The virtual project

a blueprint for automation in the 21st century

PM Industry


Mohan Uttarwar

Project management may not be the world's oldest profession but it's close. The concept has been around for thousands of years. Throughout the history of the civilized world, it has been used to manage projects of every level of complexity.

Historically, the ways in which we have managed projects mirrored the ways in which the organization was structured. A few decades ago, these organizations were well-staffed and functionally compartmentalized, but downsizing and rightsizing have changed the way in which they operate. The concept of the “virtual corporation” is fast becoming a reality.

As Harvey Levine pointed out in this space in the May issue, the traditional organizational paradigm is in the process of a massive shift. He cited the “flattening” of organizations; “empowering” of each team member; and the increasing role of information as power. The computerized tools that are used to manage projects must adapt to those trends.

The unifying theme in all of these trends is one of “working together.” I believe that we are moving from a “data centric” paradigm, one in which having accurate, timely data is paramount, to a “communication centric” paradigm where sharing and integrating that data across space and time is the real competitive advantage. In this sense, we've embarked upon the road to the virtual project.

The tools and techniques that we have developed over the years as professional project managers have become an accepted part of the corporate culture. Now it is time to get them into the hands of every knowledge worker within the organization.


The challenge for providers of project management tools in the 21st century will be to combine an understanding of both PM principles and organizational dynamics with emerging technology. The attributes of the next generation project management tool fall into four categories, all of which are crucial to success. As you evaluate your next project management tool, it makes sense to evaluate it based on these attributes. Ask some important questions such as:

Is It Both Flexible and Functional?

Mainframe-based project management software traditionally has been the tool of choice for large, complex projects. In the past, the processing power to coordinate thousands of activities and resources could only be found at this level.


We are moving from a “data centric” paradigm, one in which having accurate, timely data is paramount, to a “communication centric” paradigm where sharing and integrating that data across space and time is the real competitive advantage.

Mainframe applications are tried-and-true solutions. They're not about to disappear overnight. But limitations such as high price, complex maintenance, and batch orientation have caused many users to venture outside the realm of mainframes. Advances in hardware and software technology, such as the rise of the UNIX operating system and emergence of enterprise-wide computer environments, make it possible to have flexibility without sacrificing functionality.

Is It Accessible to Everyone Who Needs It?

The PC-based applications that have grown unpopularity during the last few years have done so for a very simple reason. They have made the concept of project management accessible to nearly everybody. This was made possible for two reasons: First, they cut through the complexities of mainframe software with good user interfaces. Second, there is a PC on nearly every desk, and its operation is second-nature to knowledge workers.

It would be difficult to dispute the assertion that the PC is today's workstation of choice. But despite its ubiquity and its ability to communicate via modem and local area networks, the PC is still a single-user system for project management applications. The PM solution of choice is one that can be used simultaneously and effectively by professionals across all workgroups that comprise the project team.

Organization Profile

Digital Tools is a privately-owned software corporation dedicated to providing superior products for managing enterprise-wide workgroup projects across multiple platforms and geographical locations. The company also provides a comprehensive suite of professional services and training in project management.

Digital Tools develops and sells enterprise-wide workgroup computing products for project management. AutoPLAN II, the company's flagship product family, is currently used at organizations such as AT&T, NASA, Sun, Unisys and Motorola. The company believes strongly in the concept of enterprise-wide project management: the automation of projects undertaken by multiple workgroups across an entire organization. According to its corporate mission, Digital Tools adheres to Total Quality Management principles in all of its business activities.

Digital Tools world headquarters is located in Cupertino, California. Regional sales offices are located in Detroit, Dallas, Boston and Washington D.C. European headquarters is in Amsterdam.

Can It Integrate With Other Applications?

The ultimate end-product produced by a project manager is not a project network diagram or a Gantt chart. It is the successful completion of the project—a software application developed, anew product introduced, or a bridge built. To be effective, the project manager must integrate applications like computer-aided software engineering (CASE), office automation, electronic design automation (EDA) or computer-aided design (CAD). Those applications are equally crucial to the end-product.

Good integration with other allied applications takes us the next step toward the virtual project. Not only does integration save time and money, it preserves data integrity across applications, and provides instant access to up-to-the-minute data.

Is It Geographically Independent?

We have seen a remarkable increase in multi-site projects. Changes in one aspect of the project made at one location can have tremendous implications for the others. This is equally true whether the others are located across the street or across the globe. Instant access to this information is not just nice to have-it's crucial. In the real world, large projects involve

  • Multiple people, using
  • Multiple resources, for
  • Multiple projects, in
  • Multiple locations.

Regardless of their location, everybody on the project team needs direct, real-time access to the information stored in PM software. The quality of the end-product depends heavily on the accuracy and timeliness of this information.


As information technology continues to make the world a global village, the notion of the virtual corporation becomes more realistic.

Project management tools must rise to meet the challenges of the corporate project re-engineering process. Mere addition of features and functions won't address the fundamental shift in the planning paradigm. At Digital Tools, we call this Virtual Project Management. The change is inevitable and, as project managers, we have to prepare. ❑

PMNETwork • July 1994



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