Enterprise Project Management (EPM) and Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools – the Rest of the Story

This year I have been asked about EPM / PPM solutions, as opposed to project level tools, more often than in the past – at conferences, after presentations and in the coffee shops. Senior managers and CIOs want tools that can work organization-wide to improve performance, support decision making and to manage risks. Maybe this new level of interest is caused by worries about the whispers of economic recovery or comes from the frustration of trying to integrate disparate pieces of project data for the last few years; I am not sure. What I know is that managers today want information that is broader, deeper and richer than they have had in the past.

Never wanting to miss a sales opportunity, many vendors of process or project management software are portraying their products as being up to the challenge of providing enterprise process management. Maybe. But, caveat emptor folks.

What is Enterprise Project Management?

OK – before I start spouting off acronyms, how about a few definitions:

  • Enterprise Project Management (EPM) – to quote Paul Dinsmore, “Enterprise Project Management is based on the principle that prosperity depends on adding value to business, and that value is added by systematically implementing new projects of all types, across the organization.”
  • Project Portfolio Management (PPM) – is the practice of managing an organization’s or enterprise’s projects as a visible collection (or inventory), combined with a process which ensures that the projects in the collection contribute directly to the organization’s goals (from BKC).

Using these definitions, enterprise represents the aggregate of activity across multiple projects and departments. In fact, I submit the EPM is more about process than technology and this is why throwing a tool at projects without focusing on processes is not going to improve anything!  Although information on task status, budget, schedule, documentation and resources is available for individual projects within an EPM tool suite, the EPM’s power comes from the ability to retrieve and aggregate information across all projects easily.  According to Deborah Nightingale of MIT presenting the “Principles of Enterprise Systems” at the Second International Symposium on Engineering Systems in 2009, enterprise project management facilitates the following:

  • Understanding status relative to strategic goals, vision and direction of the enterprise
  • Meeting information needs of the enterprise
  • Representing organizational structure of the enterprise, including boundaries between individuals, teams and departments
  • Collecting knowledge, capabilities, and intellectual property resident in the enterprise
  • Producing products and providing services and product support efficiently and effectively
  • Creating greater value for stakeholders

There are some basic capabilities I believe should be in any EPM/PPM software toolsuite:

  • Schedule Management – Gantt chart, scheduling engine, etc.
  • Resource Management – must have a global (i.e., single) resource pool and allow assignments to generic and real resources. Must also allow for progress tracking and reporting either by time or work complete.
  • Governance – must allow for roles and rules on how to approve and view information
  • Collaboration – should provide for an easy to use (hopefully, web based) mechanism for content management and storing of shared artifacts.
  • Reporting – tailored reports, dashboards, and general business intelligence to look at the project and program data in many ways.
  • Status – this may be similar to reporting, but the tools should allow for good communication and status updates with both quantitative and qualitative information

This is not an exhaustive list, but a good basic set of features that should be provided by EPM tools.  You may have your own list or use someone else’s, like the one on ProjectManageSoft’s website.

Capabilities of Enterprise Project Management Software

I believe that EPM and PPM applications must support individual projects and programs, as well as the larger enterprise. That means I want an EPM/PPM tool suite that allows “cradle to grave” tracking for projects — from selecting, planning, and scheduling, to status tracking, sharing, resource management and storing project artifacts. Project and program managers should be able to easily view information by portfolio, project, work site and resources. They should also be able to compare task schedules across multiple projects and for individuals. (I call this accountability.)

EPM applications should provide:

  • easy interface through corporate portals and intranets using a familiar browser interface
  • portfolio analysis and reports with visibility into ALL projects, programs or groups of projects
  • a central resource pool (so you can see ALL work for a resource – both people and generics)
  • managed, secure real-time access to project artifacts – like process diagrams and documents stored in a central repository
  • support for authorization or permission to access project related information and artifacts
  • “near real-time data” and historical data analysis and update notifications
  • easy integration with existing spreadsheets, word processing and desktop applications, like a PDF program
  • value to individuals and teams, such as what am I assigned to, how do I update progress, calendars, document libraries, and collaborative tools


The Rest of the Story

Purchasing an EPM or PPM application suite is not cheap — whether you choose Clarity, Microsoft Project Server, Primavera, PlanView or one of the other 50 less well known tool suites that claim to support EPM and/or PPM. And, purchasing the software is the beginning of having an EPM system, is not the end – you still have to implement it and support it.

Software tools that provide the power of a true EPM system and processes should be set up to integrate with your organization’s existing hardware and software. For most offices that means a tight integration with Microsoft Office. It could also mean sharing data with your finance or HR systems.  The applications must be tailored to your organization and your needs. This means you should only select an experienced professional consulting firm with in-depth knowledge of the tool, project management and business processes.

One other key part of implementing an EPM/PPM is that your staff requires training in using the tools or your organization will not gain the desired benefits.

Last, but not least, you should have a support plan in place.  In large installations, you will also need on-site support and maintenance that can be provided by direct staff or on contract.  Smaller implementations and organizations should have either a part time admin or support.  These complex applications do not run themselves.  And don’t make the mistake of “our IT guys can handle this.”  I have seen many good implementations fail because the IT staff is not experienced nor equipped to provide support for an EPM tool suite.

So is your organization planning to implement an EPM or PPM solution this year?  I would love to hear your fears and experiences on the subject.

One last thought – “A fool with a tool, is still a fool!”

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