Having an understanding of the key parts of project planning is critical to the success of any support team. There are two key elements of project management: people and process. Each element has its own components, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll consider the components essential for desktop support.
The people aspect of project management can be divided into these categories: resource allocation, training, and RACI roles (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed). People make a project successful, executing a list of predetermined (and sometimes unexpected) tasks.
It’s important to allocate resources at the beginning of a project. Desktop support personnel must have a handle on how much additional work they can take on in addition to their regular duties. This is the time for hiring contracted help or divvying up other resources. Knowing how many hours of time the desktop support teams will need to allocate to a project is vital to the project’s success.
Training is a major part of any project activity, especially if it entails deploying new products and/or services to the user community. Training end users on something new is normally on the radar immediately, but think about how to train service desk and desktop support personnel, as well. It’s imperative that your team know any new product or service inside and out before it’s deployed to a group of business users. The greatest mistake made in project management is a lack of training.
Each piece of the RACI matrix (project team members and associated tasks) should be studied and scrutinized. Responsible breaks down who is going to actually do the tasks. Accountable names the person or people who will ensure task completion; this is normally the leader of the Responsible group. The Consulted group is comprised of people who may not have a direct impact on the project, but who most likely have vital information about it. They may not perform tasks, but can help see them through to completion. The Informed group is self-explanatory; these are the people who get project status reports, are part of a steering committee, or are otherwise interested in the project. Each task should, as a general rule, have one person, or one team, responsible and accountable for it.
Processes are the backbone of any successful project implementation; they’re the foundation upon which the plan is constructed, verified, and adjusted. For our purposes, processes be divided into the following categories: quality assurance, injections, continuous improvement, project plan, a clear definition of success, transparent workflows, and status reporting.
Quality products and services are always at the forefront of our thoughts, and this should be the same during any level of engagement on a project. During project planning, be sure to work in some time to check completed work for accuracy, and be sure to allocate time for adjusting specifications or tasks. In project management, gates are the major points of completion within a project. During the planning phase, these gates are an ideal opportunity to leverage quality assurance.
An injection is an idea or activity need that someone has which results in a change being implemented. Although project managers try very hard to prevent them, injections happen on most projects. As a team, it is important to know how to deal with these changes in an organized fashion. At the onset of the project, during planning, decide how the team will handle injections. Knowing what to do and how you’ll to react to these changes—and who’s going to make the ultimate decision on whether or not to allow them—is a key element in making sure that a project is completed on budget and on schedule.
The most important task desktop support personnel can be involved in during project management is continuous improvement. Desktop support personnel are always involved in rollouts of software or hardware—don’t overlook the need for continuous improvement during these execution phases. Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, called this “sharpening the saw.” When each iteration of the project end, when you’ve completed the checklists and repetitive tasks, take a look at each one individually again and ask these questions: What worked well? What caused a headache? What could you add to the list of tasks that would allow you to complete them more easily, and in a shorter period of time?
When embarking on a project, one of the first priorities for desktop support should be to own the plan. Owning the plan means getting involved in the project from the start and allowing the team to add helpful insight during the project planning phase. The majority of projects that desktop support personnel are involved in are projects that have a direct impact on end users. Keeping that in mind can make a difference in the team’s level of commitment to the project.
Clear Definition of Success
One of the most important things to decide, when planning, is how you will measure success. As important as this is to planning, it’s also an important part of the execution phase, as it sets a defined finish line. If possible, find a way to represent the finish line visually, with a chart or a graph. Not only will this help communicate project progress, but it can also serve as a motivator for the project team. Seeing progress is more compelling than just knowing that you’re working on it.
In any project management scenario, transparent workflows are important to the success of the project. Desktop support is always the middleman between the IT department and end users. However, being the middleman in a project is a different, because each time someone completes a task, they hand it off to the next person on the plan. Therefore, the workflows should be transparent—each team should have visibility into the other teams’ work.
Status reporting is important for all projects. Simply put, this is because of the need to communicate the progress to date and the amount of work remaining to the entire team. Often, desktop support works hand in hand with the service desk, and the service desk should be kept up on the progress of desktop support’s work. The status report could be as simple as a memo, or it could be a complex spreadsheet. Regardless of the report’s format, bring the stakeholders together to talk about it as a group. These meetings don’t have to be long—a quick stand-up meeting will do—but sharing real-time status updates and discussing them is essential to keeping the service desk engaged.
Having the project management skills to succeed is a very important part of being a desktop support team. Understanding that project management is based upon two key elements (people and processes) is critical to the success of a project. For desktop support, resource allocation, training, and RACI are the major focuses of the people side of project management. Likewise, quality assurance, injections, continuous improvement, project plan, a clear definition of success, transparent workflows, and status reporting are all important process aspects to consider. Desktop support is often tasked with executing project-related tasks, and understanding the key elements of project management will make desktop support a more effective part of the team.
For more on project management for support professionals, see
Project Management Essentials: A Guide for IT and Support Professionals , by Maurey Wolk, PMP.
Andy Nixon started his career with Dietrich Metal Framing in Western Pennsylvania as a PC specialist. He moved to Columbus, OH, to work for Worthington Industries, where he was responsible for managing Worthington’s Service & Support Team. Under Andy’s leadership, his team completed several major initiatives, including a company-wide desktop hardware and software migration. Andy currently serves on the HDI Desktop Support Advisory Board and is the VP of programs for the HDI Mid-Ohio local chapter.