Beyond automated scheduling packages
Project Management in Action
THE EXECUTIVE'S NOTEBOOK
Joan Knutson, Feature Editor
The May PMNETwork presented a partial list of project planning, scheduling, and controlling software packages. But there is a whole new world of on-line access to project management (PM) information beyond these automated scheduling packages. Certainly the auxiliary spreadsheet, data base and job accounting systems that up-load or down-load data into the automated scheduling packages are important. However, the really exciting innovations have nothing to do with time, resources or budget in the traditional sense. They are proprietary online project methodologies and on-line project toolkits.
Having had the opportunity of working with clients and colleagues who are building these automated support systems, I asked them to share with PMNETwork readers what they are developing and some of their experiences.
Project Management Methodologies (PMM) in hard copy have been around for decades. They have come in various colored binders that take up a little or a large part of your shelf. The stalwart end-users attack the massive documentation when they have a question of what to do or how to do it on their project. The writers of the methodology try to make the access to this documentation easy to use. They create detailed indices, add tabs to the notebooks, design the methodology around schematics and/or they may generate a detailed volume, a less detailed volume, and a quick-and-easy reference guide. With all that effort to achieve ease of use, the end-user may still not use the detailed parts of the methodology and may only occasionally look at the quick-easy reference guide. Furthermore, maintaining the methodology is laborious. The keeper-of-the-methodology makes ongoing refinements, sending out the replacement pages. Since they take time to position in the manuals, these replacement pages often get put in the back of the binder never to get integrated into the methodology.
Some organizations have increased the ease of use of their methodologies by installing them on on-line computer systems. Accessing the documentation is easier. Updates are immediately available without further effort by the user. Relevant portions can be copied quickly into a working file and discarded upon completion of the task requiring that guidance.
Allstate Insurance Company and Coming Incorporated are two companies that have automated the access to their PMMs.
Allstate Insurance Company
Several organizations have decided to make their PMM more accessible and more easily maintainable by putting them on-line. Allstate Insurance developed a PMM that was documented in the usual binders. Sharon Derrick is responsible for this methodology for the Project Office in the Corporate Information Systems department. She has made their Reference Manual available to the end-users on their local area network (LAN) using Folio software. The Quick Guide, the schematic model of the methodology, and the Project Manager's Handbook are still in hard copy. However, the 100-page Reference Guide is available on the LAN and is referenced on an as-needed basis. The end-user accesses the methodology when a reminder is needed of the detailed approach to completing a portion of the methodology.
Sharon tells us that the impetus for automating the methodology was twofold. First, C.I.S. management gave a directive that all standards and guidelines are to be accessible on-line. Second, automated files are easier to maintain.
Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm. She is in the process of developing a project management toolkit for the project management community. If you have any ideas of functions which should be included, let her know by writing to PMIC.
What lessons has Sharon learned in this process? Making the most current version of the methodology available on-line does not necessarily ensure that people will use it. It only makes sure that all the barriers to getting the information are removed. The job of the Project Office is to provide the rationale and motivation that encourages people to see value in the adherence to the methodology.
Sharon gave us a user's perspective; now let's take a look at an on-line methodology from a developer's perspective.
Making the most current version of the methodology available on-line … only makes sure that all the barriers to getting the information are removed.
The Corporate Information Services group of Corning contracted with Ira Bitz, a consultant*, to support them in the development of a PMM and to make the methodology accessible on their 250-plus-node local area network.
Though the ability to access the PMM quickly was important to Corning, the real impetus for the conversion to an on-line file was maintainability. Changing the master methodology file on-line was more efficient than reproducing and distributing periodic revision packets. Most importantly, the methodology was more effective because the updates were immediately available to the entire distribution list as soon as they were released.
The methodology itself was developed on Ventura Publishing software. It was then converted to an interim file using MasterHelp and finally compiled by the Windows Help compiler, a part of Microsoft's Windows software. The automated methodology, 3.9 megabytes residing on a file server, is available to the end-user via the local area network.
The methodology consists of the tasks and deliverables from each phase of the PM life cycle. It includes templates of input and output forms plus captured screens from Corning's chosen project scheduling software, Project Scheduler™ 5. In addition, the methodology can be copied and annotated to adapt it to the needs of a particular project.
A phased implementation approach was used. First, they customized the PMM based on input from various people at Corning. They employed it on six pilot projects, refining it based on real-world feedback. After the revised methodology was approved, it went on-line. All the initial methodology binders were collected and the paper recycled, leaving no paper except for a laminated card that is used as an easy reference.
The Systems Development Life Cycle has now been developed and made available through on-line access. Yet to come are unique models for other types of projects.
Ira Bitz said that the development effort was painless using the MasterHelp and the Windows Help conversion software. However, if he were to do it again, he would be sure the graphics were in bitmap format before the conversion. He would also have converted into VGA rather then Super VGA mode to save memory and reduce the occurrences of data being too large to fit on the screen.
ON-LINE PROJECT TOOLKITS
PMMs consist of a lot of text. Project toolkits consist of input and output form templates required by the PMM. The online form templates allow the end-user to consistently produce the needed project documentation. It also makes the entry process faster and easier than filling out paper versions of these forms by hand. I work with two companies, Visa International and California State Automobile Association, that are in the process of developing these types of project toolkits. Consider some of their experiences.
More than four years ago, Visa designed a systems development/PMM. We worked with them in this development, later rewriting it to be a generic product development/PMM applicable to all types of projects conducted within Visa International. As the methodology began to take root, the end-users started asking for more specific guidance in preparing certain planning, tracking, and controlling documents. Questions came up such as, “What data elements do you want to see in the document and in what order do you want me to present the information?” The forms could have been designed and paper copies provided. Given the large constituency using the methodology in the United States, Asia-Pacific, England, Latin American and Canada, it was decided that an automated toolkit would be more flexible and easier to use.
As the new keeper-of-the-methodology (among many other responsibilities), Jim Wheeler, a business planning consultant in the Project Management Services division, is picking up the refinement and roll-out of the toolkit from his predecessor. At this time, four tools reside on the toolkit diskette. They are:
- The Work Breakdown Structure of tasks from the methodology (currently on Microsoft Project)
- A Responsibility Matrix including all the possible responsible areas within Visa (on Excel)
- A Change Control Log (on Microsoft Word)
- An Issues Log (also on Microsoft Word)
The current toolkit takes the form of a diskette and a binder that contains the directions for activating and using the files in the toolkit. The diskettes are available in both IBM and Macintosh formats. This packet is given to appropriate project leaders and directors and participants in the PMM seminar and Visa's Microsoft Project classes.
The game plan was to start small and provide the “bare bones” tools needed in managing projects. The next step is to make the tools available on the LAN. Beyond that, the toolkit can be expanded to include the form templates that support the methodology, some models for small projects, and models for maintenance efforts. A presentation template is also being considered, using software such as Persuasion, to aid project teams in preparing Milestone Reviews for management at the end of every phase of the life cycle.
Jim was asked what lessons he is learning on this endeavor. He suggests that one should not design the templates for any technical area of the business; but design them for the broadest range of people. Don't get carried away at the beginning— start small and keep it simple. The challenge is not to put too much out there at one time.
Don't get carried away at the beginning—start small and keep it simple. The challenge is not to put too much out there at one time.
California State Automobile Association (CSAA), Inter-Insurance Bureau
CSAA is another firm that is doing innovative work in automated support for the PM discipline. Martin Faulkner, manager of the Project Management department in the Information Services division, is the creator of this sophisticated yet elegant automated PM support system. He has two overriding objectives for this system: (1) create an infrastructure of commonality for the many folks doing project management; and (2) allow the project manager and team members to concentrate on content rather than format. As you review the impressive list of achievements below, keep in mind those two objectives:
- Detailed timing and action plan - A time and responsibility action list providing a mechanism for managing those efforts within the project that need to be planned and tracked down to the hour such as testing or weekend installations (on Microsoft Word).
- Project planning checklist - A checklist reminding the end-user of tasks that need to be done and things that need to be considered when planning the project (on Microsoft Word).
- Statement of Work template - A template presenting the Statement of Work model in the form of text and tables and providing the hidden text capability to remind the requester what is needed in each of the sections (on Microsoft Word).
- Roles and responsibilities - A matrix template documenting the people who will assume prime and support responsibilities for each of the tasks in the Work Breakdown Structure (on Microsoft Word, interacting with Visio, as described below).
- Project manager and project team member status reports - Templates standardizing the type and sequence of information required in project status reports (on Microsoft Word).
- Memo/report/letter formats - Templates setting the headers and the footers of these various forms of correspondence (on Microsoft Word).
- Action resolution system log-A data base codifying any change, test problem, project issue, assignment or question that needs resolution (on Microsoft Access). Because these items come up when one is not necessarily sitting behind their computer, project team members are given small forms that they fill out as the situation surfaces. Someone keys the data from the forms into Microsoft Access. The “actions” are sorted and distributed appropriately and tracked to closure by the project manager.
- Project organization chart - A template that translates the roles and responsibilities entered in Microsoft Word (described above) into a graphic portrayal of the project organizational relationships (on Visio).
Treat this entire development process as a project, Plan it and track it using the project scheduling software.
Samples of completed versions of all the items above are also provided. End-users can review the samples or can cut and paste from the sample into their own documents.
- Tailored “views” — Alternative extracts of the information customizing and creating new ways to look at the data available in the scheduling package (on Project Workbench).
Even though the list above is certainly impressive, they have only started. Here are some of the future automated PM support tools that they plan to add to their Project Managers' Toolkit:
- First-cut project plan-A system that creates a project plan in minutes, using models and metrics. Here's how it will work. Computer Sciences Corporation's Catalyst Methodology will be resident on the Project Bridge Modeler. By answering a series of questions, the Bridge Modeler suggests a route to be used for this project type. The route might be to meet the project objectives via a package or a prototype or new development. After the route is determined, the Modeler software produces a Work Breakdown Structure that includes the relevant tasks as well as generic resources and estimated duration for each task. This WBS file is seamlessly exported into Project Workbench, which generates a first-cut of the schedule and resource plan. This first-cut is then manually refined to become the final project plan (on Project Bridge Modeler and Project Workbench).
- Presentation templates - Graphics, tables and bulleted lists offering a variety of approaches to portraying data to be presented at any type of project meeting (on Microsoft Powerpoint).
- Earned value reporting - Consolidating the time, cost, effort and work accomplishment on one page (on Excel).
The above discusses the software platforms used in this impressive PM toolkit. The hardware platform is an IBM Token Ring that runs off of an OS/2 server. The network will be converted to a Novell network in the near future.
Even that does not end the vision of Martin Faulkner and CSAA. Other possibilities include automating the estimating effort through some type of Function Point software and linking some of the above tools with the product development toolkit. They are considering expanding the purview of project management. Today the PM discipline at CSAA becomes operational after the project is approved. Why not make automated support available during project initiation and justification? With this organization, one is never sure where their creativity will end.
What are the lessons that Martin has learned so far in this endeavor? Martin believes it is important to treat this entire development process as a project. Plan it and track it using the project scheduling software. (They managed this toolkit development effort as a project and they met all their targets.) Also, he suggests that the releases be kept small and frequent and that changes be made in small increments. And the last piece of advice—get feedback from the end-users. CSAA has solicited input from the project community through one-on-one interviews, surveys, and anything they possibly can to be sure they are responding to the end-user's needs.
These are the experiences of four companies who are doing interesting things to support the PM discipline through automation. It appears that the only restriction on designing meaningful PM “support software” systems is our creativity and willingness to consider different software platforms. The challenge is out there for all of us to build a more interactive, a more efficient, a more effective, a more maintainable, on-line information base for our PM community. ❑
* lra Bitz, president, Ira Bitz and Associates, Chevy Chase, Maryland
PMNETwork • June 1994