Part 5: If projects are like gasoline – PM Tools with Hybrid Octane

In the past four posts, I have talked about project management tools and requirements for various size projects, from small projects, supported part-time by three or four people, to large complex efforts involving 10’s to 100’s of people. The metaphor I choose to talk about the different project management and tool options was “gasoline for cars with the octane contained in different types of gasoline”. Higher octane equals more power and greater cost.  I can say that the choices and number of products on the market is huge in 2012 – it is like going to a gas pump and seeing 5 or 6 choices of octane not just 3!

In this final post of the series, I would like to talk about a hybrid approach to tools for organizations.  Organizations usually have multiple types and sizes of projects, each having unique needs for capturing requirements, monitoring status and reporting — noting that all projects need support for communication and artifact storage. For organizations with multiple types of projects, I would recommend a collaborative tool suite that can handle all sizes of projects without a lot of training.  I prefer Microsoft® SharePoint® because it works equally well with all types of projects.  It also works well with small project management tools, like Excel, and with complex tools for large projects, such as Microsoft® Project Server.

Although I appreciate SharePoint’s flexibility and scalability, I find the major value addition from this server-based software to be its support for collaboration among team members and across projects or portfolios of projects. Besides working transparently with dedicated project management tools, SharePoint provides a content management system that supports a web-based collaboration environment and a way to capture and process data in lists and forms.

For example, SharePoint® facilitates team-level information sharing using a web-based browser for communicating between or among team members as well as keeping all project documents immediately available. With the addition of content management systems, project documents can be searched and controlled intelligently for the right piece of data or problem resolution guidance contained in the project or organization-wide document library.

Another feature of this type of “hybrid tool” is that you can create project team sites to allow easy access to critical information using no more than a web browser.

Because the project information is housed on a shared server, access can be controlled to provide individuals with only the information they want or need to see. Therefore, the project management office or portfolio manager can view summary of information on projects, while the project manager can drill down to the detailed information needed for day-to-day management.

Of course the addition of a project tool like MS Project or Microsoft Project Server can add additional functionality to a project, but those tools can still allow for the basic collaboration being done inside of SharePoint and office tools.  Therefore smaller projects can use the basic collaboration without the rigor and overhead required by most complex project management tools.

So let’s summarize this hybrid tool:
Pros for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. Uses Web browser (Everyone can access)
  2. User training minimal – ease of use
  3. Central repository for all information – can allow sharing of information across all projects
  4. Works well with other tools (MS Office, Project, Project Server)
  5. Permission based access – can manage who sees what information

Cons for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. More cost  than just purchasing desktop tools (Initial setup and on-going administration required)
  2. No central resource pool – unless you add a tool like Microsoft Project Server you don’t get a picture or forecast of staff/resource requirements in a central database
  3. Requires more infrastructure – network, server, SQL database

As I finish this series of Fear No Project posts on tailoring project management tools to the size and complexity of the project, I want to express my appreciation to all of those professionals who commented on their experience and recommended the tools they use successfully. We all get up the project management hill a bit faster with the support of knowledgeable peers.

Part 4: Microsoft Project Server — the Super Premium Octane Project Management Tool

So finally I get to talk about the large “High Test or Super Octane” projects and tools!  Most organizations will have only a few of these projects or maybe they will have a program that is a collection of many projects being managed under one team or PMO.

Even though there are not a lot of these types of projects or programs in an organization, they tend to be the strategic, highly visible and large staff projects. The need to manage them correctly is driven usually from both a cost and strategic perspective. These projects are often called the “career killer” projects — because if you don’t get them done on time and within budget, you may be looking for a new job.

Here are the characteristics of these types of projects:

  • Large, strategic project
  • 30+ full-time staff
  • Long duration — 12 to 24 months
  • Full time PM (Or perhaps more depending on the size and scope of the program)
  • Needs rigor and Project Management tools to develop and track
    • Charter and budget
    • Project management plan
    • Detailed schedule
    • Assignments
    • Risks and issues
    • Quality plan
    • Cost controls
    • Status reports with metrics
    • Forecasts

So there are many tools and products on the market for this level of project management —many times they are called Enterprise Project Management (EPM) tools.  Companies like Microsoft (Project Server), Computer Associates (Clarity) and Oracle (Primavera) have products exclusively aimed at assisting with these types of projects and programs. I will speak to the use of Microsoft Project Server 2010 for illustration purposes.

As the name implies Microsoft Project Server® is the first capable version of Microsoft Project® residing on a server along with a web based interface (SharePoint) that allows most team members access to the functions they need (Note:  It does not have all of the functionality of the desktop version so a professional PM will still use MS Project Pro with Project Server).  Project Server also works in conjunction with the desktop application, MS Project Professional, to provide a seamless experience for the PM.  The major advantage of this arrangement is the ability to view and organize data across multiple projects for effective portfolio management. Microsoft Project Server is an enterprise and portfolio tool suite that:

  • Works with Project and Office
  • Has a web-based user interface
  • Allows “cradle to grave” tracking for projects
  • Shows status across multiple projects and global resource pool
  • Supports typical project management work products such as:
  • Project sites, libraries, collaboration and schedules
  • Repository for all artifacts
  • Timesheets and assignments
  • Workflows
  • Facilitates portfolio analysis and report generation
  • Provides real-time data for decision making across multiple programs

Choosing an EPM tool, like Microsoft Project Server, requires an organization-level commitment. The utility of Project Server can be realized only when the resource, schedule and document information is updated by all project managers and used to allocate resources and make decisions. An organization’s commitment to Project Server requires a higher upfront cost than Microsoft Project or Excel, and training for PMs, portfolio managers and business analysts in accessing and using the reservoir of available information.

In my experience, the additional cost of Project Server is justified when:

  • Projects are large and of strategic importance to the organization
  • A single project employs 30+ full-time staff, some of whom may be in remote locations
  • Projects last more than 12 months and may extend to two or three years
  • The organization needs to compare status and outcomes across multiple projects in order to make the best resource allocation decisions

Here are a few examples of using Microsoft Project Server:

Individual projects can use Microsoft Project Server to generate status reports using established templates that access current information on key project metrics, such as planned versus actual costs, risk and issues status and resource utilization.

Project Management Offices and senior decision makers can see at a glance, the development stage of all suggested, proposed or ongoing projects.

And, portfolio managers can track the status and issues of all their projects on one page.

Overall I find that Microsoft Project Server meets my needs completely in managing a large project and consulting with companies on creating an effective PMO. Most importantly, I believe that the inherent collaborative nature of Project Server® (because it uses SharePoint® ) helps keep project team members on the same page and provides individuals with a knowledge that ranges from their current task list to how their project fits within the greater organization. To summarize:

Pros of Microsoft Project Server:

  • Uses Web browser for most functions — since employees already know how to navigate and use a browser, this saves on training and orientation time.
  • Central repository for all information — as previously discussed in Finding a Content Management System solution – Part 1
  • Works well with other tools (Office, Project, etc.)
  • Multi-User data — this ties the team together through facilitating communication and creating a common project picture
  • Single Resource pool — helps solve resource management challenges because tasking and capabilities are in one location on the server
  • Process and Workflow enforcement — tracking key metrics across multiple projects

Cons of Microsoft Project Server

  • Cost (Initial setup and on-going administration required)
  • All staff must utilize and update information in order to have complete picture
  • Training is needed initially to maximize the investment in the tools

So do you have thoughts on the tools your organization is using for managing large or “High Octane” level projects?

Next week I will talk about a Hybrid tool approach to managing projects.

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