Implementing an enterprise project management solution


by Greg Williams

Faithful readers of this column will remember Minnesota Smith's search for the legendary Automated, Integrated, Enterprise-wide Project Management (PM Network, October 1996). Via the magical medium of e-mail, our heroine discovered a lost tribe that was practicing project management the old-fashioned way, with a structured approach toward organizing, methods and tool selection. While their goal was most challenging, their feet-on-the-ground approach is highly recommended to all.

In this month's column, guest author Greg Williams discusses the rationale required to address enterprise-wide project management and the specific effort that he led to bring such a capability to his firm. Greg provides advice on how to go about dealing with such a challenge and discusses the solutions that were implemented. It is fully consistent with the good practices that have been promoted by other writers for PM Network and by PMI via the PMBOK Guide.

Harvey A. Levine, Contributing Editor

TAKE A LOOK AT today's tools for managing projects, people and finances, and the best systems integrator, let alone casual observer, could be forgiven for getting lost. A structured approach needs to be applied when trying to combine the best set of functions to meet business needs and getting them to work together in harmony.

As companies across the world move toward an environment of managing by projects, it becomes increasingly critical that the executive have visibility of projects and resources across the organization in a timely and accurate manner.

The Cross-Functional Organization

Over the past decade organizations have implemented software packages as islands of functionality to deliver project scheduling, human resource management systems (HRMS), and financial accounting solutions. To effectively integrate these packages there are numerous issues to overcome: infrastructure, culture, work methods and organizational standards of practice, to name a few.

The first question that needs to be asked is, do I need to integrate these applications? Integration can be like trying to put a round peg into a square hole. It can cost a lot of money, without any guarantee of success. The types of software we are talking about have been deployed in organizations to deliver specific functionality. In a lot of instances little thought was given to any future requirement to share information between software packages. This is certainly no fault of the decision-makers. Decisions could have been made in the context of addressing business needs that might not have included software compatibility.

When investigating tools for Enterprise Project Management it is importan t to avoid being “tools focused.” Focus on the business needs and use the tools to meet them.

Today's corporate enterprise produces demanding requirements from our information systems to accommodate the changing way we do business. For project scheduling this introduces the need for Enterprise Project Management (EPM) tools. The decision-makers need superior reporting, which includes forecasting, impact analysis and what-if scenario modeling.

Software houses are placing more development man-hours into enhancing and integrating their products to share data with other “best of breed” applications. It is easy to see the reason for this when you open the PM Network each month and are confronted with the latest and greatest software releases promising all the functionality you will ever want. These new scheduling tools, which have better graphical interfaces, are challenging some of the more mature products. Don't let this distract you from the most critical requirements: a strong scheduling function and solid multi-project capability. When evaluating these tools for your organization, ensure that you can adapt the technology in the tool to the precise needs of your business.

Tools of the Trade

When investigating tools for Enterprise Project Management it is important to avoid being “tools focused” in the approach to solving business problems; instead, focus on the business needs and use the tools to meet them.

Best efforts to implement tools can be fraught with backtracking, inconsistency of approach and unsupportable levels of expectation. An excellent priority checklist for any project manager implementing an EPM solution can be found in Gary Scott's article in the September 1996 Project Management Journal (page 9, Figure 4. Success and Failure in Projects).

There are three critical components to providing an effective automated, integrated, enterprise-wide project management solution: (1) teach and practice a consistent project management methodology, (2) implement a Project Support Office (PSO), (3) select the right tools for your organization.

For all three to work, the executive needs to recognize project management as a core competency that must have coordinated sponsorship across all management levels of the organization. The executive must also champion the adoption of a project management culture where everyone is speaking the same language and focused on achieving a common goal or strategic objective.

Some would find it interesting that selecting the right tools is ranked third. The point is that you will never get successful outcomes from projects in the organization without applying a consistent approach to project definition, planning and implementation. The Project Support Office is well placed in the middle as it sets a good platform from which the tools, user support, processes, procedures, standards and guidelines can be driven.

Practice a Consistent Project Management Methodology. Project management continues to grow as a core competency within organizations around the world; just look at the explosive growth in PMI membership. Project managers come from various backgrounds and apply different work methods. The key to successfully drawing on this experience is for project managers to speak the same language. This is where a common methodology is most effective.

PRINCE 2, Kepner-Tregoe, or any other approach that fits your organization's requirements can be used. Projects coordinated within defined project management and organizational processes provide a solid foundation upon which to build your EPM model.

The HR department can easily be overlooked as a valuable resource. Depending on the size of the organization, you are likely to find individuals with excellent skills in identifying learning and training requirements and development of training programs. The HR department can provide a fresh view of how an EPM solution can be integrated into your company, not only from a tools perspective, but also encompassing staff development, internal promotion of the concepts and a subjective view of the organization's needs and how to address them.

Implement a Project Support Office. When implementing new Enterprise Project Management tools you cannot place enough emphasis on the need for a Project Support Office. Do not expect to achieve an acceptable rate of return on your investment unless there are clearly defined expectations and absolute management backing to make it work.

As a service delivery unit, the Project Support Office should clearly document and negotiate the services provided to its customers. A sample Mission Statement would be:

An EPM system should facilitate continued bidirectional connectivity between the organization's management tools. This will ease the integration of process and estimating data, project schedules, time capture data and the corporate accounting systems

Exhibit 1. An EPM system should facilitate continued bidirectional connectivity between the organization's management tools. This will ease the integration of process and estimating data, project schedules, time capture data and the corporate accounting systems.

The Project Support Office will provide support in the use of the Company's project management tools and contribute to the delivery of successful projects by offering:

image Facilitation and provision of training in project management tools

image Project initiation

image Project design and development

image Project plan compliance to agreed standards

image Project monitoring and reporting

image Project completion and evaluation.

The Project Support Office is effectively a group of people working toward doing themselves out of a job. As familiarity with tools, processes and procedures increases, the role of the PSO will adapt and mature also. What once was considered a complex support mechanism will eventually be an everyday event. Ultimately the PSO should evolve into a “thinking” unit providing project analysis and forecasting. Setting a strategic framework for continual process improvement and migration planning for tool replacement and upgrade will be the PSO’s responsibility.

Select the Right Tools for Your Organization. When evaluating tools, look for a vendor that can locally support the tools, has experience, and can provide client references. Most software houses have their own unique approach to implementing their tools. These approaches are generally based on years of experience, so look carefully at how your organization can effectively incorporate this into your project.

Tools do not have to share data to be considered an effective EPM solution, but it helps. Well-documented processes can compensate for a decision not to integrate due to technical or financial constraints. This can especially apply to organizations that are looking to enhance their tool sets but wish to retain existing functionality. When implementing new tools, careful thought should be given to the future of the EPM model, with the view to integration opportunities in the future.

If integration is being considered, do the analysis up-front. Varying degrees of analysis will be required depending on the size of your organization, the number of users and their location; different buildings, cities and states. The basic prerequisite is a data and entity relationship model. This will clearly show the relationships that need to be considered during implementation as well as requiring attention when migrating to new versions of the software. Where possible, look for software houses that have established partnerships that support bidirectional interfaces (movement of data in both directions). This will reduce potential risk to the stability of your EPM model and the expense of future IS development when new versions of the software are released.

Hardened work methods or habits can be an impediment to the successful adoption of an EPM solution. Unlike spontaneous combustion, a change of attitude toward new tools and ways of doing work does not occur by itself. Proactively managing user acceptance is critical to a successful implementation. This can be achieved through two-way communication to your user community, delivering training to meet different user requirements (i.e., some project managers might not want or need to learn all a tool's functionality), and ensuring that experienced support is available for troubleshooting. It cannot be overemphasized that management support—pre- and post-implementation—is a principal factor that should not overlooked.

The EPM Model for Tools Integration

Exhibit 1 represents a simple generic model that could have any number of tools substituted for the functions noted inside the boxes. Some components may be integrated products supplied by the same vendor; however, my experience has shown that best-of-breed solutions tend to be supplied by specialized software houses.

Hardened work methods or habits can be an impediment to the successful adoption of an EPM solution. Unlike spontaneous combustion, a change of attitude toward new tools and ways of doing work does not occur by itself.

Project Scheduler. When implementing an EPM tool, ensure that a good support infrastructure is in place or at the least is planned to be established before the tools are migrated into the production environment.

Critical to a successful implementation of the tool is a disciplined team of specialized individuals. The core team should be comprised of people with the following skills: project manager with tool selection and implementation experience; tool and subject matter expert, pre-trained and fully versed with the tools; data entry specialist for database population and customization. These three functions can be effectively filled in your organization by two people. For a small company of under 150 people one person could fulfill these roles, with assistance from the vendor.

Corporate Accounting System. An organization's EPM model should be tailored to the business needs. In this model we are looking to incorporate the project deliverables and their associated cost into the Corporate Accounting System. The Corporate Accounting System in itself is an integrated solution that could have General Ledger, Purchasing, Accounts Payable, Inventory and Fixed Assets together with a Project Accounting module that provides an historical record for legal compliance and project analysis.

Timesheet Capture System. For project accounting purposes it is critical that all effort employed on a project be regularly recorded against the work packages in the project plan. Each activity defined in the project plan requires updating with the following information once work has commenced on the activity: actual start date, remaining duration, spent hours to date, estimated effort to complete, expected date of completion.

This information is crucial to the ongoing process of identifying how much progress has been made against the original time scale for the project, for scheduling the remaining work, and for comparing original budget hours against what is expected to be spent to deliver the total project. Timesheet systems have been developed to capture this detailed information for automatic input to project plans.

Once the data has been posted to the relevant projects, the project manager can run the scheduling process to take account of the latest progress. Reports can then be produced to show time progress, effort progress and forecast to completion. These can be combined to produce earned value reporting; i.e., what have we achieved of the total project for what we have spent.

Some project scheduling packages come with a timesheet module. A timesheet capture mechanism should be a high-priority component to your EPM whilst setting objectives and business requirements for an enterprise project scheduling tool.

In my organization the decision was made to develop a timesheet capture application based on a business requirement that effort must be posted concurrently to both the Corporate Accounting System and Artemis ProjectView. No other product in the market met this requirement. We have achieved a synergy of being able to capture detail within our project scheduling tool and summarize project costs at a higher level within the Corporate Accounting System, therefore delivering exceptional functionality, good control mechanisms and timely reporting.

Be aware of the traps here. In-house designed and developed software incorporated into your EPM model will need detailed technical documentation and solid analysis showing data flow and entity relationships. If these cannot be delivered, make sure you are not tied to the experience of a single developer for future enhancements that may be required. If these constraints cannot be satisfied, do not develop; buy shrink-wrapped instead.

Process Management. The process management tool supports delivery life cycles, offering a repository of processes, templates and packages of work, providing planning consistency and an improved approach to project estimation modeling in a variety of industry and functional environments.

Common features of process management tools such as SHL Systemhouse Transform or LBMS Process Engineer include fully tasked and role-assigned project plans for transfer to a scheduling tool; accurate estimates on resource requirements; modification of templates to ensure successes can be repeated; use of a Process Library to provide rationale for the what/when/why/how of processes.

Enterprise Resource Planning

Increasing demands placed on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) require superior staff development tools and better workflow monitoring mechanisms. We should expect to see an increase over the next 12 months in the number of software houses that are looking to integrate their solutions into an EPM model. An early indication of this is Primavera's partnership with The Baan Company in support of Enterprise Resource and Activity Control. This is in response to customer demands for a more complete understanding of the costs, schedules, materials and resources needed at every step of the supply chain. Control at every stage of the supply chain is crucial to reducing time-to-market and guaranteeing customer delivery.

SUCCESSFULLY DEPLOYING an EPM solution is not about whether it works or not. Once you have an acceptable and operational solution that meets your organization's business needs, it must be used. Our organization believes that benefits from EPM are gained through staggered enhancements to the model and then focusing on getting our user community to adopt the increased functionality that is delivered, before implementing the next enhancement.

Developing your EPM model will become difficult to justify if there is no perceived value from the investment that has already been made. Good management and executive support for taking the three steps to implementing an EPM solution will lay the foundation for stable growth in the future. ■

Greg Williams, project specialist, is presently working for a telecommunications company in New Zealand. He has a background in corporate banking, litigation, business management, manufacturing and IT consulting. Greg is a member of PMI and can be contacted at [email protected].

PM Network • October 1997



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