Web-enabled project management--your ticket to success
Introduction—E-Business Impact on Project Management
The biggest trend in business today is E-Business on the Internet. Business is being transformed from a cumbersome paper system to a dynamic, electronic cyber-highway of E-Processes. The driving forces behind this transformation are the web browser and the Internet. The web browser is the universal platform that ignited the E-Business movement. As the web browser evolves from being a recreational toy to full-fledged business tool, the benefits of E-Business will be realized. The “net” effect brought about by these changes is accelerating the evolution of business. E-Business is simply becoming better, cheaper, and faster than doing business the old fashioned way.
No segment of business is immune from either the impact of the Internet or the need to incorporate its use into the way of doing business. Project management applications are certainly no exception. The project management entry into the Internet E-Business world is called web-enabled project management. Web-enabled project management is not a new multi-megabyte software or management tool to replace existing applications. It is simply a process that facilitates use of existing project management software through the use of the web browser. Web-enabled project management is a web browser-based process that provides the look and feel of a project store that can be accessed anytime and anywhere. One of the biggest obstacles in project management is the ability to effectively communicate a plethora of project information. The PMBOK® requirement for project communications management for “timely and appropriate generation, collection, dissemination, storage, and ultimate disposition of project information” is met through this web-enabled project store.
Are you ready to take a high-tech trip through the world of web technology? If not, then you may be missing out on one of the greatest innovations in the history of Project Management. Web-enabled project management is the most significant emerging trend in project management since the inception of Critical Path Method scheduling. Web-enabled project management systems are almost unheard of by most Project Managers. Even fewer understand the benefits web-enabled project management provides.
Project Management Institute 2000 Project Managers need to understand that the most significant advancements in Project Management lie in the area of web technology. Our future success will be determined by how well we are able to apply the power of the Internet. Project management is one of the biggest business sectors to benefit from Internet technology. It is a high impact tool that is redefining how projects of all different types are being managed.
Evolving to the Web-Enabled Project Management System
Although the web-enabled project management system discussed here is tailored for construction-type projects, it can be modified to apply to any type of project, including information technology, environmental management, decommissioning and demolition, as well as some manufacturing applications. The essential elements of web-enabled project management are identical as those promoted by the Project Management Institute.
Most E-Business applications pale in comparison to the complexities required of project management systems. By definition, projects are a one-time series of events that are coordinated to improve their probability of success. Project Management has become a “melting pot” of software applications and documentation. Because of their complex nature, a typical project has software for scheduling, budgeting, timesheets/costing, electronic drawing, text editing, spreadsheet, and if it is a fairly complex project, may even have an electronic indexing system to track the thousands of documents that are necessary to execute and close out the project. In the middle of all these different software applications is a paper-based system used to obtain documented approvals from a massive bureaucracy. If that isn't enough to challenge your organizational skills, then add in all the outside vendors and different Subcontractor-furnished documents and software applications that have to be integrated into the project. Talk about a daunting task and you just described the problems facing modern day project managers.
The mistake most Project Managers make is trying to find one-size-fits-all enterprise software to accommodate their needs. At the same time, these Project Managers are still required to use their corporate forms to process business information for their projects. These two requirements, when applied concurrently, create conflicts that usually result in disaster. As long as companies require their specific forms, there are few, if any, enterprise systems that can accommodate these form-driven requirements. Corporate forms are more significant than one might consider. They represent the process flows and approval sequences that have become entrenched in the corporations’ way of doing business. The forms are typically tied to a myriad of procedures that define the way data in the company is processed. Since these procedures are progressively improved as they are revised, there is good reason to leave these procedures and forms intact.
Web-Enabled Project Management Design Basis
The web-enabled project management design basis was developed around three fundamental requirements: form data posting, data linking, and process authorization. The first, form data posting, requires all information, excluding images, be converted and stored as databases. The idea is to make all data web-enabled. Usually, this data is information that is currently being processed in paper format via company forms. This is accomplished by developing electronic forms that convert paper data into electronic databases. Electronic forms allow the information to be exchanged on an ordinary web browser. The web browser is the common platform from which all E-business operates. The use of the web browser to facilitate all project management functions is the most important feature of the web-enabled project management system.
The second design basis, data linking, originated from the concept: integrate, don't recreate. Data linking was facilitated by an open database standard that allows linking between different software manufacturers. The benefits of this approach are significant. The ability to link databases provides considerable cost savings from elimination of redundant data, which in turn, eliminates double data entry. It also improves the accuracy of data through data validation checks. Using the web browser as a common platform, the Project Manager can continue to use the same scheduling, cost management, budgeting, and estimating software. This provides a significant cost and timesavings by eliminating the need for additional software procurement, training, and implementation while transitioning to a new electronic system.
The third design basis is process authorization. Process authorizations are used to control access to databases. Process authorization also provides the process flow of data into and out of the project databases. This process provides reliable configuration control on critical project data through electronic signatures.
Form Data Posting
The world of project management is plagued by cumbersome paper-based system. The problem with these paper systems is the staggering administrative costs for each transaction. It's hard to believe a project manager would tolerate anyone spending $152 for a $2 mouse pad, but it happens all the time. The reason for this situation is paper-intensive systems provide no economies of scale. In other words, it costs the same amount to process a $10 item as it does to process a $200,000 item.
The cost of this inefficiency applies to every type of transaction a project requires. The different types of transactions in the business of project management include, design reviews, vendor data processing, budget changes, transfer documentation, and drawing and specification changes. Because of the large number of transactions, the cost can be prohibitive. The cost of processing these changes will become a determining factor if the project will finish on schedule and within budget.
The success of E-Business is based on the speed and efficiency of electronic data processing. In other words, economics drives technology. The cost effectiveness derived from elimination of the middleman and the unnecessary administrative costs associated with it can make the difference in profit or loss. The best example that most people can associate with efficiency improvements in E-business is in the impact it has had on stock trading. The average cost of a discount broker transaction dropped from $50 to $12 overnight. The same efficiencies are realized in a web-enabled project environment through form data posting. Because forms will always be required for companies to run their business, the ability to convert form data into electronic data is essential. Not only are there substantial cost savings, these electronic transactions are much faster and considerably more accurate than conventional paper systems.
Before database could be easily linked, multiple databases were synonymous with multiple data entry. Even today, data is handled multiple times either because data resides in different software or there is no common platform to bring the data together. The result of redundant data handling is extra cost, lower quality, and slow information flow.
The ability to link databases today has never been easier due to new database standards. What this means is data can be shared in any database regardless if it is Microsoft, Primavera, Scitor, or Welcom software. Most software manufacturers that make project management software use “open” databases to store their data. This allows web-enabled project management applications to link directly to these databases. The benefits from linking these databases together are quite significant. Because data can now be linked relationally between the tables, data can be processed in one place. Because information is “derived” from the original source, the need for redundant data is virtually eliminated. This improves the accuracy of information and saves money by eliminating redundant work efforts as well.
Web-enabled project management enables everyone working on the project to see the same project data without regard to the project management tools they are using. For example, cost information or schedule updates are recorded in their native software files. Through simple data linking, this information seamlessly appears in other databases and reports. A good example of how database linking saves time and money is best illustrated by the web-enabled work package application. The web-enabled work package is linked to the cost and schedule databases. Cost and schedule dates that appear in the work package are derived from the original database. This data never had to be entered into the work package.
Exhibit 1. Web Enabled Project Store
Process authorization provides an electronic methodology to bring data under the strict requirements of configuration control. Process authorization is used for controlling changes to budgets, schedules, cost estimates, vendor data schedules, management reserve schedules, and drawings and specifications. Forms that used to serve as a means to gain management approval have been replaced by the electronic process authorization. The electronic form is used as the authorizing document that allows users to update the critical data. In the web-enabled project, process authorization is the only way access is allowed into these databases. For example, access into the vendor data schedule is allowed only after an electronic change request has been submitted. The change request then navigates the user into the vendor data schedule database to make the required changes.
One-Stop Shopping at the Project Store
The web-enabled project management system utilizes a project store configuration to provide a “one-stop-shopping” web page. It is unique because of the power each one the web-enabled performance modules possesses. The web-enabled project store is structured in the same way the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is in other project management applications. Instead of work breakdown structure elements, the web-enabled project store has performance modules. Each performance module performs a unique function in the same manner each WBS element represents a unique phase of a project.
The web-enabled project management system functions as a project store that makes all applications, transactions, and information available from a single web page. As with any cyberspace store, the web-enabled project store is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from any browser. Visualize a web page that provides access to monthly reports, baseline change control, design reviews, vendor data tracking, etc. from a centralized location. The project store allows the project manager the convenience of being a click away from any piece of information or project function. The best part of all is this powerful application is available to anybody who has an ordinary web browser. After all, if you know how to turn on your computer, and you can click a mouse, you are qualified to run a web browser.
The web-enabled project store provides project managers a way to make better, faster decisions based on the most up-to-date information. It also increases the productivity of project members by providing immediate access to information they need to complete their jobs. Improving communications to the highest possible level is certainly one of the most important aspects of project management.
Streamlining Project Design Reviews
Design reviews are an integral part of any project. In most projects, design reviews typically fall under the scrutiny of configuration management requirements. Projects typically review drawings, specifications, programming, vendor data, schedules, project management plans, work packages, and change control documents to ensure compliance to the design basis. The web-enabled design review is an electronic process that utilizes form data posting as well as data linking to execute. The web is used as an interactive clearinghouse that provides real-time processing of comments and comment resolutions. The web-enabled design review improves accuracy and expedites comment resolution resulting in significant time and cost savings over traditional design reviews. DOE has saved over $100,000 and six months of schedule using this web-enabled approach on a major electrical infrastructure project.
Reviewers enter comments into an electronic form linked to the project store web page. The responsible designer responsible for the document in review is able to respond and disposition these comments in real-time. The dialog is improved with the ability of the original reviewer to accept or reject the response immediately. Once all comments have been resolved, the quality control individual verifies that each of the comment resolutions have been incorporated into the document.
Enhancing Reporting Capabilities
If a picture paints a thousand words, then imagine what a web page full of monthly photographs, reports, and trending curves could do. The web-enabled application can provide these features by simply combining the reporting tools you already have. The web improves the performance of reporting software beyond their normal capability.
The web-enabled reporting feature also includes the ability to e-mail participants and subcontractors their portion of the project schedule for acquiring updates. This information is then downloaded back into the original schedule without having to enter the data twice. This reporting feature is another example of data linking.
Web-Enabled Virtual Document Repository
Another unique feature of the web-enabled project is the virtual document repository. The web-enabled virtual document repository is an electronic document management system that provides instant access to all project documentation including: correspondence, drawings, specifications, progress reports, photos, vendor data, and schedules. The repository is considered virtual because all documentation is cataloged immediately to provide real-time access. As documents are turned over for filing, they are immediately converted to an electronic image and indexed for day-to-day use. This helps prevent documents from getting lost and simplifies the records turnover effort at the end of the project. One major advantage of the virtual document repository over traditional paper systems is the savings resulting from prevention of lost documentation. The cost of losing important quality records can be astronomical. There have been cases where testing of complete operating systems have had to be re-performed due to lost records costing projects millions of dollars.
Another unique feature of the web-enabled virtual document repository is it has its own search engine that can quickly and thoroughly locate all project documentation. The web-enabled search uses web technology to simplify document searches. The repository search engine is similar to the commercial type search engines that roam the World Wide Web. The web-enabled browser improves the speed and accuracy of document searches. The virtual document repository allows entire project documentation is available from the requestor's desktop through a standard web browser. Once again, administrative costs are minimized through the use of this web-enabled tool.
Controlling Project Baselines Like Never Before
The trick to successfully managing a project is to establish measurable baselines (cost, schedule, and technical) and diligently manage them until the project is complete. The biggest weakness in most project management systems is the lack of strict controls for the cost and schedule baselines. How many times have you heard of a project that was over budget? The only thing worse is an over budget project that wasn't known until well after the fact. The web-enabled change control process provides timely updates to project baselines through the use of all three types of the web-enabled project management design bases. Since all baselines are maintained as separate databases, no changes are allowed without going through the change control process first. This provides an efficient and accurate configuration controlled method for managing the project baselines.
Maintaining a Virtual Project Turnover List
A virtual project turnover list is a critical part of a web-enabled project management system. This is particularly true of major infrastructure upgrades that require piecemeal construction and turnover to minimize downtime of critical systems. Projects that span for a number of years require a reliable system for tracking deficiencies. If you manage a large, multiyear project with the conventional paper punch list, then you run the risk of burying critical data in the depths of the document control files. The web-enabled project punch list maintains a virtual record of all open items and an up-to-the-minute status. The electronic feature expedites the resolution of the turnover deficiencies, resulting in a much smoother turnover. Because the list is maintained as a living database, critical deficiencies are never lost in some antiquated paper filing system.
Vendor Data Processing Made Simple
Vendor data consists of drawings, maintenance manuals, test records, and other information that is provided by an outside vendor for the project to incorporate. Vendor data is used for development of operating and maintenance procedures, training manuals, and machinery history that are required for continued plant operations. These documents have to be reviewed, dispo-sitioned, and maintained as controlled documents. The web-enabled vendor data system provides a complete turnkey system that reviews, dispositions, and indexes the vendor data documents.
One of the unique features of the web-enabled vendor data system is the capability that embosses the disposition directly on the document. This provides a reliable method to maintain configuration management on vendor data. The virtual project turnover list uses all three design bases to enhance this process and achieve considerable cost and schedule savings.
The Future of Web-Enabled Project Management
The web-enabled project management system represents a quantum leap in technology changes over traditional project management systems. You can bet that changes will continue to be a way of life in the future of project management. There are already some powerful applications that are being developed that apply the latest Internet technology. They are in the process of making their way into the project management arena soon. They are: the business-to-business process and the use of global resources.
Capitalizing on the B2B Process
Business-to-Business (B2B) commerce has become the latest innovation inside the world of E-business. In fact, B2B commerce is expected to grow from $200 billion this year to $2.5 trillion in 2004, making it the fastest growing sector in the E-business economy. Even some of the traditional smoke stack companies such as Babcock and Wilcox and United Technologies are embracing the B2B process—with good reason. These companies are fighting for their lives in the middle of this new “web warfare” inspired by the Internet. The B2B E-business is placing every imaginable type of product and service and competing them in an open bidding war. When United Technologies hired FreeMarkets, an upstart Internet company, to implement its B2B application, it saved over $32 million on printed circuit boards used in elevators, air conditioners and other industrial equipment.
The B2B process utilizes the power of the Internet to electronically automate the sourcing, requisitioning, and bidding process. B2B will play a significant role in the future of web-enabled project management. The B2B process will replace the standard Request For Proposal (RFP) used to solicit bids from subcontractors and vendors. The B2B process is standardizing unit pricing for virtually everything ranging from major electrical equipment to simple appliance parts. Because B2B RFPs are evolving into a standard unit price structure, competitors’ bids are easily posted in real-time until the lowest bid is selected. This is expected to reduce the average acquisition cost of a major piece of equipment or subcontract anywhere from 15 to 20%ercent.
By linking the subcontractors to the web, schedule updates, change proposals, and access to data will drastically streamline the subcontracting process. Contract change processing will be improved due to the standardized unit price structure. These changes can be negotiated in a fraction of the time conventional systems used to take. The best part is, if negotiations fail, the Project Manager has the option to re-bid the work using the B2B auctioning process.
Using Global Resources
As E-business pioneers the way for geographic independence, web-enabled project management will reap the maximum benefits from it. One change you can count on in the future of project management is the use of global resources. The cost and quality of project management support services will become quite competitive in the years to come. If you can imagine managing construction of a new power plant in Houston, Texas with a whole new set of constraints, then this is how your project team could be composed. Your architect-engineer is located in Denver, your Construction Subcontractor is in Boston, your cost control organization is in New York, your quality organization is in Los Angeles and your suppliers and other key project members are scattered across the globe. Can you do it? If you are using some form of web-enabled project management, you should manage quite nicely. Without it, you don't stand a chance.
This approach is particularly effective in cases where reviewers are geographically separated. The web-enabled design review system can accommodate reviewers from numerous geographic areas without any loss of efficiency.
Your Ticket to Success
The E-business movement is becoming a mainstream concept and is clearly making the world a better place to do business. Do you feel like you are behind the times? You should. If web-enabled project management being successfully performed on a government project out in the middle of the Idaho desert, it is a safe bet that it is happening all over. If the speed of your business is being measured in pounds of paper per day, you might consider the web-enabled project management approach.
The web browser has been the catalyst that made this transition possible. The web-enabled project utilizes the web browser as the core feature for its application. As a result, web-enabled project management is able to derive all of the speed, and cost effectiveness that E-Business has to offer. Because project management applications have the most to gain from these productivity improvements, it is imperative that the concept of web-enabled project management be considered. After all, it could be your ticket to success or just another opportunity lost.
Proceedings of the Project Management Institute Annual Seminars & Symposium
September 7–16, 2000 • Houston, Texas, USA