Process-based project management systems
David T. Myles, Jr. and Michael L. Coats
Process enactment is the application of automated work flow management in a production support system. The products of the support system may be software systems, technical documentation, procurement documents, proposals, ad infinitum. This article addresses process enactment in a distributed project management support system.
Distributing schedule management responsibilities to the lowest-level departments promotes schedule ownership. These departments have total responsibility for planning their work, documenting their plans, and reporting progress. However, a distributed system, by its nature, presents challenges such as maintaining configuration management, using consistent planning detail across all departments, and applying consistent schedule structures (identical sequences of activities) across departments performing similar work.
Foremost among these challenges is that of establishing, enforcing, and frequently evaluating the project schedule update process. For a medium-to-large enterprise, the tasks of gathering and producing accurate integrated plans and timely status and of disseminating the information across a program can be most difficult. Written management instructions and the associated threats will not ensure that proper update processes are followed. Consequently, schedules cannot be trusted to reflect accurately the program plan or status.
Process enactment makes the schedule development and reporting processes manageable, while alleviating configuration management and other problems inherent to a distributed system. It can be implemented to:
- Accelerate the process significantly and ensure that the approved process is always followed
- Identify bottlenecks in the process and facilitate quickly implemented process improvements
- Perform data quality audits consistently at the earliest points possible in the process
- Perform file/data management to preclude the loss of project information
- Store historical schedule information for trend analyses
- Disseminate schedule changes and impacts to all affected areas.
The following paragraphs introduce the idea of process enactment and describe how we have integrated it into a distributed project management support system. Topics addressed are elements of process enactment; enactment applied to project management processes; and an integrated project management system featuring process enactment.
Elements of Process Enactment
As objects such as requirements, specifications, and code traverse the development life-cycle, they pause at various stations (or “roles,” such as requirements analysis, design, code, test) for value-add activities (Figure 1). Each role is characterized by properties relative to its assigned objects:
- Entry criteria – must be met before the object can be accepted.
- Activity – the value-add work that will be performed by this role. The activity may involve tool usage, application of standards and methodologies, collection of metrics, notification of team members, etc., all under procedural control.
- Exit criteria – must be met before the object can exit for use by subsequent roles.
The workstation user interfaces the process through “agenda” and “work context” menus. The work station agenda identifies pending activities as TO DO icons (Figure 2). Upon selecting TO DO, a work context appears that has been specifically tailored for the user's role at this point in the process. The work context specifies the work to be performed, and provides user interfaces (e.g., buttons, pick-lists, and text entry fields) for performing the required functions. Appropriate work objects and associated tools are automatically presented to the engineer for performing his or her tasks.
Figure 1. Elements of Process Enactment
Figure 2. Agendas and Work Contexts
Enactment Applied to Project Management Processes
To show how process enactment is applied in a project management system, we have selected the “schedule promotion process.”
Typically, higher-level schedules include component parts that are collected and integrated periodically from a large number of diverse technical areas. Prior to the collection process, each area is responsible for updating its schedule component with the latest planning and status information. Upon collection and review, the total schedule is recorded for official reference until the process is repeated perhaps a week or two later. The collection, integration, and recording of the current schedule plans and status is called “schedule promotion.” The promotion process must ensure that:
- All component parts are submitted on time and are included in the higher-level project schedule
- All component parts are compatible with one another (e.g., same timenow data, all project-mandated fields completed correctly, activity identifiers adhere to a defined pattern)
- Results from the merge action are communicated back to the individual technical areas
- File/data management is performed to preclude the loss of project information
- Historical information from previously promoted schedules is available for trend analyses
- Trial merges can be analyzed before accepting for final promotion.
A typical schedule promotion process is shown in Figure 3.
An Integrated Project Management System
As shown in Figure 4, the basic components of any integrated project management system are:
- Project Management Application – supports all basic PM functions, time collection, and maintenance of development process templates.
- Relational Data Base Management System (RDBMS) – supports collection of metric data, retention of historical data for trend analyses, and relational reports.
- Publication Tool – supports publication of schedule graphics, resource graphics, relational reports from the RDBMS, etc., all combined in integrated development plans (documents).
- Process Enactment Application – controls the project management schedule/resource management processes, ensuring that the approved processes are followed, and protecting data from accidental destruction.
Figure 3. Typical Schedule Promotion Process
Figure 4. Typical Integrated project Management System
A small amount of custom code is also required to integrate these components into a “seamless” support system. Figure 4 shows an overview of a typical integrated project management system.
The specific instance of our integrated system is called the Automated Development Plan System (ADPS). Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) tools are “seamlessly” integrated (data and process) through a small amount of custom code. The COTS tools that comprise the ADPS are:
- Schedule Publisher (a registered trademark of Advanced Management Solutions, Inc.) – project management tool.
- Oracle (a registered trademark of Oracle, Inc.) – RDBMS.
- FrameMaker (a registered trademark of Frame Technology Corporation) – publication tool.
- Process Weaver (a registered trademark of Cap Gemini Innovation) – process enactment tool.
The ADPS offers the following significant features over and above those normally found in stand-alone project management tools.
Process Management. Process (work flow) management is an essential element of maintaining accurate, credible schedules and resource planning in a distributed environment. Without computer-enacted work flow management, the process will not be followed by all (at least one is going to fail). Manually enacted processes become very burdensome and require that a great deal of the developer's time be spent on administrative activities. Further, training costs mount as personnel are replaced or added.
The ADPS uses computer-enacted work flow management to ensure that all participants adhere to the approved processes. Very little process-oriented training is required.
Centralized Configuration Management. Distribution of schedule management responsibilities to the functional or product development entities (e.g., lowest-level departments) accomplishes schedule ownership. That is, these departments have total responsibility for planning their work, documenting their plans, and reporting progress. However, a distributed system, by its nature, presents challenges such as maintaining configuration management.
The ADPS allows a “super user” to establish configuration requirements that are applied, and enforced by the ADPS, across the project or enterprise. These include identifying the system users and their specific roles in the enacted processes, establishing the authorized schedule components and their owners, identifying schedule fields that must be completed, maximum sizes permitted for specified fields, activity identification patterns that must be followed for each schedule component, etc.
Enforced Application of Standards and Practices. Application of project-and enterprise-level practices and standards are normally attempted through written management instructions. Because of training deficiencies, lack of communication, forgetfulness, etc., practices and standards are rarely applied consistently across the enterprise. Thus it becomes impossible to combine the distributed schedule components into an integrated project schedule, or to get a program view of resource planning.
The ADPS performs integrity/quality audits at the schedule source, and ensures that the practices and standards are followed to the extent that applicable algorithms can be defined. Process enactment ensures that violations are identified and corrected in the earliest stages of the processes.
Usability. In the course of producing a periodic development plan, many functions are initiated and completed. These include updating the component schedules, merging the components into an integrated schedule, auditing the schedule for quality and sanity, selecting and initiating schedule reports, exporting the schedule reports to graphic formats acceptable to the publishing tool, importing the converted graphics files into the publishing tool, and printing the document (many user operations to accomplish a single update).
The ADPS, under process enactment control, automates all of the file management, quality auditing, graphics converting, and printing functions while still retaining the human interface for intellectual evaluations and decisions. This significantly diminishes the chance of accidental data destruction, and improves productivity.
Michael L. Coats
Data Quality. Project management tools are typically limited in their ability to check data quality.
The ADPS audits each schedule component to ensure that the activity identifiers follow an enterprise-defined pattern prescribed for that specific organizational entity, all required fields are completed, data in specified fields are limited to specified values, and the time-now dates are within a specified range. Process enactment ensures that data quality problems are identified and corrected in the earliest stages of the processes.
Metric and Trend Reports. Project management tools are typically limited to reporting today's status and a comparison to the baseline commitment. By applying simple filters, the user can also get rudimentary relational reports such as “show me all activities belonging to a specific department” or “all activities that have total float less than ‘n’ days.” The user can also get the standard schedule and cost variance reports. However, these tools generally do not support reports that require comparison to previous versions of the plan. This limits the user's ability to detect potential problems through trend analyses.
ADPS, through Schedule Publisher and the Oracle Report Writer, allows the user to devise innumerable schedule, resource, and relational reports. Additionally, ADPS automatically generates a specific set of metric and trend (heads-up) reports, including:
- Change Summary Report – informs the user, at the data entry point in the process, of all activity and relationship record differences when compared against the most recently promoted schedule.
- Audit Report – identifies instances within a schedule file where:
- Specified fields are longer than established maximums
- Required fields are not completed
- Time-now date in the schedule does not equal the date required by the project
- Activity IDs do not conform to the required pattern.
- Add/Delete History Report – identifies all activities that were added and deleted in the current schedule update.
- Significant Activities Report – itemizes the activity owner, description, total float, early start, and early finish for each activity deemed significant by the project.
- Significant Activities Slippage Report – identifies schedule slips for significant activities.
- Shrinking Activities Report – identifies future activities that have exhibited more than a 10 percent decrease in span over the past five reporting periods. An explanation from the activity owner is needed to ensure that the decreases are not being used to obscure a schedule overrun situation.
- Maturity Report – focuses on the volatility of a project's plan by measuring the number of activity and dependency additions and deletions from one reporting period to the next. A Maturity Factor of 90 percent indicates that 10 percent of the activities and dependencies were either added or deleted in the specified reporting period.
- Validity Report – identifies projects that may need attention relative to their planning processes. A Validity Factor of 90 percent indicates that 10 percent of the activities from one reporting period to the next experienced an increase in span.
We are confident that the emerging process enactment technology can effectively be applied to project management processes, and have implemented it in an integrated project management system. The implementation, using real requirements and real COTS applications, indicates that our expectations are sound and that the integrated system will significantly reduce or eliminate many of the challenges normally associated with distributed environments.
David T. Myles, Jr., a senior systems engineer at Loral Space Information Systems, conceived the ADPS and was instrumental in its development. He established and managed the Project Scheduling Center of Competence for IBM‘s Federal Systems Company (now part of Loral).
Michael L. Coats is vice president of avionics and communications at Loral. He is also former acting chief of the NASA/JSC Astronaut Office, a space shuttle commander and pilot, a former test pilot, a designated Navy program manager, and a Navy attack pilot in Vietnam.
PM Network ● June 1995