Where is it all going from here?
Joel Koppelman is president and co-founder of Primavera Systems, Inc., a Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania-based software company specializing in project management and control software systems. Prior to establishing Primavera, Koppelman spent more than 13 years in planning, designing, managing, and controlling capital projects in transportation. Koppelman is responsible for Primavera's business management, sales and marketing efforts.
Koppelman, a registered professional engineer, earned a B.S. in civil engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia and an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
MOUSE MOVES AND GRAPHIC DELIGHTS
During the past ten years, we have witnessed a “two-orders-of-magnitude” change in project management. The capabilities of the computing environment have increased dramatically with the advent of personal computers and local area networks, and the availability of project management software has extended across hundreds of thousands of desktops. Use of these tools has become so easy that many managers now believe that managing projects is only a matter of loading the right program on their notebook computer.
Where will this all lead? It will lead to faster, cheaper tools to manage increasingly complex, multidimensional projects. Just how these tools will be produced is not so clear. Indeed, even developing the tools has become much more complex than it used to be.
The principle task of the software developer had to be to take advantage of the hardware and operating system to process and organize data. The software was friendly to its operating system, but not to users. It automated tasks that require large amounts of human time, at an almost affordable cost. Now, the software must be user-friendly and it must understand the intentions of the user, comprehend the performance of the project team, and make reasoned suggestions as to what to do next to stay, or get back, on track. The software is even being asked to provide guidance in creating project plans.
At a minimum, these requirements will lengthen the software development process—a blessing for many users who spend large amounts of timekeeping up with the latest whizbang features in their favorite software, and keeping a sharp eye on competitive packages to avoid missing any great mouse moves or graphic delights. For developers, figuring out what users wanted yesterday, let alone needed, was tough enough. Figuring out what project managers and teams will need tomorrow is bound to give software developers some sleepless nights and several “virtual reality” flights of fancy.
To meet the new requirements, project management software developers need a renewed dedication to understanding the essential ingredients of managing projects successfully. Rather than talk about how to integrate data from multiple applications, we need to talk about how to create a common language for addressing and solving project problems.
To date it seems that every participant in the project management process has invented their own terminology. No organization is effectively promulgating a language by which we can conceive, design, estimate, plan, schedule, implement, test, operate, and maintain projects and their products. Think about how hard it is to convey your own hard-earned experiences to your co-workers. How can you begin to take a vague, amorphous, even biased view of the past and express this in any useful fashion to a manager who is about to begin managing a similar project?
Until we agree on a language to express what we plan and what we have accomplished, we cannot computerize the process so as to review information. We talk about “earned value” and “performance measurement” techniques in very cozy circles, but the world has not accepted this terminology, let alone the thought process it involves. Yet, we talk about electronically mailing status information to program offices. The question is not how it will be delivered but whether the message will be understood and whether proper action/reaction will result! It is not easy to reach this common understanding, even within the narrow discipline of project management. Schedule-oriented planners and cost-oriented controls people do not seem to have gotten their act together. Just say the words “actual cost” in a mixed group and then duck! You will know then what I mean.
BRIDGING THE GAPS
Until we can persuade the participants to speak the same language, we cannot share and integrate data that will lead to better designed, more reliable projects, and less expensive solutions. The key to the next generation of software development is, very simply, to create the bridges. This will require that project management vendors listen not only to project schedulers, but to estimators, CAD-based designers, and accounting and finance people.
The next generation of software development must bridge the gaps between project participants. Software users are too deeply immersed in how they have always done business. The smart developer sees ways to mimic the best processes so as to create marketable tools. But the real success (not to mention the real fun) comes from creating solutions that fill the gaps that will become evident only as they are exposed. The war on features is nearly over. It has left behind many casualties—both frustrated users and not-so-successful software developers. The successful developers during the next ten years will clearly close the gaps among the project participants.
The problems of managing projects are multidimensional. The data, the facts, and the opinions are available in a multitude of formats-photos, specifications, telephone messages, bar charts, logic diagrams, estimates, spreadsheets, databases, verbal instructions, brochures, fax messages, you name it. Relational databases are useful, but too slow for the kinds of multimedia that need to be handled. Object-oriented databases will matter in the future.
Our tools must be smart enough for participants to communicate with one another. The rate of decision-making in the typical project-large and small—is overwhelming. The amount of information that must be shared is enormous. Keeping everyone informed is nearly impossible. As we enlarge the scope of the communication pool to include all the project participants, the need to constantly update them is the interesting challenge. Lotus Notes (a solution that some love and some hate), offers an approach to sharing data among remote locations using distributed database components over non-connected wide area networks. The concept is brilliant and will become the basis for true work group computing over the next five years.
But just because the computing environment will have interesting tools does not mean that project management personnel and project team members will have the skills to use them productively. It is time to establish improved communications among all participants. It is time to establish a dialogue among owners, designers, estimators, schedulers, and operators to design how to deal with the project for the benefit of the project by melding the individual perspectives of all the players. We cannot escape the obligations we have as project managers to communicate the lessons we have spent so much time and effort to learn. As software developers, we cannot escape the obligation of creating the tools that will enable smarter, faster, more intelligent, more comprehensive conceptualization, planning and communication among all project participants. Therein is the challenge.
Primavera Systems, Inc., was created in 1983 by Joel Koppel-man and Richard Faris to develop and market a microcomputer project management system.
Primavera Systems, Inc., specializes in developing and marketing project management software worldwide. Our mission is to help our customers succeed by providing the highest quality of software and services. We offer highend software to leading companies in the project management industry.
Our product line includes seven products which cover most of the needs of project managers for software tools. It includes graphical, interactive planning and scheduling using Primavera Project Planner®; performance measurement and earned value using Parade®; short-duration, high-intensity project management using Finest Hour®; and contract and change management in engineering and construction using Expedition®. We also help managers assess project risk and uncertainty using Monte Carlo®. Single-user scheduling needs are accommodated using SureTrak Project Scheduler®, which integrates with all of our other products. We also offer Executive Summary PresentationsTM (ESP) for corporate environments where people need to share project status over Iocal area networks.
Our staff of 168 is located in five offices. In addition to our full-time staff, we are represented through our network of dealers and representatives in 30 cities across the United States and 45 countries around the world. We maintain a technical support office in France that supports our European and Middle Eastern customers.
The company is privately held, profitable, and growing. It is also proud of its customer base of more than 30,000 users worldwide.
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.