Imaging for project managers
technology conveys knowledge
Theodore R. Spies
As a project manager, one of the key ways you see a project to successful completion is by helping your team access knowledge when they need it, in a form that makes sense for them. The tools you use can be as diverse as project management software, Gantt charts, E-mail, and imaging.
Imaging? You may not be familiar with it, but imaging is a powerful tool for disseminating knowledge in the form of images, text, or data. In the past, when a project manager began work on a new project, he or she had access to raw data, on paper. It could be a laborious, time-consuming process to extract and distribute needed information from this mass of raw information. Now imaging is a key part of systems that can help you create, share, manage, and store information in better ways.
When you hear the word imaging, especially connected with Eastman Kodak Company, you may form pictures of … pictures. Photographs are perhaps the form of imaging with which you are most familiar. But imaging encompasses more than photography. It is part of the technology and processes that allow us to manage information with images. It is copying, printing, scanning, image management software, and more. Let's look at the ways it can aid you now and in the future.
A 1994 PM Network article asserted the primacy of communication in project management. If your project's objectives, details, and progress are not imparted in a timely and comprehensible way, its success could be undermined.
You need to update and distribute status reports to a project team continually. Most project managers accept as a given delays in getting information to people spread across their organizations—and greater delays to those in remote locations. Faxes and overnight delivery help, but both have disadvantages in certain situations.
A high-volume printer, connected to a local-area, wide-area, or enterprise-based network, can help deliver status reports to team members in other buildings or remote offices, or to subcontractors in other parts of the country. You update status reports when necessary, and transmit them to a printer at any remote location you specify.
Networked printing offers substantial efficiency when time is critical. The wait for the overnight delivery or the expense and time associated with faxing lengthy documents are eliminated. And you can transmit status reports or other documents to remote printers during off-peak hours when rates are lower. A high-volume printer effectively handles short runs of large documents and long runs of short documents—freeing your desktop printer for more appropriate jobs.
Another capability of some high-volume printers (and copiers) is adding spot color. This may seem a cosmetic addition to your presentation handouts, diagrams and flowcharts, or proposals, but studies show that those who read documents with color retain more of what they've read. Thus, you can communicate much more effectively with your audience, without much more effort.
Another fact of your life as a project manager is constantly changing documentation that, especially with complex projects, can be labor- and paper-intensive to alter. Imaging allows you to provide team members with current documentation quickly.
Suppose you're the project manager for the design and manufacture of a new airplane or mainframe computer. Such projects have thousands of change notices associated with them. Pasting down documentation changes and copying them for distribution requires staff time that could be put to more productive use. Employing a high-volume scanner to scan changes into an electronic image management system and distributing amended documentation and change notices electronically can save you crucial hours, affecting timelines and budgets. This process also can create an audit trail for your project.
Another imaging technology—on-demand printing—also helps manage documentation distribution. The analogy here is to “just in time” inventory. You may need to update a manual for your team. With on-demand printing, you store and change information regarding the publication on your personal computer, and use a high-volume printer to produce updated manuals for only as many people as necessary. You don't have to waste money to offset print a large number of copies. You have no inventory to manage or to discard when obsolete—which could be tomorrow!
Photography—the primary means of imaging—can be useful in visually documenting a project's progression. For complex projects that you would be hard-pressed to describe in writing, pictures really are worth a thousand words.
When combined with digital technologies, photography becomes even more valuable. What if, for instance, girders don't fit together the way they should once construction on a bridge begins? On-site engineers can use a digital camera system to transmit a photograph of the problem to the home office via modem. The responsible engineer can then compare the error with his or her documentation on an electronic image management system. In this case, the most appropriate person solves the problem, with timely response that can prevent costly delays.
The Digital Age of Documentation
Though the applications for it might sound futuristic, compact disc technology is available now to help you document projects. Using your desktop computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive, you read CDs that contain stored images and/or data. Each CD can hold 550 to 650 megabytes of data—the equivalent of 500 5.25-inch floppy disks, 10,000 document images, 60,000 computer report pages, or the ASCII data equivalent to 200,000 standard typed pages. At one time, only third-party service bureaus could produce the discs cost-effectively, unless a company was publishing a large number of CDs. Now “writable” CD systems are available for most companies to create their own CDs containing data, text, and images related to a project.
Because of their immense storage capacity, CDs are appropriate for documenting large projects such as military equipment manufacture or building construction. During such projects, you communicate frequently with subcontractors outside the company. For outside vendors and project participants, a CD you have published can give them current documentation in an electronic format. Compared to the costs of distributing the massive amounts of paper associated with large projects, CDs are less expensive. Another opportunity you might consider is connecting your CD-ROM drive and your subcontractors to a network, which allows them to access immediately the archives of a project that you have stored on CD.
Project managers also could benefit from storing the histories of even small projects on CD. You can store many images on CDs and they will last a long time. In contrast, paper files—with photographs, reports, blueprints, and other documentation—can get lost, misplaced, or destroyed, and they take up valuable storage space. In addition, you can easily transmit what is contained on CDs, without having to reformat the information. Small companies that may not be able to invest in their own writable CD systems can have “historical” CDs published for them by a service bureau.
Best Evidence, Long Life
While CDs are an interesting new distribution and storage solution for data related to a project, other imaging technologies precede CDs and continue to be useful. Microfilm is used for long-term storage of project information, as well as for distribution of information. Project managers who have worked on government projects most likely have used microfilm, but this medium has applications for other industries as well.
Project specifications for highway construction, for example, have long been published on microfilm because of their large scale. You can share microfilmed plans with potential bidders, who can easily share complete sets of plans with prospective subcontractors. In this way, you maintain the integrity of vital information as you distribute it.
After many construction projects are finished, project managers use microfilm or optical disks instead of paper to store project files that are mandated for legal or archival reasons or that might be needed for warranty or service purposes. (Optical disks are similar to CDs in the way information is recorded and retrieved, and some have much greater storage capacity.)
Both of these technologies could be applied more frequently to other industries. For example, companies typically store project files in a central repository, on paper, with a set record retention schedule. Because they take up much less space than paper, microfilmed files or files on optical disk can save your company expensive storage space.
Microfilming records is also one of the best ways to ensure they are intact after years have passed. In fact, while your project is active, you can make record retention easier by indexing documents on a document management system. Later you can access the files more quickly because indexed microfilmed records eliminate the possibility of misfiling.
In addition, storing on microfilm the results of testing that takes place during your project can be a wise step to protect your company should a product or construction fail. Test data and documentation can be very important when liability is being determined. Also, microfilm is considered “best evidence” by the legal system, an important consideration if for any reason there is a lawsuit associated with your project. Interestingly, it is thought that CDs, because of their longevity, may also be accepted eventually in this role.
Project Managers and the Future of Imaging
In the future, as the technology advances, writable CDs will be an effective way for you to show the sequential progress of projects, especially large projects that generate great amounts of data. For instance, as software development takes place, programmers build and rebuild program codes. In an ideal world, each iteration would be captured for an historical perspective of the steps taken to develop the code.
Programmers typically cannot keep this information on line—they would need extra storage capacity on their computers. In contrast, CDs would be an appropriate medium for this storage because they are digital in nature, with the capacity necessary to capture iterations of code. Saving “code history” on CD could save time and money in mission-critical projects, should you need to search older versions of code to find an error.
Eventually, as the technology progresses, you will be able to use desktop writable CD systems to publish multimedia project CDs, complete with sound, text, photos, and data relating to a project. Imagine creating a CD that contains the step-by-step progress of a new pharmaceutical's development. You might include clinical trial reports, marketing statistics, progress reports, and oral commentary from physicians on the efficacy of the product.
Project Management: The Next Generation
A discussion of imaging in nearly any role makes clear that the use of images will become more important in the dissemination of information. Let's speculate about how this could affect your job in the future. An interesting analogy could be made between manufacturing and project management. When industrial engineers design factory assembly lines, they model their work on a computer. With this form of process control, they can examine how well the line works if it is configured in different ways, without going through real-life trial and error on the shop floor. All this is done graphically, through the use of images on computer.
As you begin to use more images in your role as project manager, you may also be able to model your processes. For instance: You are the project manager for a new videocassette recorder, and you need to communicate when the product will ship. Traditionally, project managers locate the product on the assembly line or warehouse through bar code data, and display the data on a Gantt chart. Instead, you could use an image of the assembly line or warehouse, plotting product data as a graphical representation rather than as numbers. Those interfacing with the image obtain the needed information much more easily. Indeed, such images have the potential to carry greater amounts of information than pure data.
Now and in the future, the use of imaging in project management can help you manage information more effectively. Whether you are storing project documentation, updating information for team members, or changing manufacturing specifications, imaging gives you options for delivering that information. If knowledge—information—is power, those options could be the keys to the success of your mission.
Theodore R. Spies is marketing manager for imaging products at Eastman Kodak Company. He managed sales development for capture and retrieval product groups during the development and launch of Kodak's Imagelink products.
PM Network ● June 1995