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Automated Project Management

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Automated Project Management

Project management software can help you generate a project plan quickly, produce reports rapidly and consistently, perform “what if” scenarios, identify inconsistencies with data, and reuse data from similar projects. In short, today’s software can go quite far in helping project managers be more effective in their job.

Using project management software, despite its obvious benefits, presents some challenges, too. Some of these challenges include getting people to understand the purpose of the programs; reducing the learning curve; increasing people’s receptivity to the output; producing reliable information rather than garbage in, garbage out; and ensuring that the software program supports the project and not that the project supports the software. Of course, you must also have the right hardware, operating software, and utilities on hand; the software must be available at a reasonable price; and the licensing agreements must be fair.




You can use project management software to calculate early and late dates for each task and to determine the critical path. You also can use software to allocate resources and calculate costs. In addition, you can use word processing software to draft the statement of work and a spreadsheet program to estimate the hours needed to complete the project.

Today, automated project management is going through immense changes. In the past, the scope was fairly narrow; software was used to build schedules and calculate costs. But the advent of local area networks, Web technologies, and mobile computing have expanded the scope of automated project management dramatically. Current—and future—applications will drastically change the way projects are completed and help ensure their completion on time and within budget.

The discussion in this chapter visualizes the structure of present-day automated project management in the form of a three-level pyramid, as shown in Exhibit 19-1.


Exhibit 19-1 Automated project management structure.

Personal Computing Systems

Building a program plan and doing risk assessment requires an automated project management package, easiest on a personal computer. There are software packages at the minicomputer or mainframe level, but their purchase or lease costs often are too high, the number of records insufficient, and the learning curve too long for most limited-term projects. PC packages have the capabilities of larger systems but can be used at PC level.

To choose a software package, consider your needs. A project manager might likely have the following requirements:

Typical Software Needs and Wants

Cover a large number of tasks.

Assign multiple resources to a task and generate resource histograms for each resource and composite ones.

Build a project repository.

Choose different types of network diagrams that provide multiple displays of information.

Create bar charts for multiple levels of the work breakdown structure and have the ability to tailor and custom-build.

What the Software Won’t Do

Many project managers, especially inexperienced ones, believe that the software makes or breaks a project. Unfortunately, this belief is as unrealistic as the idea that a paintbrush makes a good painter or a pencil makes a good writer.

Software is simply a tool to help you manage a project. It is an aid, an enabler—if you use it correctly. It will help you make decisions. It will help you communicate with people. It will help you track performance and take corrective action, if necessary.

The software, however, will not do these things for you. You must make the decisions. You must communicate. You must take action to get back on track. In other words, you must provide the leadership to bring a project in on time and within budget. It happens because of you, not because of the software.

Many project managers have a tendency to blame the tool when things go awry. That serves only as an excuse for poor project management. After all, as an old saying goes, good carpenters never blame their tools.

If this sounds like preaching, it is, and heed the warning. Many a project has failed despite the availability and use of the best project management software tools.

Define and change the logic relationships between tasks as well as the lag value for all network diagrams.

Detect logic errors in network diagrams and identify the problem.

Establish a baseline, or target, schedule to measure against.

Generate graphics (e.g., pie charts and Pareto diagrams) using data from the repository.

Offer a common user interface that enables using other application packages easily.

Perform “automatic” resource leveling.

Perform “what if” scenarios to determine the impact of the cost and schedule milestones.

Provide calendaring capabilities that can be modified to suit specific circumstances.

Provide standardized reports and have ability to tailor and custom-build.

Use with other well-known word processing, database, and spreadsheet programs.

Assign a value to each software need to reflect its relative priority, as shown in Exhibit 19-2. Then collect literature (e.g., sales brochures and magazine reviews), experiment with demos to see how well they satisfy your needs, and interview subject matter experts. Finally, tally the results of your investigation and select the best package based on the total score.

Exhibit 19-2. Sample software evaluation.

Requirements

Weight

Package A

Package B

Package C

Value

Calculated (Weight × Value)

Value

Calculated (Weight × Value)

Value

Calculated (Weight × Value)

Build a project repository

Add level number of tasks

Select different types of network diagrams

Provide standardized re-ports and ability to modify each one

Establish baseline schedule



Create and tailor bar charts

Define and change logic relationships

Assign multiple resources to tasks

Perform automatic re-source leveling

Grand Total

Remember that selecting the right package involves more than performing mechanical steps.

The agreement. Should you buy individual packages or multiple packages? If the latter, will you receive a discount?

How easy is it to learn the package? Will the vendor provide basic training?

What type of support services are there? Is there a support line? Is there a charge for consultation? Is it available 7 by 24, meaning seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day?

How long has the vendor been in business? If not long, what happens if it goes out of business after you have invested in its product?

How well can the package be integrated with other popular applications and other projects (e.g., spreadsheets)? Will it require complex programming to share data?

How long is the learning curve? Will it help the team focus on the work rather than on satisfying the needs of the software? In other words, is the software an enabler?

Once the package is selected and delivered, ensure that team members understand how to use the software and provide the output. The need and level of understanding depends on the audience, of course. People working directly on the project team (e.g., core team members) need a more detailed understanding of the capabilities and outputs than senior management and the customer. Hence, tailor your presentation to reflect these different needs.

Follow the same process when selecting risk management software. Identify the needs and wants in the software package, find several popular packages, apply an objective approach to select the right software, and ensure that people using the software are trained sufficiently. Some leading project management and risk management software packages are shown in Exhibits 19-3 and 19-4.

Distributed Integrated System

Although there are excellent packages for project management, more often than not the computing environment is distributed, whereby processing power is split among different levels in a systems architecture. A distributed computing architecture is client/server. That is, some or all the application processing may reside at the client, or PC, level, or be shared with a server, or be at a mini- or mainframe computer level.

A typical scenario is for the project application software to reside on the client; the major processing and data occur on the server. This architecture offers several advantages. First, users have a user-friendly interface while simultaneously having access to considerably more power and data than on a PC. Second, hardware and software cost less since the preliminary work is done at the client level. And third, data can be shared among multiple users as well as provide uniform data management.

The client/server environment has substantially affected project management as a complementary or supplementary tool for new technologies such as telecommuting, mobile computing, and groupware.

Telecommuting

Increasingly, people work on projects via personal computers in their homes. They provide their services and expertise electronically. Telecommuting reduces the need for office space, plus saves time and commuting dollars for the individual. It allows people to accomplish more in less time, thanks to fewer interruptions and a flexible work schedule.

Project Management Methodologies

In some situations, projects can make use of a project management methodology, or PMM. Sometimes the methodology is developed in-house; other times it is purchased from an outside firm. Whatever its origins, a PMM offers several advantages. It provides a consistent, standardized approach for managing projects. It sets the groundwork for compiling data. And it improves communications.

The PMM must be flexible in its application. It must also be documented and accessible, and it should be supported via training and vendor assistance. Finally, it should present information clearly and concisely.

A PMM does not guarantee success; it takes leadership to get people to use the PMM. And this leadership should come not from just the project manager but also from senior management. Commitment comes just as much from the top as it does from the rank and file.

Some PMMs are stand-alone, meaning they’re not part of a much bigger methodology—for example, the Practical Project Management Methodology (P2M2) by Practical Creative Solutions and KLR Consulting. Other PMMs are part of a much bigger methodology, such as Productivity Plus (P+) by DMR, which is oriented toward software development.

There are challenges to telecommuting, and many of them are financial. Telecommuters must have technological tools, including a personal computer (e.g., laptop or workstation), software (e.g., terminal emulation), modem, printer, pager, and cellular phone. They also need training and perhaps technical support to resolve connections problems and answer advanced application quieries. Project managers must ensure that telecommuters have the current software, from project management to word processing.

There are also potential performance problems. There is corruption and other degradations of data associated with transferring data across telephone lines. Slow transmission speed can increase costs, requiring installation of high bandwidth lines.

Exhibit 19-3. Leading project management software packages.

Package

Description

Contact

Primavera Project Planner (copyright)

A comprehensive planning and control package. It also provides e-mail and Web publishing functionality. Considered useful for medium to large projects.

Primavera Systems, Inc.
Two Bala Plaza
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004-1586
(610) 667-8600
www.primavera.com



Results Management

A suite of project management products, of which Project Workbench plays a key role. Project Workbench provides an extensive project planning and control system. Considered useful for medium to large projects.

ABT Corporation
361 Broadway
New York, NY 10013-3998
(212) 219-8945
www.abtcorp.com

Microsoft Project for Windows

A planning and controlling package that generates standard and tailorable charts and reports. Microsoft Project for Windows works well with other Microsoft products. Considered useful for small to medium projects.

Microsoft Corporation
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399

(425) 635-7155
www.msn.com

CA-Superproject

A project management package that is very resource driven and provides extensive graphics and reporting capabilities. Considered useful for small to large projects.

Computer Associates International, Inc.
One Computer Associates Plaza
Islandia, NY 11788-7000
(800) 225-5224
www.cai.com

Project Scheduler 7 for Windows

A project management package noted for ease of use, resource handling capabilities, and managing multiple projects. Considered useful for small to large projects.

Scitor Corporation
333 Middlefield Road
2nd floor
Menlo Park, CA 94025
(800) 533-9876
www.scitor.com

Mobile Computing

Like telecommuting, mobile computing is a result of advances in client/ server technology. Project team members can be on the road and still contribute to deliverables. It gives team members the flexibility to work at different locations, and enables them to work at a remote location and still provide timely results.

Exhibit 19-4. Leading risk management software packages.

Package

Description

Contact

Monte Carlo for Primavera

Risk analysis software that is used with Primavera Project Planner. It enables determining the probabilities for completing a project on schedule and within budget.

Primavera Systems, Inc.
Two Bala Plaza
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004-1586
(610) 667-8600
www.primavera.com

Rank-It

Risk assessment software that enables applying precedence diagramming (not to be confused with precedence network diagramming for schedules) for identifying and ranking threats and processes and associated controls.

Jerry Fitzgerald and Associates
506 Barkentine Lane
Redwood City, CA 94065-1128

(415) 591-5676 //ourworld.compuserve.com/
homepages/jerardra

Risk +

Risk analysis software to use with Microsoft Project for Windows. It enables applying Monte Carlo simulation to determine the probability to complete tasks.

Program Management Solutions, Inc.
553 N. Pacific Coast Highway
Suite B-177
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
(805) 898-9571
www.prog-mgmt.com

Total Risk

An integrated risk management package for monitoring and controlling risk by creating a “virtual data warehouse.”

Redpoint Software, Inc.
One Cabot Road
Suite 190

Hudson, MA 01749

(508) 870-0070
www.rpsi.com

Of course, there are challenges to mobile computing. The costs can be high. A mobile computing workforce requires laptops, batteries, printers, software (e.g., applications, communications), CD-ROM attachments, modems, adapters, docking stations, PCMCIA cards, and drivers.

There are other factors, too: skyrocketing communications costs, additional servers to handle demand, training, and support to resolve technical problems. And there is the time and money to ensure the data security and restrictive access to corporate networks.

Groupware Computing

Thanks to client/server architecture and the movement toward flatter organizational structures, groupware computing enables the sharing of applications and data. Groupware is often not enterprise-wide; it is used within a smaller organization, such as a department, work unit, or project. Its software components fall into one of these categories:

Electronic mail and messaging over a network

Information sharing (e.g., document management)

Personal and group calendaring and scheduling

Real-time conferencing (e.g., electronic meetings)

Workflow (e.g., automation of common business functions)

To function in a groupware environment, team members need microcomputers or workstations, servers, cabling, network devices, and software (which often includes two or more categories). It requires a commonality of software and data.

Groupware improves the communciation and distribution of information. It capitalizes on trends toward decentralization of computing, using mid-range and personal computer-based computing. But groupware also presents its challenges. Like telecommuting and mobile computing, it requires support personnel to resolve technical difficulties and answer inquiries. There must be a substantial initial investment in hardware and software, as well as upgrade efforts and training. All this increases project costs and adds to flow time.

Web Technology

The Internet is revolutionary technology that ties organizations and projects together. Many companies apply Web technology in the form of intranets. The broad, primary difference between the Internet and an intranet is that the latter uses a firewall, or server, to regulate or screen communications—hence, Internet technology is used on a smaller, restricted basis.

The technology for using the Internet or an intranet is varied, but they share common requirements:

Workstation and browser for each user

Database servers

Expertise in SQL (structured query language), HTML (hypertext markup language), CGI (common gateway interface), Java, and a database management system (e.g., relational)

Operating system at the workstation

Protocols (such as HTTP, TCP/IP) for communications

Web technology is truly an enabler of projects. It gives people access to information that was once difficult to obtain. It has tools (browsers, HTML [hypertext markup language], etc.) that are relatively easy to use and piggyback on an existing communications network and client/server infrastructures. Finally, it furthers communication through e-mail or conferencing at relatively low cost.

Web Site Design

The enthusiasm for Web technology has hit just about every organization. Even medium-size projects are building their own Web sites. Quite often, the Web pages of these sites appear cluttered, confusing, and irrelevant.

To develop a Web page for your project, ensure that it is clear, concise, consistent, relevant, and simple. Your Web pages should:

Follow a logical structure rather than appear as a hodgepodge of unrelated data.

Have text free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Keep hypertext and navigational links to a minimum and current.

Use color sparingly to emphasize main points and draw attention.

Use graphics, audio, and video to support the main focus of the site, not distract.

Use language that is familiar to everyone; define acronyms and jargon.

Use plenty of white space to increase readability and minimize bandwidth use.

Many projects establish Web sites. A Web site is what people inside and outside of the project access to send or obtain information.

A project typically has one Web site for people access, which provides hypertext links to contents throughout the site and navigational links to other pertinent sites. The information likely to be on a Web site is:

Cost and time estimates

Forms

Lessons learned from previous projects

Meeting schedules

Memorandums

Phone and contact listings

Procedures

Reports

Risk assessment

Schedules (bar and network)



Statement of work

Work breakdown structure

Taming the E-Mail Beast

In the past, it was not uncommon for project managers to find a pile of memorandums on their desks. Unless they were masters at time management or could read quickly, they found themselves overwhelmed.

Today, the same challenge exists, except the memorandums are in electronic form. With the ease of using e-mail, in many respects, the volume of memorandums has become worse.

To lessen the e-mail volume, emphasize that team members use “e-mail etiquette,” meaning:

Consolidate your messages to the receiver.

Ensure that the contents of the message move from major to minor points.

Include your name and/or organization on the message.

Keep the message to minimum length.

Ensure the receiver can print an attached file, if necessary.

Use good spelling and grammar.

To reduce the volume of e-mail you receive, you can:

Distribute a style guide on e-mail and guidelines for everyone on the project.

Establish a scheme for determining which messages are more important than others (e.g., topic or person).

Set aside some time during the day to address messages.

Store messages for later reference onto a hard drive or floppy disk.

In addition, the Web site can be the place to broadcast messages, enable access to databases, and distribute updates to application software.

Despite the advantages of Web technology, it can add to the overall cost of a project. There are several issues the project manager needs to address.

Content management. Setting up a Web site is one thing; keeping it current is another. There must be someone on the team to refresh the site to ensure that its content and links stay meaningful.

Security. Especially for highly proprietary projects, project managers must restrict access and take measures to prevent a virus from being downloaded. Firewalls, password protection, and encryption are some ways, but they can be costly.

Support. Unless someone already has expertise in Web-related areas (e.g., HTML, Java), then the project manager must train someone or hire the necessary support.

Infrastructure. The right technological infrastructure must be in place to use Web technology, including ways to author and deploy documents for the site, hardware with sufficient capacity (e.g., sufficient RAM, processing speed), and software for assessing data created by legacy systems.

Productive use. With technological power at their fingertips, team members can be tempted to surf the Internet, which can result in nonproductive time and effort as well as access to unrelated data and software. Project managers must provide standards and guidelines for using this technology, especially on highly visible, politically sensitive projects.

Sufficient bandwidth. Web technology goes beyond accessing and transferring text. It involves using static images, audio, video, and data, all of which use bandwidth and challenge the overall capacity of the supporting network infrastructure. Insufficient bandwidth can result in problems like long response time at peak periods of usage.

Copyright laws. Placing documents on a Web site may be all right if generated internally, but if the documents have been developed by another organization, issues of fair use and ownership arise.

User confidence. Although a key attraction of Web technology is its ease of use, many team members find themselves gun-shy and may experience longer than usual learning curves. Training can help resolve this issue.

The project manager needs to define his requirements upfront, look at the existing technological and knowledge capabilities of his team members, and establish an infrastructure before deciding whether to take advantage of Web technology.

Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing once could occur only in a large facility equipped with a vast array of electronic gadgetry. Today, with powerful personal computers and digital networking, videoconferencing takes place on a much smaller scale. Many projects, especially ones with team members spread over a wide geographical area, are increasingly using videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing offers many advantages. It encourages collaboration and communication, and encourages real-time planning rather than relying on passive media like documentation and e-mail. Some major capabilities of PC-based videoconferencing include:

Multipoint conferencing and point-to-point conferencing

Providing system diagnostics

Setting up address books

Sharing applications

Transferring files

Whiteboarding (e.g., electronic diagramming)

However, several challenges remain. The technology is immature, reflected in often blurry, ghostlike, and jerky images. The sound often is not synchronized with the image. Other times, there are incompatibilities between points owing to protocol differences. Sometimes, too, the transmission slows dramatically during high usage periods, causing competition for bandwidth. Finally, preparing for videoconferencing can be costly; the start-up costs alone can be up to three to four times the cost of a workstation.

To get started in videoconferencing, project managers should have a fully configured setup at a sending and receiving site. The technology then includes:

Additional microcomputers for multiple-site conferences to manage interaction

Audio board supporting speaking and listening

Cabling

Digital camera

Microcomputer, preferably a Pentium

Microphone for group interaction; headset for individual interaction

Modem for phone lines

Software that provides control settings for audio and video quality; supports standard protocols (e.g., H.320 for ISDN [Integrated Services Digital Network] and H.324 for Plain Old Telephone Service [POTS]); and, sharing applications, transferring data, and white-boarding

Videoboard

Project Automation: Recognizing the Limitations

A technological tool like a software package can make managing a project easier and the manager more efficient and effective. However, its use does not guarantee success. Numerous projects have failed although armed with top-notch software. Perry recognizes that a tool does not lead; nor does it define, plan, organize, control, or close a project. People like Perry, and not some silver bullet, do that. Perry realizes, however, that using the right software or other tool—and using it right—helps clear the path to a successful project outcome, and so he selects such tools carefully.

Questions for Getting Started

If looking for a project management software package, did you:

Define your requirements?

Determine how you will go about selecting the package?

Consider value-added issues like vendor support? Training? Warranties?

If looking for a risk management software package, did you:

Define your requirements?

Determine how you will go about selecting the package?

Determine the type of risk analysis and assessment approach to take?

Consider value-added issues like vendor support? Training? Warranties?

If you are working in a client/server environment, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

Determine how to deal with issues related to hardware and software performance?

If team members are telecommuting, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

Determine how to deal with issues related to hardware and software performance?

If team members are using mobile computing, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

Determine how to deal with issues of data backup and recovery? Security? Compatibility of hardware and software as well as distributing upgrades?

If team members are using groupware computing, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

Determine ways to overcome hardware and software compatibility and upgrade problems?

If team members are using Web technology, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Elect to set up a Web site and determine its layout and contents?

Determine what ways to use Web technology (e.g., broadcast messages, access databases)?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

If team members are using PC-based videoconferencing, did you:

Determine the necessary hardware and software requirements?

Determine the necessary level of technical support?

Determine the desired uses of the technology (e.g., sharing applications, whiteboarding)?






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