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Project management tools to give you the edge

Cliff Saran
In 1994 the Standish Group conducted groundbreaking research into why IT projects were so prone to failure. Called the Chaos Report, the research found that only 16% of projects were being completed on time and within the agreed IT budget.

The latest figures from 2000 show a marked improvement during this time. Twenty eight per cent of projects succeeded this time. Executive support, user involvement and experienced project managers remain the most important requirements for project success according to Standish, with weightings of 18, 16 and 14 respectively. Successful projects also need:
  • Clear objectives (12)
  • Minimised scope (10)
  • A standard software infrastructure (8)
  • Firm basic requirements (6)
  • A formal methodology (6)
  • Reliable estimates (5)

Why you need a toolkit
Standish found that over 60% of successful projects used project management tools. These are generally designed to fulfil the above requirements. At one end of the scale single user tools can help individuals manage their time effectively. But the real value in project management is the full-blown team environment, providing not only project management but also workflow, knowledge management and budgeting information. These enterprise-class products fit between front-office CRM and back office ERP, providing the tools to manage business operations and development as a series of projects.

Some users may argue that such tools are overkill. But Margo Visitacion, director of research at Giga Information Group, says that for most projects, a management tool is better than nothing at all. "If you routinely run large projects you need an enterprise tool." But for companies that run a variety of large, smaller and maintenance projects, a simpler tool may be a better option.

In terms of features available within project management software Visitacion says that suppliers are now offering Web access which provides streamlined access to project information. Another trend she notes is "the strong emphasis on cost tracking" among modern project management tools. This involves modules that offer budgeting, resource planning, forecasting and links into ERP systems.

Another focus for tools, she says, is collaborative computing. "Vendors are trying to meet collaborative access," she notes. Some offer central storage for project data such as requirements documents; others provide discussion threads, allowing team members to comment on project issues while some tools generate a project home page, providing project teams with links to project documents.

Past, present and future
Analyst group Gartner has traced the evolution of project management. In the 1980s IT project management mainly focused on planning and scheduling tools based on techniques such as gantt, CPM and PERT. The 90s saw the rise of multi-project resource-constrained scheduling, resource profiling/allocation and integrated time reporting. For the new millennium Gartner sees project and resource collaboration an important trend among project management tools.

A research note from Gartner analyst Matt Light observes that the trend in usage of project management tools is moving toward broader, "enterprise" functionality. The current crop of tools provide support for virtual enterprise project/resource planning, budgeting, project knowledge management and Web collaboration

In the paper, Light describes how many project/resource management suites have been extending their functionality, with further collaborative features (such as "white boarding," chat, PDA and wireless functionality).

Gartner feels that even when a point-scheduling tool like Microsoft Project is seen as the main "project management" tool, users are likely to run other applications. Light notes that time tracking, resource allocation or project reporting tools are often in place. These can be either homegrown or purchased. They may sometimes interface with one another.

One area Gartner found the suppliers of project management tools were heavily focused on was in providing Internet-based collaboration for project teams. As more projects are executed in a "virtual enterprise" context with customers and suppliers, Light found that most suppliers have added Web-based collaborative features - sometimes for both team collaboration and for inter-enterprise collaboration. From an IS perspective, those customers may be the user community and business management and suppliers may include service providers.

Who can help you?
Gartner has identified a number of companies as leaders in project management software. These are:
  • Artemis International
  • Business Engine Network MPM
  • Niku
  • PlanView
  • Primavera

One other company making waves in enterprise project management is Microsoft. The current version of MS Project is aimed at single users. It is often used as a front-end tool for higher-end project management suites aimed at the enterprise. In fact many tools support the MS Project format. But Microsoft has its heart set on the enterprise and the next release, due out shortly, offers a server-based product, designed to provide collaboration by storing project information in a central location.

In many ways project management tools could be considered an unnecessary overhead for users. But Giga's Visitacion feels that newer tools are "much more user friendly," which could relieve some of the burden. The main use for these tools is to provide users with project information in an easy to access fashion. Visitacion says organisations do need to address a cultural shift for these tools to succeed. The users need to appreciate the benefits: the ability to access project information quickly and easily.

The Standish Chaos Report advice on project success calls for reducing requirements to the bare minimum, providing constant communication systems coupled with a standard infrastructure. Project management tools can hold the key to achieving this.

Useful Web sites
Directory of Project Management tools: www.infogoal.com/pmc/pmcswr.htm
The Project Management Institute: www.pmi.org/chap/uk
The Project Management Forum: www.pmforum.org
The Standish Group Chaos report: www.standishgroup.com/sample_research/chaos_1994_1.php
Other links to project management tools and resources www.startwright.com/project1.htm

Key project management solutions available:

Artemis International ViewPoint
www.artemispm.com
Integrated software designed to plan, control and measure performance across a strategic portfolio of projects and resources. The company's goal is to help users improve their business operations by allowing them to make decisions faster. The ViewPoint product features:
  • Web-based portal
  • Planning and scheduling
  • Timesheet tracking and approval
  • Enterprise collaboration
  • Cost control
  • Customised, role-based instant reminders and notifications
  • Risk management
  • Issue resolution
  • Project portfolio management
  • Resource management
  • Executive reporting

Business Engine Network MPM
www.businessengine.com
Launched in 2000 the Business Engine Network (BEN) is an integrated project, resource and budget management suite. The company aims to provide resource and collaboration management software to connect internal and external resources. BEN includes:
  • Proposal pricing and cost estimating
  • Pre-RFP preparation
  • "What if" and comparison analysis
  • Proposal and comparison reporting
  • Best and final offer
  • Burden templates for applying indirect costs
  • Multiple rate tables
  • Rollover from proposal (negotiated estimates become baseline)
  • Integrated but separately maintained baseline and estimate to complete
  • Multiple estimates at complete calculations
  • Supports major earned value methods
  • 99 milestones per WBS element
  • Integrated program log includes management reserve and undistributed budget
  • Actuals by resource and/or element of cost
  • Manual entry or batch import of actuals, including option to apply indirect costs
  • Online cost account plan for simplified reporting and statusing
  • A complete set of standard reports
  • User-defined report formats with numerous sort, conditioning, summary, and time window options
  • Variance analysis
  • Required government report formats including Cost Performance Report Formats, Cost/Schedule Status Report, and Contractor Cost Data Reports
  • Direct report interface with Excel
  • Produce custom reports with Business Engine Software Corp's report writer, Crystal Reports for MPM
  • Batch reporting options
  • Baseline development across PCs at distributed sites
  • Automatic update of performance and actuals
  • Track subcontractor cost variance and schedule variance

Niku 6
www.niku.com
Founded in 1997, Niku provides so-called mid-office integration between front-office and back office operations through what it calls Services Relationship Management (SRM). While Project Management is a main focus of the tool it says its main competitors are CRM fims, Siebel, PeopleSoft and Oracle. The flagship Niku 6 software provides:
  • Planning and Estimating
  • Profile a project based on proven structure or methodology
  • Collaboration
  • Define serial or parallel workflows
  • Automate use of available templates, permission sets and notifications
  • Manages project lifecycle
  • Task guidelines
  • Profiling
  • Baselines
  • Estimating
  • Scheduling
  • Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

PlanView
www.planview.com
Established in 1989 PlanView provides integrated project, service and resource management software and services. Its software aims to provide managers with tools to optimise people, capital, process and knowledge. The PlanView product offers:
  • Project management scheduling with CPM

  • Sharing resource pools across the organisation

  • Resource capacity planning for realistic schedules

  • Portfolio management and executive reporting

  • Management of service and support work

  • Skills management and searching

  • Pipeline and opportunity management

  • Time & expense tracking that updates project progress

  • Project budgets and accounting integrated with organisational budgets

  • Collaboration across teams with Web portals

  • Risk mitigation and change management

  • Workflow automation and notifications

  • Content and document management

  • Integrating contracts with opportunity and billing

  • Sharing data with ERP, HR, and other business software

  • Integrating Microsoft Project files as an option

Primavera TeamPlay
www.primavera.com
Since 1983 the company has been offering project management, control and execution software. The product aims to bring together strategic planning and project management and provide a framework for effectively managing both the resources and the tactical plans for completing projects. The TeamPlay product features:
  • Multi-program, multi-project, multi-user

  • Enterprise Project Structure (EPS) to organise and prioritise all projects

  • Client server architecture

  • Relational database (Oracle or SQL Server)

  • Centralised resource management

  • Personalised Web-based interfaces for executives, team members, project managers and project stakeholders

  • Internet-based timesheets

  • Send assignments and specifications

  • Receive status, feedback, and work products

  • Project Web site with project details, reports, and graphs

  • Executive reports and decision support functionality

  • Project initiatives quickly planned

  • Cross-project hierarchical resource pool

  • Graphical resource organisational chart

  • Resource role and proficiency repository

  • Resource assignment by role or proficiency

  • Unlimited Resource coding possibilities

  • Cost accounts for chargeback

  • Project expenses and expense categories

  • Resource timesheet approvals

  • Project architect to quickly plan projects based on methodologies

  • Reusable project templates

  • Best practices and Process improvement

  • Organisational standards and work products

  • Activity steps checklist with weighted progress

  • Estimation metrics and wizard

  • Web-based reports and portfolio analysis

  • Cross-project roll-ups

  • Dynamic drill down

  • Cost, schedule, earned-value analysis

  • Resource forecasting and analysis

  • Wizard to publish complete project Web site

  • Include activities, predecessors/successors, resources, documents, notes, steps, reports

  • Populate Web site with risk control plan, issues to overcome, reference documents

  • Publish project reports and graphics

  • Drill down by WBS, RBS, activity codes

  • Risk and issues management

  • Integrated risk management

  • Issue tracking

  • Management by threshold

  • What-if analysis

  • Scheduling and resource leveling

  • Activity grid, Gantt chart, PERT chart, trace logic

  • EPS (Enterprise Project Structure)

  • WBS (Work Breakdown Structure)

  • OBS (Organisational Breakdown Structure)

  • RBS (Resource Breakdown Structure)

  • Project financial budgeting

  • Project expenses and cost accounts

  • Unlimited project baselines

  • Built-in report writer

  • Resource timesheet approval

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