Many dimensions of project management

Project management is a complex field with many variables. Although needs and solutions vary, six elements are recommended as attributes to consider as companies evaluate software for successful project management. 1.
By Staff April 1, 1999

Project management is a complex field with many variables. Although needs and solutions vary, six elements are recommended as attributes to consider as companies evaluate software for successful project management.

1. Role-based tools and perspectives. Because so many people within an organization are affected by a project, a “one-size-fits-all” solution rarely applies. Different levels as well as types of users must be able to access the specific information they need to do their jobs at any time.

Executives, for instance, need an elegant summary view of the project portfolio. Such information details how projects are performing against budgets and time lines, and identifies what needs to be completed. Full-time project managers must be able to model different scenarios to finish a project faster. Workers need simple web-based timesheets and to-do lists to receive and update assignments.

A multiproject, multisite project management tool must provide a project manager with indepth project modeling features, flexible what-if analysis, and sophisticated reporting options while giving many people in an organization project information tailored to their unique needs.

2. A hierarchical structure. All of a firm’s projects should be planned, analyzed, and controlled from within a single framework or hierarchy, from inception to completion. The program should provide for top-down as well as bottom-up planning — and should compare the perspectives to ensure that tactical plans are in line with higher-level objectives.

An enterprise-wide project management solution should let everyone look at projects using a hierarchy that makes sense to him. For a CFO, it means viewing projects by cost accounting structures, with appropriate links to corporate systems. For the project manager, it means analyzing the project according to a work breakdown structure of its deliverables.

3. Optimization of limited, shared resources. For many organizations, time, not capital, is the scarcest resource. Assigning the right person to a task and making the most of those involved in a project, regardless of where they are located, are essential to successful project management.

A software solution should be able to help managers decide who should be working on which project, as well as plan resource assignments based on role. For example, the project manager should be able to identify instantly when key resources will be freed up for work on other projects.

4. Real-time communication. Software for complex project management should provide top management with timely feedback about projects and project portfolios. At its heart, project management is communication. With traditional project management tools, however, by the time a decision-maker sees the data, the ability to change directions may be gone. Project management in the internet age must give unfettered access to project information in real time. If something will take longer than planned, management needs to know immediately, not a week or two later.

Project management should also provide managers with insight into the strategic vision for the business as it is set forth by the senior executives or strategic planners. It must give them a sense of ownership. Middle management is then better prepared to respond quickly to changes and communicate those changes to subordinates for followup.

Project management should bring front-line workers into the communication process. Workers need to be informed immediately about changes in priority so that they are always working on the most important tasks. The communication loop must be closed by a real-time feedback mechanism that lets these workers acknowledge what has been completed, and, more importantly, what remains to be done.

5. Visible project performance. The phrase, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is well known. A recent report by the Conference Board on Strategic Performance Measurement found that companies that employ performance measurement techniques are much more likely to achieve leadership positions in their industry. A comprehensive project management software solution, therefore, must include a strong focus on project performance measurement.

Performance measurement should be a forward-looking metric that helps companies identify what happened, and why. Further, it should help companies spot problems and trends in time to correct them. Regardless of the stage of a project, its real status and performance should be visible and accountable. Making it so increases the likelihood of success.

6. Built for integration. As project management tools take their place beside other corporate systems, these software systems must be able to integrate with accounting and other enterprise-wide information systems. Whether it is accomplished through preconfigured or custom-built interfaces, integration ensures consistency of project-related information throughout the company. As projects change, other departments will be able to see the consequences, including the impact of schedule changes, on work flow in the organization.

Information for this section was provided by Primavera Systems, Inc. Its web site is located at www.primavera.com.