project templates): 

  • Scope  
  • Task  
  • Duration (including Contingencies)  
  • Budget (including Contingencies)  
  • Resources (Engineers)  
  • Communication (but of course)  
  • Risks  
  • Solutions  
  • Procurement 

V. Responsibility assignment matrix – RACI (recommend googling RACI templates):  

360 communications or communicating to everyone involved with or touched by the project is critical.  RACI charts takes communications a step further by identifying who the key people are, their role, or why they are being communicated with.   

The roles are identified by the list below, which form the acronym RACI.  Does this mean everyone that needs to be communicated with is in the list?  Should be, but there may be groups of people, such as people touched by only a phase or two of the project, or so fringed that they are overlooked.    

Like all living documents, a RACI chart should not be consider one and done.  A good IT Service Manager tasked with managing a project should always reflect on each communication and ask the question, “Is there someone else that needs to know this information?”   

  • Responsible  
  • Accountable  
  • Consulted  
  • Informed

VI. Delivering what is expected:   

“A 12-step Project Management Program for Non-Project Managers.” 

  1.  Deadline 
  2.  Priority 
  3.  Capacity 
  4.  Criticality 
  5.  Requirements 
  6.  Stakeholders 
  7.  Document 
  8.  Communication 
  9.  Commitment 
  10.  Inform 
  11.  Deliver  
  12.  Closure


Want a rich, in-depth presentation? Reach out to Doug Rabold, ITIL, HDI and tell him Stephen D Buyze sent you. 


Stephen Buyze is a Resource Planning Analyst who is “Empowering IT Managed Service Providers to increase profit.”    

For more about Stephen Buyze 

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For more information about MSP-Ignite Service Manager Peer Group 


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