Network professionals are typically well versed in the technical aspects of networking: router and switch configuration, server deployment and management, and so on. They are rarely trained on how to manage projects, however. This is unfortunate, because many of the problems that networking pros face in projects can be mitigated with just a few project management skills and techniques.
Design and install networks long enough, and you'll be sure to have some projects go awry as a result of unforeseen surprises. Sometimes, the power in a communications room isn't ready when you need to install an Ethernet switch. Other times, the one piece of network equipment you need is on perpetual back order. Or users decide they need greater wireless coverage than they asked for -- for the same cost, of course.
Managing network projects doesn't have to be an exercise in fortunetelling, however. At heart, a network project is just like any other project: It has an objective, a timeline, a budget and client expectations.
Properly trained project managers command hefty salaries because they understand these factors, but I've discovered in my own pursuit of a Project Management Professional certification that applying a few simple project management tips can make a big difference.
I once saw the following on the wall of an oil-change service station: "You can have it done cheap, fast or right; pick two." This is true of all projects, and it illustrates the so-called triple constraints rule: Projects are subject to cost, schedule and performance parameters. Changing one will affect at least one of the remaining two.
For example, let's say you're installing a network to allow for Internet access and e-mail at Shelbyville Bank and Trust. The project includes configuring a Microsoft Exchange server and installing a virtual private network firewall for security. The deadline is in two months.
One week into the project, things change, and the network needs to be done in three weeks instead of two months. Your staff is already fully devoted to this and other projects. You can't cut out functionality, because the office still requires all of the network connectivity and e-mail functionality. What can you do?
The only way to accommodate the schedule is to increase manpower by paying overtime to your employees or subcontracting. Either way, the cost will go up, yet the bank will likely balk at that. At that point, armed with the understanding of the triple-constraints principle, you can calmly explain why the new deadline will increase the overall network project cost.
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