Unsurprisingly, digital initiatives require effective (technical) project management teams to ensure successful implementation and desired outcomes. But what about technical project management? Is there even a difference between it and project management?
The answer = YES
Generally, a technical project manager (TPM) typically has a technical background, and a project manager (PM) doesn’t. Furthermore, this means a TPM’s expertise exists somewhere between hardware and software (or IT and engineering).
To stay on track, this post is about how to use project management techniques tailored explicitly to digital initiatives, whether or not you’re a TPM or PM. So, from project planning and resource allocation to quality assurance and risk management, I’ll provide insights and practical tips to help you better manage a digital initiative.
No Technical Background?
No problem (most of the time)!
So, what happens if you don’t have a technical background but are assigned to manage a digital initiative? By applying technical project management techniques, organizations can navigate the complexities of digital initiatives and achieve project success. For example, as a project manager specializing in citizen development, I focus on tech for good initiatives in startups and nonprofits.
Effective project management ensures the successful implementation of digital initiatives in the rapidly evolving digital landscape. If you have multiple projects, consider a PMO. But what happens when you manage a digital project without a technical background? Fear not! By applying some technical project management techniques (and a mindset shift and the willingness and desire to learn a new skill or five), you can confidently navigate the complexities of digital projects. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explore more strategies and techniques that non-technical project managers can employ to lead digital initiatives to success.
Understanding the Difference: Project Management vs. Technical Project Management vs. Digital Project Management:
Before diving into digital project management, clarifying the distinctions between these related but subtly different domains is essential. Of course, there are many types of project managers. For example, there are (General) Project Managers, Technical Project Managers, Digital Project Managers, Construction Project Managers, Engineering Project Managers, IT Project Managers, Healthcare Project Managers, Event Project Managers, Environmental Project Managers, Marketing Project Managers (and that’s not a comprehensive list). To stay on track, we’ll only focus on the first three as each term carries a unique focus and expertise:
This broad category encompasses various projects across various industries. Project managers in this role are responsible for planning, executing, and controlling projects to achieve specific objectives within scope, time, and budget constraints. They ensure that projects deliver value to stakeholders, regardless of whether they are technical or non-technical.
Technical Project Management
Technical project management, in contrast, typically focuses on projects with complex technical components. It can span various technical domains, including hardware, software, engineering, etc. Technical project managers in this role often possess a strong technical background, enabling them to make informed decisions about technology choices and navigate the intricacies of the project’s technical aspects. Technical project management can apply to digital and non-digital initiatives like construction or manufacturing projects.
Digital Project Management
Digital project management focuses more narrowly on digital technology or transformation projects. These projects often involve software development, IT infrastructure, digital marketing, and other digitally driven initiatives. While digital project managers may have technical expertise, their specialization typically involves digital technologies. Their knowledge may also extend to non-digital technical domains, making them well-suited for industries and organizations heavily relying on digital technologies.
In practice, the terminology and distinctions between these roles can vary based on organizational culture and industry context. However, the fundamental principles of effective project management remain consistent across all these domains. Whether managing technical or digital projects, the key is to employ sound project management techniques to ensure successful project outcomes. (There’s also a difference between project and program management.)
Now, let’s get to it. Below are some standard practices, whether or not you have a technical background.
Define Clear Project Objectives and Requirements
Clear communication and clearly defined objectives and requirements are the foundation of any successful digital project. Your first step is to articulate the project’s purpose and identify the functionalities, features, or deliverables it should encompass. Engage stakeholders early to ensure alignment and a shared understanding of project goals. This clarity is the cornerstone of effective project planning and execution.
Create a Detailed Project Plan
The roadmap to success in digital project management involves crafting a comprehensive project plan. This plan should outline the tasks, timelines, and dependencies that underpin your digital initiative. To do that, I typically use project management tools and techniques, such as work breakdown structures (WBS) and Gantt charts, to visualize and organize project activities. Then, by breaking the project into manageable tasks and allocating resources wisely, you’re better equipped to identify potential bottlenecks and areas of risk.
Efficient Resource Allocation
Of course, effectively managing resources is pivotal to the triumph of your digital initiative. So, start by identifying the skill sets and competencies required to complete each project task. Throughout that process, you’ll also need to assess the availability of resources and any potential constraints. Overall, it’s essential to ensure that resources are appropriately assigned based on their expertise and workload capacity.
Implement Agile Project Management
Agile methodologies are a boon for digital initiatives—approaches like Scrum or Kanban foster flexibility, collaboration, and iterative development. Moreover, to maximize the benefits of Agile, embrace principles like frequent feedback loops, short development cycles (sprints), and a commitment to continuous improvement. Regularly involve stakeholders to gather feedback and adjust project priorities and deliverables accordingly.
Proactive Risk Management
It is critical to identify and manage risks with any project. We must develop a risk management plan, including mitigation and contingency plans. Proactive monitoring also helps to reduce the likelihood of project disruptions and bolsters your chances of achieving your desired outcomes. Remember, no project ever has 100% certainty of success.
Quality Assurance and Testing
My technical project management experience started with digital marketing in higher education. Over time, and after working for a medical school, a technical (telehealth) project opportunity popped up during COVID-19, and I jumped for it. Since then, I have worked on other telehealth expansion projects, and participated in panel discussions (see #6 in the list — it’s a LinkedIn video), opening multiple doors to expand my technical project knowledge. Quality assurance was paramount for that digital initiative during my most recent telehealth contract. Not only did I have to ensure a seamless user experience and error-free functionality, but we also had to ensure HIPAA and ADA compliance, training programs, process improvement, alignment with healthcare best practices, and more.
To do that, I had to construct a robust quality assurance plan encompassing testing, validation, and training activities. We had a couple of test rounds that involved both end-users and stakeholders (for user acceptance testing) to test the digital solution’s functionality, usability, performance, and security. We also had to validate the solution against a host of grant requirements.
Continuous Monitoring and Evaluation
Lastly, continuous monitoring and evaluation are imperative to maintain project health and measure success. To do that, develop key performance indicators (KPIs) and project metrics. Directly afterward, create your project milestones to create ongoing review deadlines to identify areas for improvement and proactively address concerns.
Technical Project Management Takeaway
In today’s dynamic and fast-paced digital landscape, applying technical project management techniques is the key to successfully executing digital initiatives. The above methods can further empower organizations and remind them to define clear objectives, create detailed project plans, allocate resources efficiently, embrace Agile methodologies, proactively manage risks, ensure quality assurance, and continuously monitor and evaluate progress.
By adopting these techniques, organizations can more efficiently deliver digital initiatives on time, within budget, and to stakeholders’ satisfaction. Not only that, but it enables them to maximize the value of their digital investments and achieve the desired business objectives. Moreover, these strategies are a guiding light for non-technical project managers, allowing them to navigate digital project management more efficiently and confidently. Mastering digital project management is within your grasp, regardless of your technical background!