Projects in panorama

Software tools help eliminate blind spots that can sink an IT project<@VM>Sidebar | 7 things to know about PPM

Sometimes, what you don't know can hurt you. This is especially true if you're managing a large information technology project, where so many things can go wrong. As agencies work to improve IT efficiency and offer better services, project managers are finding they need a consolidated view of the planning, financial and resource data across all strategic and operational projects.

Chief information officers and IT managers can't make the right resource decisions if they don't have a clear picture of the status of the many projects they have under way and their interdependencies.

'The pressure on agencies to get projects done on time and on budget is significant,' said John Thomas, a partner at Booz Allen Hamilton, which works with CIOs across the Defense Department and civilian agencies.

'Many have to deal with multiple issues, including legacy applications or infrastructure that they have no control over,' he said. The agencies also must meet hard deadlines for regulatory compliance.

'The biggest problem we consistently see in the government sector is a lack of insight into the big-picture status of all the projects currently under way,' said Ken Cheney, director of Hewlett-Packard's Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) software.

'We frequently go into the CIO or director of IT's office and ask them what they feel is the most critical element lacking in managing their organization,' Cheney said. 'More often than not the answer is, 'I don't have any insight into where we stand on the majority of the projects we have on our plate.''

Fortunately, project and portfolio management tools are maturing ' some through acquisitions that have resulted in the integration of project portfolio, IT services and application life cycle management capabilities. IT PPM solutions now offer project managers a more comprehensive look at project health metrics, resource allocations and overall costs. These products go beyond time-reporting systems and project-scheduling tools by aggregating data from different sources, such as Microsoft Word files, Excel spreadsheets, Microsoft Project files and accounting systems.

Vendors are also providing support for government forms and mandates, including the Office of Management and Budget's Exhibit 300 documents for project justification, IT Capital Planning and Investment Control (CPIC) processes and Earned Value Management (EVM) capabilities.

In addition to HP, other vendors offering solutions in this growing market include CA, Microsoft, Oracle, Planview, Primavera and Serena.

Several trends will contribute to the growth of the IT PPM market during the next few years, according to a report by Gartner released last year. They include user demand for more built-in risk management structures, increased demand for application portfolio management and collaborative drivers such as Web 2.0.

Mix it up

Almost all project managers at some point have used Microsoft Project for basic project management. The latest release of Microsoft Office Project Server 2007 provides a number of tools and options to give departmental managers more insight across the range of projects under their control.

The Booz Allen Program Management Environment uses Microsoft Project Server combined with Microsoft SharePoint to deliver collaborative project management, Thomas said.

'We've found that the two key elements to implementing consistent project management are training and structure,' he said. 'Training for the entire team from managers to implementers, along with a structured approach

backed by the right tools and templates, helps us to consistently perform at the level needed.'

Enterprise implementations of Microsoft Project provide a major step forward but still do not deliver the total picture. What's needed is a comprehensive tool merging all information, including costs of labor and materials into a single location with status dashboards providing summary roll-ups, experts said.

One such product is CA's Clarity PPM, bought from Niku in 2005.

In Michigan, Oakland County's IT department deployed the product to get a handle on project management problems. A backlog of nearly 900 work orders and customer service issues prompted the department to seek out a PPM more than a decade ago.

Software tools alone can't fix a systemic problem.

'No software tool will solve the problem of a lack of structured process,' said Phil Bertolini, CIO and deputy county executive for Oakland County.

'We had to make some culture changes and manage our customer's expectations,' Bertolini said. 'Using a tool like Clarity has helped us implement a structured process and allowed us to become much more agile and adaptable to our dynamic environment.'

Clarity is designed to be a single system of record for all the moving points of an IT organization including in-house staff, contractors and assets.

'We see a large number of customers still doing project management using Excel spreadsheets and individual Microsoft Project files,' said Carl Landers, vice president of product management at CA.

Clarity delivers 'both the strategic and tactical view to help the CIO or IT department manager see the situation from the perspective of the people and the work they're actually doing,' he said.

Import tools support a host of data formats, ranging from spreadsheet files to various versions of Microsoft Project, to help jump-start the implementation process.

Managing risk and responding to the inevitable what-if questions rank high on the list of requested features, Landers said.

Clarity uses a risk questionnaire tool that can be tailored to each organization. The tool asks questions about issues such as budget constraints, exposure, strategic initiatives supported and security concerns to help assign quantitative numbers to each aspect of a project. This information, in turn, is sent to the project planning tool to help answer the what-if budget drills with more meaningful data.

At the federal level, Clarity addresses compliance requirements plus CPIC and EVM objectives.

Buried information

Primavera Systems added more support for government project management when it bought ProSight in 2006. Also, ProSight brings a more extensive stand-alone portfolio management system to the Primavera lineup, complementing Primavera's EVM features, according to Gartner.

General Dynamics Information Technology is using Primavera's PPM solution to aid in the design and installation of voice-over-IP technology at the Pentagon. The installation is part of the Pentagon Renovation Project, which also includes revamping the Pentagon's network backbone, communications and information security capabilities.

'We have used the Integrated Project Team approach to keeping all the key players involved and informed,' said Dan Busby, vice president and general manager for Army infrastructure at General Dynamics Information Technology. 'Microsoft Project is used for low level project management, but we rely on the master Primavera system used by the general contractor to keep us on track.'

Primavera's product uses a modular approach to meet specific users' needs. The latest version has a Web interface and a bidirectional Microsoft Project interface to give field-level managers added flexibility.

Primavera helps IT managers uncover the buried information so that top-level managers can get the visibility they need to make the right strategic decisions, said Margo Visitacion, industry and product marketing manager at Primavera Systems.

I feel your pain

HP also shored up its IT PPM portfolio when it bought Mercury Interactive in 2006. As a result, HP offers a suite of PPM software modules that can be tailored to address the pain points of each user, Cheney said.

HP's modular approach makes it possible for IT departments to implement as little or as much of their solution as they need.

'We recommend that an organization start at the point where the pain is,' Cheney said. 'For most, this is at the strategic planning level.' He advised starting with the Project and Portfolio Management Foundation and Dashboard to implement workflow procedures and graphical visibility capability.

Using role-based dashboards makes it possible for different managers to see the information they need to do their job. The demand management module captures all the requests on IT to track a specific organization's request and what it will take in terms of IT resources to get the job done.

Other modules include financial, portfolio, program, project, resource and time management.

With the financial management module, for example, managers can track and compare costs to actual budgets across their entire portfolio or for any combination of individual projects or applications, according to HP. Configurable portlets let managers subscribe to the data that's relevant to them. The financial management module is offered as an in-house solution or a managed service.

The move to a more automated approach for tracking project cost and budgets has created a few challenges for some organizations.

'We have bought a tool to help with our project costing efforts but haven't implemented it yet,' said Hap Cluff, director of IT for the city of Norfolk, Va. 'To do it right, we need to go back and redo our chart of accounts to enable us to track costs to the appropriate level.'
Defining your project management process is a critical part of keeping your organization on track.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge from the Project Management Institute is a handy resource for managing projects. One of the book's major themes is the need for a well-defined process.

Defining your project management process is a critical part of keeping your organization on track. It brings structure to the forefront and provides guidance to measure progress and identify trouble spots. Although you can keep tabs manually by using a spreadsheet and e-mail, it is important to use a more robust and comprehensive tool to track the status of projects and their interdependencies.

Here are seven questions information managers should ask when considering a successful project and portfolio management implementation.
  • Do you have an established project management process?
  • How well does the tool you are considering match your current process?
  • What changes must be made to your existing process and how significant are they?
  • What sources of information do you need to bring into your PPM solution and does the software support the format?
  • Does the vendor offer a tiered or modular approach that allows you to implement your solution in phases?
  • What server resources will be needed beyond the basic software, including database support?
  • What level of support will be required to maintain the software after the initial installation?

Source: Project Management Institute


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