Keeping up with the users
shifting needs foster new PM software categories
by Harvey A. Levine, Contributing Editor
As the paradigm shifts from the management of individual projects by designated project manager to the management of all of the projects of the enterprise by varied interests and participants, software toolmakers are scrambling to create products that reflect the new reality.
by Harvey A. Levine, Contributing Editor
IN PART ONE of this article (April 1997) I described the new project management model and its impact on the design of automated tools. I labeled these tools “consolidator/repository” packages, and described what we should look for in the database, the repository manager, and the repository user interface. I also talked about time capture, agents, and e-mail functions.
This month I’ll focus on system outputs, information formats, and PM software application support. Of primary interest is the reporting function: what is reported, how it is formatted, and the mode of output.
System Outputs. Reporting is probably not the right term. What we are talking about here is system outputs. The system should be able to output data in several modes. These should include Web-readable formats (HTML); export back to source CPM programs, either to the original projects, or to “virtual” projects created by selecting projects, tasks, and resources via system filters; and internally, via the repository user interface. Let's examine why all three modes are so important.
The Web-readable formats will allow outputs to be viewed using a Web browser. First of all, this data becomes almost universally available. Anyone connected via Internet or intranet protocols should be able to review Web-published data. Furthermore, no special software or skills are required to access the data that is published in this universal format. Users need not have access to or expertise in the repository or project management software systems.
The ability to create virtual projects in the native CPM format will allow the user to use the special capabilities that have been designed into the project management software for analysis and reporting. By a virtual project, I mean a composed set of multiproject data, created by selecting from the repository on the basis of project, task, and resource codes. By returning these data to the CPM program, we can produce bar charts, analyze resource demands, report on slippages, and all of the other capabilities that are built into the project management software. Here, too, we can also provide selected outputs without requiring access to the repository or knowledge of its operation. A further benefit of separation from the repository is that the selected data (the virtual project) can reside on remote (off the network) sites and on notebook computers (a must in today's environment).
Perhaps the most powerful and diverse outputs can be obtained by operating directly upon the repository, in real time. Therefore, the third output mode will be the repository's built-in query and reporting system (or, in some cases, an external query and reporting system designed to work with the repository).
Getting the Information You Need. What kind of outputs should be available from any of these output modes? Well, just about anything and everything. There are many reasons for wanting to aggregate your multi-project information into a repository One primary reason is to get at all of the multi-project data. Of course, no one will want to see all of the details for everything. So the key to effective data access is the ability to select and arrange just the information that someone wants to see. This gets back to the important issue of selecting, sorting and summarization.
In traditional project management software, we can use task and resource codes to select and sort the project data (and, hopefully, to summarize the data). In our repository containing multiple projects, we must be able to extend the select/sort/summarize capability to project codes, as well. For example, let's look at a typical user (a composite of clients that I have recently worked with in regard to multiproject management). This user will be managing 200 projects. The projects will be categorized by project type, owner/sponsor, managing department and location (using user-defined project-level code fields). Now, the manager of Department X wants to look at all projects being managed by that department that fall into a particular project type. Within that selection, the data will be arranged by owner/sponsor, and by location within that grouping. Project-level coding and selection is required to support this query.
Summarizing Resource Utilization
Exhibit 1. In a company that manages 200 projects at once, the user can be inundated with data details, unless he or she can roll up the data to a single value for each location and/or owner. This is an example of such summarized output for our hypothetical client.
Now that we have narrowed down the selection of projects, do we want to see all of the data from those projects? Perhaps we only want to see tasks that are in Phase II of the projects, and that fall into an Engineering or Systems Analysis category, and are scheduled for the 4th quarter. Here we will use task-level codes and date values for selection. We may also wish to further limit the data selection to tasks that require a particular resource.
But our user can still be inundated with data details from this query. So we will perhaps want to roll the data up (summarize) to a higher level. Our hypothetical user decides to look at the total resource utilization for the selection of projects and tasks, but wants to roll the data up to a single value for each location for each owner/sponsor. The summarized output, derived from the details of the 200 projects might look like the example shown in Exhibit 1.
With a multilevel query system such as this, we could have sliced and diced the data in virtually any hierarchy and any level of detail. In an effective repository system it is very important to be able to get at the data. It is equally important to be able to arrange the data so that it provides what the recipient needs, in a concise manner. We cannot afford to have to sift through tons of detail to get the message.
Formatting the Information You Need. If the data that you are reviewing pertains to resources or costs, you will probably want to see some of it as Time Distributed Output. A review of labor demands might be organized by days, or weeks, or months. I remember a situation where the manager of engineering of a manufacturing company was getting continual complaints from the managers of various projects that he wasn't supporting each manager's project as much as the other managers’ projects. Our engineering manager feels that he is being fair and is getting tired of the constant bickering. How does he get his hands on the supporting data and get the story to the project managers?
He needs to go to the repository and select projects being supported by his department. Then he prepares a report such as shown in Exhibit 2.
Engineering Hours Planned, by Project, by Month
Exhibit 2. Flexibility of access to data also allows the user to generate specific reports such as this by-department summary.
Our engineering manager can now demonstrate that the planned support is very close to the committed support. If necessary, he can drill down into the data to produce the monthly data for each classification of engineer in his department, or even for any individual. The data could, of course, be distributed by other periods, such as weeks. But it is essential that this kind of distribution be available.
Unfortunately, you cannot take it for granted that any consolidator system that you acquire will support this type of analysis and reporting. The model above can serve as a simple test of selection, summarization and distribution capabilities.
Project Management Software Application Support. Another very important issue in the selection of a consolidator is the PM Software (PMS) applications that are supported. This category of consolidator software does not provide critical path scheduling. It is assumed that you will be bringing data into the system from external PMS applications.
Here we have two key issues. One is “How many products are supported?” If you select a consolidator that only works with one PMS front-end, then you are limiting users to working exclusively with that product. One potential advantage of using a consolidator is that it allows the use of multiple PMS applications, by using the consolidator as the common merging application (if the consolidator does support multiple PMS products). You can expect all consolidators to work with Microsoft Project. A few consolidators that are sold by PMS vendors tend to support that vendor's CPM product, plus Microsoft Project. One consolidator (Project Gateway) supports a half-dozen popular PMS applications.
Exhibit 3 lists several consolidator products and the basic CPM or front-end products with which they work. Most of these products either have built-in timesheet capabilities or provide a companion timesheet program.
The second issue (related to the first) is “How robust is the PMS front-end?” Testing of consolidators by independent sources has indicated that a consolidator's potential can be significantly limited by the weaknesses in the base CPM product. I guess that we can build on the old GIGO adage (garbage in, garbage out) by recognizing that the consolidation of project data garbage can only give us a sanitary landfill. Does this give new meaning to the term “data dump”?
Other Multiproject Configurations. This consolidator category is by no means the only route to multiproject management. There are robust CPM programs that combine traditional and consolidator functions in a single package. These are usually considered to be high-end and more expensive products, and may involve non-Windows platforms, such as Unix. Products in this category are listed under the “Robust CPM” header in Exhibit 3.
There is also a sort of do-it-yourself option. If your CPM program has an advanced ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) capability it may be possible to export the multiproject data to a repository of your choosing. You will then have to use the repository's database language to operate upon the data. While not a replacement for an automated, well-interfaced package, it may be an acceptable alternative—especially if you cannot find a consolidator that will work with your preferred CPM package.
Consolidator Vendor Product Guide
Exhibit 3. One potential advantage of working with a consolidator is that it allows the use of multiple PMS applications. Several consolidator products and the applications they support are shown above.
Many of the consolidator packages will also provide a robust ODBC engine in addition to the built-in repository functions.
An emerging extension to the consolidator philosophy is a slice-and-dice executive query system. These provide for top-level analysis of all of the enterprises projects. The Portfolio module in Micro-Frame's Business Engine was one of the earlier examples. Artemis has just released GlobalView, using OLAP (On-Line Analytical Processing) technology. Still another variation of multiproject software is the resource manager category Products such as Micro-Frame's ResourceServer and Artemis’ ResourceView emphasize resource assignment and analysis from the resource manager's perspective. Microsoft's Team Manager also provides support for multiproject resource allocation and analysis. (See Exhibit 3 for products in these categories.)
Updating the Field. I began talking about this dynamic segment of the project management software market in the January 1997 issue, where I presented a list of participating vendors and products. New products are frequently being announced, as are upgrades and realignments. Here are some of the 1997 transactions.
Artemis Management Systems (recently acquired by Gores Technology Group) has added GlobalView to their suite of Views products. GlobalView provides On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP), which will enable users to drill down through Views data, and slice and dice information in a variety of graphical formats.
Scitor Corporation announced Project Communicator at Boston University's Frontiers in Project Management conference in April. Project Communicator is the latest of the consolidator/repository products, and will work with project data produced by Scitor's Project Scheduler 7. Project Communicator comes with 10 Team Clients and a Manager Client. Only the latter requires a copy of Project Scheduler 7.
Advanced Management Solutions has re-badged their Schedule Publisher and AMS Timekeeper product line. All products are now part of the AMS Realtime family. The previous Schedule Publisher product is now AMS Realtime Projects. Earned value costing functions are now contained in an add-on module called AMS Realtime Costs. Basic reporting is retained in the Projects module, while advanced reporting capabilities are contained in the new AMS Realtime Visions module. The AMS Timekeeper (consolidator/repository) program is now AMS Realtime Resources. The new release supports AMS Realtime Projects and Microsoft Projects, and provides for multiproject timekeeping and statusing. The Time Reporting client module is called AMS Realtime Solo. AMS Realtime Librarian manages access and control to the repository and project data located in different sites in varied formats. AMS Realtime Gateway provides a set of interfaces to other project management systems, such as Microsoft Project.
Marin Research has released version 4 of Project Gateway. The latest release of this Lotus Notes-based consolidator/repository adds several new features and reports. It also incorporates Lotus Domino, the Lotus Notes Web engine. It includes a complete timesheet facility and uses “agents” to automatically pull important status data from the system and notify concerned participants. Project Gateway 4 works with over a half-dozen project management software front-ends.
Speaking of Web engines, Primavera Systems announced the first project management Web server, Webster. Using the Internet or an Intranet, Webster gives users full access to data created by Primavera Project Planner. The $25,000 Webster will support up to 250 concurrent users.
Microsoft is reported to be working on a significant upgrade of Microsoft Project for release later this year. Because several of the consolidator/repository products are designed to work primarily or solely with Microsoft Project, we can expect to see significant redesigns and additional modules from most of these vendors this summer. Among vendors expected to announce new releases are Micro-Frame Technologies, Information Management Services, and Digital Tools. ■
Harvey A. Levine, principal, The Project Knowledge Group, Saratoga Springs, New York, provides training and consulting services to users and developers of project management software. He is also a past chairman of the Project Management Institute.
PM Network • July 1997