Communication research for managing global e-business projects over knowledge management infrastructure in today's e-world
The first project on earth was documented in the Book of Genesis of the Old Testament. (Sponsor: the Lord God; Project Manager: the man; Team Members: the woman and serpent.)
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. … He took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord commanded the man,
The serpent said to the woman “Did God really say ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say ‘you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” Serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.”
(During the project review) the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” … “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” The Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” The Lord God said, “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen. 2–3). The postmortem conclusion: we are all sinners; there is no winner.
A project manager in average spends about 70 to 90 percent of the time communicating with internal team members and external stakeholders to carry out two types of activity. The first type is to ensure timely and appropriate collection, generation, dissemination, storage, and disposition of project information. The second is to provide the critical links among people, ideas, and information for decision-making and day-to-day operation that are necessary for success. (IBM WWPMM 2001) Traditionally, the focus of a project manager is on the first one, namely, generating scheduled reports and analyses to inform stakeholders about the progress and status of the project. Then, he will spend the rest of the time walking around the office premises and calling meetings for discussion, review, and decision-making.
However, in today’s e-business global market place (e-World), the project manager, team members, subcontractors, business partners, and the stakeholders may work remotely from any parts of the world through clusters of collaborative infrastructure. This new form of project workplace may include different types of communication facilities. For real-time inquiry and decision-making, the connection may be instant messaging or video/audio conferencing. For daily interaction remotely, online collaboration can be a good choice. For service, support, training, and market intelligence gathering, a structured repository under knowledge management (KM) portal can be a big help. In many circumstances, a project can even take advantage of the information technology (IT) to further integrate its operation with business partners and subcontractors for alliance and strategic outsource. Expectedly, in the future, more and more projects will acquire technology to further expand their business involvement from local operation to global reach.
As a result, we have seen that the same old communication problems, from pure ignorance to timing delay, miscommunication, speculation, distrust, conflict of interests, hidden agenda, cross-cultural misunderstanding, and inadequate information sharing, have been transformed to new formats and reintroduced to the new project workplace. The compound effects of solving complex global problems in a high technology environment complicate the new project workplace even further. In the end, a project manager may find herself in a situation that is mission critical; yet, she has no clue of what will happen next and how the risks should be managed.
This study proposes a referenced architecture for creating a project communication system that supports project management functions for new markets.
In the traditional business environment, a project started with a well-defined charter and clearly specified requirements. All the project team members were physically located around the nearby buildings. A project manager just followed through the project plan rigorously to assure on-time delivery with quality under the allocated budget.
However, today’s global e-business project is so complex that it can no longer operate under a concrete structure from a designated location. For instance, the business model, which serves as the foundation of the project charter, has been challenged daily under global competition; the underlining technology, international standards, government policies, regional economic trends, and customer awareness are not always moving in the same direction as we have anticipated. Due to the constant changes in the market place and working environment, a project may need to be regrouped and the working environment may need to be reconfigured to support all the changes.
Worldwide Competition under Local Incentive
A global project may have many regional counterparts that share the same mission and resources. Yet, the regional infrastructure, regulation, and technological support are different from country to country. Sometimes, to increase the earnings, a project may need to take advantage of regional pricing and local government incentives. Even though the reconciliation of general practices with regional exceptions complicates the situation, it adds value to the overall business. Thus, it has become a challenge to build a project management system that is able to capture project information from different sources and share it across the project team with a consistent view.
From time to time, due to the global market competitions, a supply chain or e-marketplace project may not be able to stay on the same direction as its original plan. In some cases, it may require radical changes in process, phases, and organizational structure due to business alliances or new opportunities. The dynamics of a global business operation in search of new market opportunities demands a better project system that provides real-time intelligence to guide the process.
Global Organization under New Technology
Under the global competition, a project may need to reorganize from time to time and from place to place to support its worldwide operation. Especially, the changes of business model and operational process for market compliance have always incurred a significant impact to the project organization and working environment.
A typical working environment for today’s project organization may be configured under the following three types of communication facilities. Depending on user’s demands and service availability, information may be exchanged in real-time, online, or structured interactive method. The most popular method is to have real-time connection such as e-meetings (which includes audio/video/web conference and instant messaging) and pervasive computing. The online approach is email, Team Room, and Workbench collaboration. Some useful services are on-demand intelligence, trend monitoring, and online interactive training and support through an integrated KM Portal.
To take this global challenge and manage constant changes, a project manager needs to continuously monitor his process and working environment to sustain a better practice for the business.
By looking at the challenges in the global market, we have found that an e-business project may have many regional presents scattered around different geographical areas and time zones. The physical separation and timing delay can easily trigger the chain reactions of miscommunication; and a project team may lose its consensus and consistent views during the execution. To understand the complexity of project communication caused by the impediment of distance and on-time information sharing, let us review the basic constructs of a project, which are 1) process, 2) phase, 3) organizational structure, and 4) system.
A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) by Project Management Institute (PMI®) defines the project management process as consisting of five groups of procedures: initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing. During the project execution, it may incur a set of domain specific execution procedures. For instance, an e-business application development project may involve business modeling, requirements definition, design implementation, testing, and configuration/change management procedures. All of the deliverables and major milestones of each execution procedure will be captured in the project plan for the overall project control.
A project is better broken down to series of phases/steps that enable the work products to be created in a coherent way. By zooming in to each individual project phase, a project manager is able to communicate with the project team in detail. These series of phases also provide intermediate checkpoints for management reviews and approvals.
Exhibit 1. Project Communication System Architecture
A project has to define an organizational structure with roles and responsibility for execution. Within the organization, there are boundaries and paths for notification and escalation, especially if the project subteams are not co-located functionally or physically. A project normally involves external and internal participants. Externally, there are project sponsor(s), business partner(s), and subcontractor(s). The roles and responsibilities of the external participants are identified during the project initiation and defined under the contract. Internally, for the purpose of this study, we identify a generic organizational structure that consists of project manager, team leads of project subteams, and team members.
1. Team Member: A team member is a person participating in a project with a given role and responsibility. This individual may be involved in many projects or project teams and works remotely under matrix systems. During the initial startup, the project manager will group these individual participants into a project subteam based on their assignment.
2. Team Lead: A project team lead is an individual who has the leadership responsibility in a project subteam. The sub-team is responsible for its own assignments and problem resolutions. If a subteam needs to perform several distinct functions, it should then be further divided into smaller units. For problems beyond the scope of a project subteam, the team lead needs to escalate the problems to the project manager.
3. Project Manager: All the subteams of a project are grouped together under a Project Center and managed by a project manager. The project manager, as the head of a body, will collect all of the global issues and problems from the escalation paths for resolution. Beyond that, the routine problem resolution, a project manager is expected to handle all the global challenges and competition in the project level. In case of a large portfolio of projects, all of the Project Centers will be linked together to form a Program Center managed by a Program Manager. The role and responsibility of a project manager and program manager will follow the PMBOK® Guide.
During the project execution, large amounts of data will flow through the project organization. In this information age, most of the project teams and subteams have their own IT tools to support their daily activities. However, their IT tools may not be well structured, fully integrated, or totally utilized. To overcome distance separation and time delay in information sharing and message processing, this study has proposed a referenced architecture for building a Project Communication System to enhance project communication. The proposed architecture consists of six layers: 1) Infrastructure Platform, 2) KM Portal, 3) Project Workplace, 4) Business Context, 5) Communication Map, and 6) Project Center. Please refer to the Exhibit 1 for the proposed project communication system architecture.
Under the proposed architecture, the Infrastructure Platform layer provides configurable services for real-time meetings, email, and instant messaging. KM Portal layer personalizes resource links, smart search, and online services under corporate intranet. The Project Workplace layer is composed of a cluster of functional specific Team Room(s) and Workbench to support project execution. Business Context layer consists of domain-specific Team Room(s) that store all the business related information and resource to represent business context. Communication Map connects the Business Context and Project Workplace layers into a configurable workplace. Project Center serves as the brain of the system.
Project communication can be presented in form of a meeting, reporting, or the combination of both. Project meetings can be event driven, informal, or formal. The formal project meeting can be for informational, decision-making, or problem solving. Project reporting can be for review(s), status presentation, and trend analysis. The reporting methods can be online, off-line, or interactive presentation. Depending on the nature of operation, a project may require wired as well as wireless connection. Both wired and/or wireless connectivity requires equipment and services from telephony service providers.
The typical infrastructure platform may support pervasive computing and messaging functions for instant connection. The e-meeting type of conference setup is for real-time information updates, problem solving, and decision-making. To facilitate online interaction, a project should equip a collaboration environment such as a Team Room repository or Workbench (computer aided tool or design studio) to share day-to-day planning, design, and implementation workflow. To sustain long-term operation and core competency, a project needs to introduce additional IT tools to provide learning, service, support, and market intelligence functions. To meet the market challenge and global competition, the infrastructure platform should allow the working environment to be dynamically configurable.
To build a sustainable communication infrastructure, a project manager needs to estimate the expected network utilization in terms of traffic volume, capacity bandwidth, response time, and throughput in advance in order to allocate budget and resources in the project plan. In fact, the connection method determines how fast the information will flow through the process as well as the bottom line of project efficiency. Thus, it is a good practice for a project manager to revisit the corporate IT strategy and existing availability during the project initiation so that additional resource may be allocated to support the project’s specific needs.
KM Portal uses portal middleware to structure contents and services, such as news, on demand market intelligence, service/support functions, and online learning. The Portal middleware has the personalization function to let the user define what contents to receive based on the organization, personal interests, and job responsibility. KM Portal is also capable of integrating with other tools/services for online collaboration and messaging. Ideally, the KM Portal should be the single entrance to all of the IT tools for the entire organization.
Due to the performance concerns and the compatibility issues among tools, only the common and organizational specific information are grouped and shared in KM Portal. The project specific Team Room(s) and Workbench are managed through Project Center.
Based on the organizational structure, the project manager creates functional specific Team Room(s) and Workbench for the project team. All of the individual Team Room(s) and Workbench will be integrated to form a configurable Project Workplace.
Team Room is an IT tool that provides remote and mobile team members with a shared space in which they can work together—where they can make decisions, write proposals, develop strategies, and work project plans. Team members can navigate inside Team Room, share information, collaborate on work, and set personal customization options. It also helps organize information to improve team effectiveness. The feature of Meeting Management, sharing pre-meeting materials, planning collaborative agendas, and tracking resultant meeting outcomes make the meetings more productive, more focused, and shorter.
Workbench is a computer-aided tool that provides an application/domain specific facility such as Software Developers’ Workbench for online design and development collaboration.
The business context is represented by a group of Team Room(s) and resource links to the organization’s KM portal and external websites. It collects business related information from many areas, such as government regulation and policy update, special interest group and standard body activities, corporate internal business control, instruction, and security guidelines. Some of the Team Room(s) provide only the resource links to the external website for the news and intelligent gathering. Majority of the Team Rooms are internal collection of business specific information and recent development of special interest group. In general, the business context is for information only because its activities are beyond the project scope.
During the project initiation, the project manager should scope the business context based on the needs of the project. Some of business context, which may not be on the top of the project manager’s list of high priority issues, could cause the highest threat to the final survival of a project. Thus, it is important for a project manager to work with domain experts and sponsors to identify the crucial business context and to monitor the changes constantly.
The proposed project communication system consists of many IT tools. All these IT tools require access control to use the system. To assure proper authentication and authorization for access, project manager needs to create a Communication Map based on the project organizational structure to assign permission and privilege to each team member. Please refer to Exhibit 2 for a sample communication map.
Exhibit 2. Communication Map
Exhibit 2 displays a sample Communication Map, which defines all the access connections from Project Center to Project Workplace and Business Context according to the project organizational structure.
Communication Map lays out all the connections from Project Center to Project Workplace and Business Context. The access permission to Business Context is most likely to be read-only access because it contains public information, although there may be some access restrictions for proprietary information. Access to Project Workplace is primarily based on the team member’s role and responsibility. The team member’s User Identification and corporate Directory System (Yellow Pages) is served as the key and locking device for access. The project manager needs to audit the access control list of each IT tool routinely to assure the integrity of the Project Workplace and Business Context.
Project Center is the head of a project. It has four leading functions: 1) project plan execution, 2) project review, 3) project control, and 4) process guiding. All four functions are operating on the same Infrastructure Platform according to the connections laid out by the Communication Map. The specific type of infrastructure support for each function will depend on the need of communication method. Please refer to Exhibit 3 for the description Project Center.
1. Project Plan Execution: To track the execution of a project plan, a quartet of <Task, Effort, Deliverable, and Resource> is used to describe each entry of the tasks in the project plan. All the quartets can be exported to a project-tracking tool for tracking. All the team members are required to update their progress daily to reflect the percentage of completion. The project manger then uses the method that the tracking tool has provided to manage the schedule and budget. Project tracking tool can generate statistics to the milestone scoreboard for Interlock Council to conduct the project review. Interlock Council is a committee represented by team leads, domain experts, and project manager.
2. Project Review: In a collaborative environment, a Meeting Scheduler can be used to schedule project review meeting automatically. Normally, the tool is able to send out the meeting invitation with agenda and supplemental information in the attachment to the members in Interlock Council for review. The meeting can be conducted online or real-time depending on the nature of the needs. Meeting recorder may be used to generate meeting minutes for distribution after each review meeting. All the problems or change requests resulted from the review will be tracked and monitored under the project control function of Project Center.
Exhibit 3. Project Center
3. Project Control: Project control involves three major steps: detect work results, report errors, and request changes. During project execution, Project Center first will detect the creation of work results such as software code, design documents, reports, and records. Most of the collaboration and workbench tools provide notification capability after each creation of work results. Ideally, all of the work results should be generated from the collaboration environment and automatically notified the targeted recipients. For any problems or errors found during the project review, they can be tracked through a problem-tracker. The problem tracking process will take the problem/error through the workflow procedure to evaluate the impact and determine the change. The change request starts the change monitoring process to make the proper correction. In general, both problem tracking and change monitoring processes share the same database repository. Routinely, database repository will generate a statistic report and send it to the Interlock Council for evaluation.
4. Process Guiding: During the project execution, the milestone scoreboard, meeting recorder, and evaluator provide interlock council and project manager statistics and reports for process improvement and optimization. To reach the projected target, the project manager needs to monitor the statistic measurement and review findings to fine-tune the process.
Based on the proposed project communication system, a project manager is able to create her Project Center, Project Workplace, Business Context, and Communication Map during the project initiation to establish a well defined project information and process flow. Throughout the project execution, a project manager can further refine the project communication system to adjust the course of actions for time saving and productivity improvement. As we have mentioned earlier, physical separation and timing delay can easily trigger the chain reactions of miscommunication and result in losing the team consensus and project goals. By using the proposed project communication system, it improves the efficiency of the project management function as a whole.
Exhibit 4. Case Study: Project Singapore
For a group of projects operated under the same portfolio, we can create a Program Center to manage this group of Project Centers. In fact, the proposed project communication system is so scaleable that it allows for a portfolio of projects operated under one program manager.
Project Singapore is a global e-business enablement project that automates a private business-to-business trading hub in Singapore. The front-end IT solution for the trading hub, which provides friendly user interface through Internet for purchase order submission, online invoicing, and status tracking, has been deployed in a global server-hosting environment in North America. The backend enterprise system, which processes order fulfillment, logistics, and financial settlement, is located in North America. All the trading partners can access the supply chain from any part of the world through an Internet web browser or automatic upload from their enterprise system.
Purpose and Scope
This case study is to evaluate the benefits of implementing a Project Communication System based on the proposed architecture. The period of study is from November 2001 to 28 February 2002. Due to the life cycle of Project Singapore, the e-business application software development subteam (also known as Development Team) is the only project team participated in this case study.
The project communication system under the case study has six layers.
1. Infrastructure Platform is based on the current Project Singapore’s existing regional Infrastructure.
2. KM Portal goes through a personalized portal entrance on the corporate intranet with the bookmarks of the most frequent resource links for easy access.
3. Project Workplace shares the same web-based Team Room (called QuickPlace) with Project Center. The workbench for doing application software development is under Visual Age Java development environment.
4. Business Context uses Lotus Notes-based Team Room repositories to collect internal corporate regulations and external business requirements.
5. Communication Map has only been setup for the e-business development subteam as defined in Exhibit 2 of the sample Communication Map.
6. Project Center manages all the local development activities in Singapore. It shares the same QuickPlace with Project Workplace. Through an e-meeting facility, the regional project manager schedules a weekly project review with the Interlock Council for the master schedule tracking.
In Exhibit 4, the background screen shot shows Project Center on QuickPlace that has the capability to carry out all the project management functions such as work assignment, schedule tracking, meeting invitation, meeting recording, and documentation filing. The foreground screen shots, which are displayed by Lotus Notes Team Room icons, represent the actual Project Workplace and Business Context for the Development Team.
The internal project workflows only go through Project Workplace. All of the activities for the workflow control, project review, decision-making, and problem solving require formal notification through email along with real-time e-meetings (if necessary). Since Business Context is out of the project scope, it is for informational reference only. Team member’s access permission is based on the access control permission and privileges defined in the Communication Map.
Exhibit 4 shows a snap shot Project Communication System under the case study.
Execution and Control
By implementing the proposed project communication system, the Development Team in Singapore is able to quickly automate the project execution and control procedure for software development. Through Project Center and Communication Map, the Development Team is able to interlock smoothly with the rest of the global e-business project team.
During this case study, the business model and process that support the global operation happened to be modified to accommodate a new business opportunity for strategic out-source support. Under the proposed project communication system, the project manager was able to quickly reconfigure the project workplace to include new types of activities.
Data Collection and Report Generation
In the past, the regional project manager spent a lot of time manually collecting data to generate project reports. Based on the performance indexes given to the proposed project communication system, the regional project manager is able to collect data and generate reports directly through database query.
Under the proposed project communication system, whenever a work result or change is made, the target recipients will get the notifications immediately. The impact of the change will be evaluated quickly and the project team will discover potential problems much sooner. The challenge can be tracked as a weekly open issue, change request, or problem report in their corresponding Team Room until a new task is being created in the Project Center.
Before. The regional project manager (with the team size of seven members) used to spend about one day (eight hours) per week writing emails, walking around the office premise to request progress updates, and interpreting the replies for capturing the overall progress status. Then, he spent at least two hours in the meeting with the team members for internal team review and another two hours in e-meetings for master schedule interlock. After review/interlock meeting, he spends about two hours to document the meeting minutes to update all of the team members. (The data is based on the average time spent to manage the same type of e-business development activities since January 2000 in Singapore.)
In total, the regional project manager spent about one day (eight hours) per week for individual progress updates and one day (eight hours) per week doing project reviews/interlocks. Over all, project tracking uses about 40 percent of a project manager’s time at work.
After. Under the proposed project communication system, all of the activities are described by tasks and tracked by the Project Center. All of the team members have to update their progress status and completion rate in the Project Center daily. The time that each team member spends updating her progress in the Project Center is minimal, compared to the time it takes to reply to the regional project manager.
For each weekly internal review, the regional project manager only needs to go through the summary view/page of the milestone scoreboard in the Project Center to generate a weekly progress report. By sending out the weekly progress report in advance with completion statistics, the time spent in both internal and external weekly review/interlock has been reduced to a total of one hour instead of two hours each. All of the open issues and/or action items are captured and tracked by the quartets <Task, Effort, Deliverable, and Resource> in the Project Center after the review meeting. The regional project manager then generates a new progress status to reflect all of the new tasks with a short summary and to highlight the meeting results. Creating new task quartets and generating a new status with a meeting summary takes about one hour.
In total, the regional project manager spends about one hour in generating a progress report before the meeting and three hours per week for project review/interlock (including the aforementioned updating new task quartets in the Project Center and creating meeting minutes with meeting summary and new tasks). Overall, the new project tracking method takes about 10 percent of a project manager’s time at work.
Improvement. The time spent in project tracking and interlock by a regional project manager has been reduced from two days (sixteen hours) per week to half a day (four hours) per week. Working under the Project Center, the percentage of the regional project manager’s efforts in the project tracking has been significantly reduced from 40 percent to 10 percent.
The regional project manager can now spend more time in understanding the technology trends and business contexts. In case of any unexpected changes during the project execution, the regional project manager will have more information to perform the problem determination and decision-making.
A global e-business project is very dynamic and highly market driven. It requires a guided process and a configurable working environment to support project execution and control. Some of the existing global projects do have a defined process, an organizational structure, and some automated tools. However, all these project constructs may not have integrated to facilitate a project communication system. This study has proposed a referenced architecture for creating a project communication system to manage project information and process flow during the project execution. From the case study, it shows the benefits in project communication through information sharing, early problem detection, report generation, and project tracking. After implementing this communication system, a project manager will be more business focused.
Thanks to Jayanth Jagadeesan, Senior Manager of Software Development Laboratory, for his review and valuable input.
Thanks to Emily Chang, School of Communication in University of Southern California, for her editorial comments.
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