Initiating projects, determining project feasibility, scheduling projects, and planning and then managing activities and team members for productivity are all important capabilities for the systems analyst to master. As such, they are considered project management fundamentals.
A systems project begins with problems or with opportunities for improvement in a business that often come up as the organization adapts to change.The increasing popularity of ecommerce means that some fundamental changes are occurring as businesses either originate their enterprises on, or move their internal operations as well as external relationships to, the Internet. Changes that require a systems solution occur in the legal environment as well as in the industry’s environment. Analysts work with users to create a problem definition reflecting current business systems and concerns. Once a project is suggested, the systems analyst works quickly with decision makers to determine whether it is feasible. If a project is approved for a full systems study, the project activities are scheduled through the use of tools such as Gantt charts and Program Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) diagrams so that the project can be completed on time. Part of assuring the productivity of systems analysis team members is effectively managing their scheduled activities. This chapter is devoted to a discussion of project management fundamentals.
Summary of what you will learn in this chapter
The five major project management fundamentals that the systems analyst must handle are (1) project initiation—defining the problem, (2) determining project feasibility, (3) activity planning and control, (4) project scheduling, and (5) managing systems analysis team members. When faced with questions of how businesses can meet their goals and solve systems problems, the analyst creates a problem definition. A problem definition is a formal statement of the problem, including (1) the issues of the present situation, (2) the objectives for each issue, (3) the requirements that must be included in all proposed systems, and (4) the constraints that limit system development.
Selecting a project is a difficult decision, because more projects will be requested than can actually be done. Five important criteria for project selection are (1) that the requested project be backed by management, (2) that it be timed appropriately for a commitment of resources, (3) that it move the business toward attainment of its goals, (4) that it be practical, and (5) that it be important enough to be considered over other possible projects.
If a requested project meets these criteria, a feasibility study of its operational, technical, and economic merits can be done. Through the feasibility study, systems analysts gather data that enable management to decide whether to proceed with a full systems study. By inventorying equipment already on hand and on order, systems analysts will be able to better determine whether new, modified, or current computer hardware is to be recommended.
Computer hardware can be acquired through purchase, lease, or rental. Vendors will supply support services such as preventive maintenance and user training that are typically negotiated separately. Software can be created as a custom product, purchased as a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software package, or outsourced to an application service provider (ASP).
Preparing a systems proposal means identifying all the costs and benefits of a number of alternatives. The systems analyst has a number of methods available to forecast future costs, benefits, volumes of transactions, and economic variables that affect costs and benefits. Costs and benefits can be tangible (quantifiable) or intangible (nonquantifiable and resistant to direct comparison). A systems analyst has many methods for analyzing costs and benefits, including break-even analysis, the payback method, and cash-flow analysis.
Project planning includes the estimation of time required for each of the analyst’s activities, scheduling them, and expediting them if necessary to ensure that a project is completed on time. One technique available to the systems analyst for scheduling tasks is the Gantt chart, which displays activities as bars on a graph.
Another technique, called Program Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT), displays activities as arrows on a network. PERT helps the analyst determine the critical path and slack time, which is the information required for effective project control.
Creating a project charter containing user expectations and analyst deliverables is recommended, since unrealistic management deadlines, adding unneeded personnel to a project that is trying to meet an unrealistic deadline, and not permitting developer teams to seek expert help outside their immediate group, were cited by programmers as reasons projects had failed. Project failures can usually be avoided by examining the motivations for requested projects, as well as your team’s motives for recommending or avoiding a particular project.
The systems analyst has three main steps to follow for putting together an effective systems proposal: effectively organizing the proposal content, writing the proposal in an appropriate business style, and orally presenting an informative systems proposal. To be effective, the proposal should be written in a clear and understandable manner, and its content should be divided into 10 functional sections. Visual considerations are important when putting together a proposal.
Once you have mastered the material in this chapter you will be able to:
- Understand how projects are initiated and selected, define a business problem, and determine the feasibility of a proposed project.
- Inventory and appraise current and proposed hardware and software and the way it supports human interactions with technology.
- Evaluate software by addressing the trade-offs among creating custom software, purchasing COTS software, and outsourcing to an application service provider.
- Forecast and analyze tangible and intangible costs and benefits.
- Plan a project by identifying activities and scheduling them.
- Manage team members and analysis and design activities so that the project objectives are met while the project remains on schedule.
- Professionally write and present an effective systems proposal, concentrating on both content and design.
- Project Initiation
- Defining the Problem in Project Initiation
- Selection of Projects
- Feasibility Study – Determining Whether the Project is Feasible
- Technical Feasibility – Ascertaining Hardware and Software Needs
- Acquisition of Computer Equipment – Technical Feasibility
- Software Evaluation in Technical Feasibility
- Economic Feasibility – Identifying & Forecasting Costs & Benefits
- Comparing Costs and Benefits – Economic Feasibilty
- Activity Planning and Control – Project Management
- Using PERT Diagrams in Project Planning
- Managing the Project
- Managing Analysis and Design Activities
- Creating the Project Charter & Avoiding Project Failures
- Organizing the Systems Proposal
- Using Figures for Effective Communication in System Proposal