Project management use of cloud collaboration

Managing Director, Turlon & Associates, Ireland.

Rory Scanlon, BSc

Project Manager, Zarion, Ireland

Abstract

With projects we are always drawing up plans (some more formal than others) and trying to carry them out, usually as part of a team, which ultimately delivers on project execution. This is the basic principle behind project management. Currently, we have a host of great project management tools, ranging from simple status reports to Gantt charts. Project management, however, is an area that practically cries out for a cloud solution, because much of the time you need to involve clients, partners, or outside contractors. The question this paper is asking is: How can a project manager couple effective project management with an integrated cloud collaboration package?

Cloud collaboration should feature a one-stop location to manage information in a secure, efficient, remotely accessible, and consolidated manner. The project should then be able to reduce redundancy and knowledge gaps by using the collaboration and communication features. When you can manage and do your work on a single platform, you can dramatically increase the productivity of your team. The goal should not be displacing the project management tools that people use; rather, it should be to radically improve performance for projects that take either one week or projects that take three years.

This Paper's Objectives:

  • To understand cloud collaboration tools and techniques

  • To identify how cloud collaboration can help project managers

  • To understand the best way of deploying cloud collaboration

Background to Cloud Collaboration

Collaborative software unites the virtual workforce and attempts to make the experience of working together as natural and productive as working in the same physical location. It has long been regarded that co-location is one of the driving principles behind team unity and productivity. These days, more powerful, integrated applications and services for social computing—including “RSS Feeds,” “wikis,” “blogs,” and social networks—are joining the array of collaboration tools available to businesses as they attempt to become more manageably diverse in the organization and projects.

The use of tools, such as project workspaces, document repositories, team access to contact and schedule information, shared project flowcharts, shared task lists, and automated notifications is growing; these tools provide a foundation for virtual teamwork by keeping everyone's status and work visible. Team members can see shared information in the periphery of their standard work environment or they can access up-to-the-minute data from any portable device. Terms like “the cloud,” “cloud collaboration,” and “cloud computing” have come to the fore to allow organizations and projects to come to grips with the impacts of the Internet and other technologies on projects.

Project Cloud Collaboration

Cloud collaboration is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics:

Characteristic 1: - Dynamic computing infrastructure: Cloud computing requires a dynamic computing infrastructure. The foundation for the dynamic infrastructure is a standardized, scalable, and secure physical infrastructure. There should be high levels of availability, but mostly it must be easy to extend as use growth demands it, and without additional rework.
   
  This infrastructure should be highly usable, whether provided by an external cloud provider or an internal IT department, and deliver project value over and above the investment. A dynamic computing infrastructure is critical to effectively supporting the virtual nature of projects
Characteristic 2: - IT service approach: Cloud computing is an IT service. This is in stark contrast to more traditional system models. In most cases, project users of the cloud want to run some project service or application for a specific, timely purpose. They do not want to get bogged down in the system and network administration of the environment. They would prefer to quickly and easily access a dedicated instance of a project application or service.
   
  This enables the project team to use the service in a quick and efficient manner, thereby reducing cost and maximizing output.
Characteristic 3: - Self-service usage: Interacting with the cloud requires some level of user proficiency. Users should have the ability to upload, build, deploy, schedule, manage, and report on their project on demand. Self-service cloud offerings must provide easy-to-use, intuitive user interfaces that equip any project team members to productively manage the project delivery life cycle.
   
  The benefit of self service from the project manager's perspective is a level of empowerment and independence that yields significant project agility. The more self service that can be delegated to project team members, the less administrative involvement is necessary.
Characteristic 4: - Self-managed platform: In order for an IT team or provider to efficiently provide a cloud for the project, they must leverage a technology platform that is self managed.
   
  Cloud collaboration should enable self-management via software automation.
Characteristic 5: - Consumption-based billing: Cloud collaboration is usage driven. Projects pay only for the resources they use and therefore are charged or billed on a consumption-based model.
   
  This is a scalable project billing model.

These defining characteristics are necessary to produce project cloud collaboration that is capable of achieving value, reduced support costs, and significantly increased project agility; all of these enable projects to improve their performance and competitiveness in the markets they serve.

Project Cloud Delivery Models

Traditional project managers would consider “delivery” to mean something very different than it does today. In the not so distant past, in response to a purchase order, delivery meant that a lot of computers and related hardware would show up one day on the loading dock of the customer. Today, project managers working in a cloud environment expect something very different when referring to delivery.

Cloud collaboration offers three distinct delivery models to reach this goal, depending on the needs of the project: private cloud, public cloud, or hybrid cloud. The three types of delivery models are:

Delivery Model 1: - Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS). The capability provided to the project is to use the project's applications running on a cloud infrastructure and accessible from various client devices through an interface such as a web browser (e.g., web-based e-mail). The project does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure, network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.
Delivery Model 2: - Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created applications using programming languages and tools supported by the provider (e.g., java, python, .Net). The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure, network, servers, or operating
Delivery Model 3: - Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources in which the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage, deployed applications, and possibly selecting networking components (e.g., firewalls, load balancers).

Although these are the delivery models, project clouds can be deployed using:

Deployment Model 1: - Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is operated solely for an organization or project. It may be managed by the project or a third party and may exist on the project site or off the premises.
Deployment Model 2: - Community cloud. The cloud infrastructure is shared by several organizations or projects and supports a specific community that has shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations). It may be managed by the projects or a third party and may exist on or off the premises.
Deployment Model 3: - Public cloud. The cloud infrastructure is made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services.
Deployment Model 4: - Hybrid cloud. The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting).

Successful project cloud applications are therefore essential, because the benefits identified will have greater impact on and relevance to some projects than others. The following is a definition of the core categories or tools that give the biggest project benefits:

  • Collaboration: Having applications used to communicate and collaborate like instant messaging, chat, on-line team rooms, web conferencing, team portals, and so forth.

  • Productivity: Tools used to do your work, like e-mail, applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and so forth.

  • Business: Having software that manages business functions like CRM for marketing, HR for employee management, time sheeting, expense management, and so forth.

  • Finance: Decision support systems like enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications that look after your accounting and profitability functions, capacity planning tools, and so on (e.g., Sage, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, etc.)

  • Infrastructure on-demand: Being able to provide infrastructure capacity on-demand, including storage, network and server infrastructure.

  • Development and deployment platform: Being able to provide platforms that allow development of the projects’ own applications, which include development languages, localization environments, and tools.

Having examined the characteristics of cloud collaboration and how this applies to the project domain, this paper will examine a specific project case-study to show the uses and pitfalls of cloud collaboration.

Project Cloud Collaboration Case Study

The case study is used to demonstrate an example of how cloud collaboration is impacting and influencing project management. The case study outlines the use of cloud collaboration in the software development division of an international Irish company with a global customer base. This company has developed its global customer base over the last ten years and the majority of its customers are in the United States. The company provides services and a suite of on-demand software products to its customers.

The software development department is located in Dublin, Ireland. It also uses additional development resources from outsourcing firms in Eastern Europe. The sales, marketing, and product management departments are headquartered in the United States.

This case study outlines how teams that are made up of members who are located in different geographical locations and time zones use cloud-based technology to overcome this communication challenge.

Cloud Collaboration

The ideal project setup is for a software development team to be co-located in the same room, with customer representation close at hand. However, this is not always the case with customers, customer teams, and other stakeholders often spread around different locations and countries. The core of the project team, including the project manager, may be located together, but additional resources such as developers and testers may be located off shore.

With the pressure to run projects as efficiently as possible and provide innovative and high-quality products, communication becomes one of the key factors in the success of a project. No matter how well written requirements documents are, regular discussions between the customer team and the project team are necessary. Collaboration is vital to good communication between team members. Collaboration technology provides the platform for the teams to keep in constant communication.

It is the project manager who provides the link between the project team members to communicate via the collaboration technology to ensure smooth and accurate collaboration. (Exhibit 1)

Linkage Between Teams

Exhibit 1 - Linkage Between Teams

Cloud collaboration has now expanded beyond the core of e-mail communications to social networking, group content creation and management, presentation sharing, project management, integrated voice and video, calendaring, scheduling, and more.

Cloud Collaboration in Use

The company is experiencing a spike in sales and new market activity, which has resulted in a need to enhance its product suite. Additional capacity has been added to the software development team by taking on additional contract staff in the Dublin office and additional staff in its offshore teams in Eastern Europe.

This has put increased pressure on the project management of new software development.

The company uses a variety of cloud-based project management and collaboration tools. With the rapid increase in staff numbers, the use of cloud-based tools has facilitated the roll-out of the tools to staff in a cost-effective manner in all locations. This has also facilitated the mobility of staff to move between development teams as needed and reduces the ramp-up time of a new team member.

The development teams follow the agile project management framework called scrum. A development team is a cross-functional team made up of a project manager, business analyst, technical architect, developers, testers, and a product manager. The team members are located in different geographical locations and time zones. Here is an example of a team: The project manager, developers, and testers are located in the Dublin office. The technical architect lives in the United States and works from home. The product manager, part of the product management team is located in the U.S. office. The business analyst and User Interface (UI) developer are located in the off-shore office in Eastern Europe

Cloud-based Project Management Tool (Rally)

Rally Software provides an SaaS Application Lifecycle Management platform that gives development organizations the visibility and project collaboration needed to deliver a steady flow of high-value software. Rally is an agile project management tool that combines project management, test and defect management with requirements, and product and development management. It is a cloud-based service for collaboration in cross-functional teams and for coordinating multi-team programs. The requirements and priorities are maintained here for all the development teams. Status reports and dashboards are available to the teams, project manager, and the executive management team.

The team works in three-week iterations, with a planning meeting at the start of the iteration and a review meeting at the end of the iteration to demonstrate the work completed. The team holds a daily status meeting.

Collaboration between the team members is done using a number of cloud-based collaboration tools. Skype is used by all staff to communicate daily on both an ad hoc basis and for meetings. The functionality used includes: person-to-person calls, group calls, video calls, screen sharing, and instant messaging.

WebEx conferencing is also used for meetings. WebEx combines desktop sharing through a web browser with telephone conferencing and video so that everyone sees the same thing at a meeting.

Both these cloud-based services can be used from any computer and from Wi-Fi or 3G-enabled mobile devices.

A typical meeting would involve co-located team members gathering together in a meeting room and then other team members who are off-site joining the meeting via Skype. The project manager acts as the facilitator for the meetings. Preparation for the meeting is vital and a good knowledge of the technology being used is very important.

For a planning meeting, the project manager opens the project management tool Rally, opens the application that the development team is currently working on, and opens any other supporting documents or visuals that will assist the team in planning. The project manager shares his or her desktop with all attendees via WebEx, so that there will be a common understanding of what topic is being discussed, what document is being reviewed, or what part of the application is being discussed.

Future for Cloud Collaboration

One advance in cloud collaboration will revolve around improved video conferencing for meetings. Video conferencing allows better interaction between participants; it makes meetings more personal and improves the communication experience, because participants can view all meeting attendees and see their facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures. This has an immense improvement on the effectiveness of conference meetings. Currently, high-quality video conferencing for group meetings entails expensive technology and uses a lot of bandwidth. The high use of bandwidth discourages the use of it on a daily bases. Improvements in infrastructure, technology, and reduction in costs will further encourage the wider use of video conferencing for group meetings.

Improvements like this will help a project manager ensure that his or her team is communicating effectively and ease the management of projects in which teams are made up of members located in diverse locations.

Conclusion

The maturity of the project cloud varies greatly, depending on the nature of the application under consideration and also the size of the organization and project. It is the opinion of the authors that certain applications are inherently more suited to the cloud, whereas others have many years to go before they will gain widespread maturity and adoption in the project cloud, if at all. The various categories of applications and their underlying maturity and suitability for the cloud must be borne in mind when discussing cloud adoption.

Organizations are still in the early stages of reviewing and using cloud collaboration technology, and project managers may have uninformed and potentially unrealistic views of the upsides and downsides of the cloud. However, the current adoption rates of cloud collaboration technology are on the increase, which suggests that the cloud represents a good proposition for project management but there are still a number of obstacles when considering cloud adoption. Addressing these obstacles will be paramount in unlocking the potential opportunity of cloud computing.

Orenstein, G. ( February 21, 2010); The cloud collaboration wars ramp up. Retrieved from http://gigaom.com/2010/02/21/the-cloud-collaboration-wars-ramp-up/

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2011, Liam Dillon, Rory Scanlon
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dublin, Ireland

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