Project managers wanted: Juggling skills required

The need for a disciplined approach to project management in corporate America has never been more evident. Today's complex IT requirements have project managers juggling multiple projects simultaneously, in many cases with fewer resources due to downsizing, shared resource pools and acquisitions/mergers.

The "three Cs" of project management: coordination, communication and collaboration are still vital to any firm. But today's business environment requires up-to-the-minute information that flows freely and is available to all users. The Internet is one way to spread this project information. New project management tools can also provide a helping hand to managers inundated with projects.

Large-scale projects such as the Y2K conversion, Euro conversion, enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation and the move to the Internet all seem to have converged onto the IT scene at once. At the same time, these projects have been widely credited with emphasizing the need for project management. This is particularly true for those companies that did not closely follow a project management discipline in the past, as well as for those companies using homegrown systems to sporadically track single projects.

Project management is no longer a matter of simply planning a project and scheduling tasks. There is a new level of maturity in the tools available today, as well as a greater understanding of the project management discipline and its role. But what does this mean to project managers? For one thing, it brings about changes in the way project management is approached and used throughout organizations.

The Internet is the latest way to track, collaborate and communicate critical project data throughout the enterprise. Another oft-cited reason for bringing project management to the Web is that the total cost of ownership and administration of applications decreases. Many companies are also buying advanced tools that track and report projects through the life cycle. Others are choosing to give development, as well as process and project management tasks, to outsourcing providers.

Yet why outsource a project when you can buy the tools and manage the project internally? There are various reasons, including the fact that staff shortages and time constraints may prohibit a company from working on multiple projects simultaneously. There is also the experience factor.

Keane Inc. is a Boston-based application development, outsourcing and integration services provider with more than 30 years' experience in managing software development projects. The company currently has 400 active projects.

"There are very solid, capable project managers in-house at all companies, as well as in the outside consulting world," said Bob Wyatt, vice president of Keane's Strategic Services Group. "Our project managers -- over the course of several years -- will see three or four projects, whereas in-house project managers may see only one or two because they are busy doing other things." According to Wyatt, many in-house managers have to architect, build, develop and install projects, as well as be involved in rollout, maintenance and other organizational activities. "As a result, there is a compression of experience that the outside project manager can bring to the table and the in-house manager can't."

This compression of experience may be partially offset by the in-house project manager's knowledge of the company's business, systems and environment, said Wyatt. However, "the bottom line is that you are mitigating your risks on skill levels when you go outside because that person is focused on only that one project, and brings in experience as well," he said.

Wyatt, who believes that project management has come into its own as a profession, added that changes in tools have also helped. "The availability of some very powerful tools has changed the level of usage of toolsets. You can do things with PCs or laptops now that you couldn't even dream about five years ago," he said.

However, he warns that tools should not be looked at as magic wands. "What gets us into deep [trouble] is not so much the tools, but the people side of the equation," said Wyatt. "When I review a project, the first thing I look at is the behavioral side of the equation. For example, what's the morale of the team, what are the intangibles, what are the communication links established? If those things are suspect, then all the fancy charts in the world aren't going to save you."

Ed Farrelly, vice president of product management at ABT Corp., New York City, agrees with Wyatt that there have been major changes in the project management tools market. "The era of standalone project management systems is ending quickly," he said. "We have bigger, more complex problems to address now."

According to Farrelly, the renewed emphasis on resource management -- particularly with Y2K projects and staff shortages -- requires more productivity from employees. In addition, resource management executives now have to do capacity planning over a span of months. "It's important for a company to know whether or not it is staffed appropriately for its projects, or whether outside contractors should be brought in," he said.

In the past, ABT had only one product and entered everything into it. Today, the company offers components. "This helps to keep it streamlined and easy to use," said Farrelly. "You need to keep it simple." The company is also integrating its repository with ERP systems, such as SAP and Oracle; in addition, it provides professional services and a client/server suite of products integrated with a project management process and culture.

Pier 1 gets results

Pier 1 Imports, a worldwide retailer of imported decorative home furnishings, started utilizing ABT's Results Management Suite in July 1998. According to Robert Mahan, director of corporate application services at Pier 1, the ABT tools have brought a standard project methodology to his company, as well as the ability to establish plans for tracking project status.

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Pier 1 Imports maintains more than 800 stores and six distribution centers worldwide. In addition to a number of ongoing IT projects, the company is currently immersed in a Y2K development project that is expected to wrap up in August.

Prior to the ABT implementation, Pier 1, like many companies, did not have a
formal approach to tracking actuals. "We didn't know the actual budgets, or how we were doing on our projects," said Mahan. The organization's rapid growth -- $1 billion in sales in fiscal year 1998 -- further highlighted the need for a formal project management discipline.

To facilitate project tracking, Pier 1 has established a policy that requires the company's 45 developers to record the time they spend on a project. All Pier 1 project managers and development managers use ABT's tools. Team members have access only to Team Workbench, which is used to record their project time.

The adoption of a project management discipline and the use of ABT's tools have greatly benefited Pier 1's project managers. "They now have a better understanding of their projects, as well as the ability to break down work activities of all development," said Mahan.

ABT's Web-based technology also holds appeal for Mahan, who recently ordered the Web component. The utilization of applications in the desktop or browser, he
explained, reduces the cost of software implementation and maintenance.

Enterprise management needs

Artemis Management Systems, Boulder, Colo., has been in the project management business for more than 20 years and, like ABT Corp., has witnessed a great deal of change in the way companies handle project management.

"A lot of companies in the past weren't really doing project management. They started with simple gantt charts and from there, typically went on to a tool like Microsoft Project," said John Baldwin, vice president of product development at Artemis. "We're seeing more enterprise-level management now, wiring project planning with resource management."

Because Artemis originally built its products for large-scale deployment, it is positioned for today's multiproject, complex environments. The company offers a family of enterprise-wide multiproject planning, control and tracking solutions, as well as consulting services.

The firm's newest application, KnowledgePlan, is a metrics-based software estimating product built by Software Productivity Research, the Capers Jones company acquired by Artemis in 1998. It can be used up-front to estimate tasks, function point analysis, durations, perform analogies and physically identify complexities. A new Active Alert feature, in beta test now, will provide the ability to monitor specific situations.

"Folks are becoming much more business-oriented than ever before," commented Baldwin. "Applications today must create a strategic business value, not just automate a process, for example."

The Artemis strategy follows "the three Cs" of project management: coordination, communication and collaboration. The company's products create an integrated project framework, which, according to Baldwin, is important because most companies do not want to buy pieces from multiple vendors.

Artemis is also bringing everything to the Web. "It makes project management so much more democratic," said Baldwin. "This gets the data into the hands of everyone, not just the project manager."

Aspen Technology Inc. (AspenTech), Cambridge, Mass., provides smart manufacturing and supply-chain software and services to the process industry. The firm has undergone considerable growth, merging 14 different companies into one full-solutions organi-
zation that designs, manages and optimizes enterprises for process manufacturers.

"We needed a common process, and a common system," said Trevor Cusworth, vice president of business operations. "We had to look at new project management tools, manufacturing tools and financials. My job was to implement all of this."

One requirement was that the project management system had to be able to tie into AspenTech's Oracle Financials application. According to Cusworth, the company is working to tie all of its project management tools into its financial system, which will then provide full project accounting across the company.

Prior to evaluating project management tools from Artemis, Welcom and Microsoft, AspenTech looked into developing its own project management system in-house. "We determined that approach would be too much effort and too expensive to maintain," said Cusworth.

The company brought in TrackView, ProjectView and Microsoft Project Connect from Artemis almost two years ago. Some employees have Microsoft Project on their desktops, said Cusworth, explaining that it made sense to let those users continue with what they know. These users are connected to Artemis through the Project Connect product.

"We narrowed our decision to Artemis rather quickly," said Cusworth. "We liked the functionality -- it did everything we needed it to." The fact that the Artemis tools were Oracle-based was a prime factor in the decision. "Artemis has also been in business for quite a while, which was important to us," said Cusworth. "We find that some other companies that spread their offerings over a wide range were not very focused on any one."

AspenTech is currently in the process of migrating to Web-based timesheets. Its financials are also heading to the Web. Because the company is a services firm, it is important that Aspen's customer base tie into the Web in order to check project status.

The Artemis tools are delivering all that Cusworth had hoped for. "The time tracking tool is easy to use, and the interface to our financials is working very well. Artemis is very open, so we haven't had to worry about any proprietary interfaces," he said.

A PM infrastructure

The MacManus Group, New York City, is one of the world's largest advertising and communications holding companies. Multiple, large-scale projects are ongoing at the company to ensure that the firm is Y2K-compliant. This is being accomplished through a combination of package installations, such as PeopleSoft, and client/server application development.

"We needed tools to help us manage our projects," said John Klesmith, manager of QA and process management at the firm's Central IT (CIT) Services Department in Troy, Mich. "We did not have a methodology in place, and management determined that we needed to start a process management group. I'm calling it process management because it includes much more than just a methodology. We're including project management, quality assurance, configuration management and a methodology."

The MacManus CIT Group did an independent feature-by-feature evaluation of the major project management players. Platinum Technology, Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., scored number one in the evaluation. Platinum offers the Platinum Advantage solution, a series of product suites for automating, managing and improving the infrastructure for applications management. Within Advantage is Process Continuum, a suite that integrates processes and best practices with project management.

The MacManus Group chose to bring in multiple products from Platinum's suite, including process engineering, project engineering, Advisor and Process Library. While the CIT group is using an early version of Platinum's EPM project management tool, its primary project management product is Microsoft Project. A major consideration in choosing Platinum, said Klesmith, was that users could go back and forth quite easily between the Platinum tools and Microsoft Project.

The major selling point of the entire Platinum process was the Advisor product. "Our senior management is located in New York," said Klesmith. "Advisor is Web-based, and they can therefore obtain a view of the projects and drill down to see how each is going. If there's a problem, they will be able to detect and resolve it."

One of the missing links, at this point, is an enterprise-wide project management tool with an enterprise scheduler. However, Klesmith has been unable to find this capability in either the Platinum or Microsoft project management products. "We can't think of things just one project at a time," he explained. "You need to set up your projects and then schedule them across the enterprise. We get killed when we don't know about projects that are going on and how they impact our other projects."

Klesmith would also like to be able to populate the company's cost-tracking system with project data. "I can write an interface for now, but I'm hoping that Platinum will do that. It would be a big help to many companies," he said.

Rather than bring in Platinum or outside consultants to facilitate the project and process management methodology, Klesmith has chosen to build his mentoring staff with people he has worked with in the past. Having in-house personnel and people who have been doing this for a while, he said, is an ace in the hole.

Welcom is a Houston-based project and cost management software supplier. The firm's niche is addressing multiproject, multisite, multiresource problems. Its Open Plan is an enterprise client/server project management system that supports project planning, statusing, risk analysis, resource management and reporting.

"As recently as five years ago people bought project management software to control a single project," said Steve Cook, founder and vice president of Welcom. "The assumption was that you would plan the project, and you had all the resources you needed. If you didn't, you would bring in more resources."

More recently there has been a move to multiproject environments, with up to 500 projects sharing resources from a common pool. "What we don't know is whether we can do all of those projects with the resources we've got," said Cook. "We need to do what-if scenarios to show how many people are needed, how much it will cost and what the impact of a project is on other projects."

Welcom has recognized the need for a Web-based tool for gathering project data. Spider, the company's new Web-based statusing tool, lets multiple users collect and update live project information from any Java-enabled browser.

But Spider also has a hidden benefit, said Cook. "Because you don't have to install anything on the system to use Spider, there is a low cost in implementing the product," he said. Ease of use is another factor. "Most people are comfortable with using browsers," he added.

The Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City, Mo., works on a wide range of military engineering and construction projects for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. They perform environmental studies, particularly on rivers, and also have a hazardous waste branch. The Corps uses Open Plan to manage its projects, many of which run simultaneously. "It lets us know what's coming up, and whether or not we have the resources internally for a project, or whether we have to go outside," said Henry Munoz, special assistant to the chief of planning for engineering.

"We also use an internal system, but we can't use it to roll all those projects together to see the status or workloads across the entire organization," Munoz said. "The system is single-project and doesn't do scheduling."

The Corps decide to beta test Spider "because it looked like something we could use," said Munoz. "Spider is used more by our non-project management people, such as organization chiefs who want to look at the data but without having to go into the actual project management tool."

Currently, most team members do not go into the project management software at all. Instead, they typically get a hard copy of the data. "Spider gets around that, and is especially helpful to team members who are working multiple projects simultaneously," said Munoz.

"It's more logical to use Spider. You can look just at the tasks or scheduling without having to get into network analysis types of software just to access that data," said Munoz, adding that Spider also saves on computer resources and training.

The need to outsource

A number of companies have chosen to bring in outside consulting/service providers to manage their software projects. One such company is Ann Taylor, a women's clothing retailer based in New York City.

Wolly Morin, senior vice president
of information services at Ann Taylor, brought in Infosys Technologies Ltd., Fremont, Calif., about a year ago to work on the company's Y2K project. Morin, who had worked with Infosys in previous jobs, said the firm was brought in because Ann Taylor did not have enough people in-house to do the job in the allotted time.

While the Y2K project was completed in December 1998, Infosys continues to work with Ann Taylor on a number of other projects, including a new reporting project. "We're installing a new merchandising system, and we will need query and reporting capabilities," said Morin. "We expect that Infosys will do all the project work on this. We will just hand them the specifications and expect to get the completed system back."

Infosys did not bring its methodology or project management techniques into Ann Taylor. "Frankly, it doesn't matter to me how they do project management," said Morin. "They can use whatever tools or methodologies they want. It's not of consequence to me how they do it other than the fact that they meet my deadlines."

What Infosys has brought to Ann Taylor is a very high standard of quality, noted Morin. "We had virtually no errors over the course of our nine-month Y2K project," he said. "Infosys brings a sense of discipline and adherence to our plans, and they typically meet our plans.

"I like that sense of disciplined management," he added. "I think that in this country we have gotten spoiled, and we tend to find reasons why we can delay projects. We accept those reasons even though the delays are not acceptable."

This all comes back to good project planning and management, said Morin. "We can provide for contingency time at each milestone, in order to anticipate the unanticipatable. Then we can track back, and see how much contingency time we need and factor that back into the project planning approach."

Ann Taylor uses Microsoft Project for project planning, but tracking is done manually because the tool does not track project actuals. This is something that Morin has been looking into. "There are a lot of pieces out there, but none work as well as we'd like," he said.

For example, Ann Taylor needs actual hours by task, accumulated to the appropriate grouping levels. "We also need summarization reports of planned actuals by project and by individual, which I don't get right now," added Morin.

Kris Gopalakrishnan, director and head of custom delivery and technology at Infosys Technologies, manages the group responsible for all projects executed by the company. The primary services provided by Infosys are software development or engineering activities, and outsourcing of maintenance.

Most of the company's work is done offsite from India, said Gopalakrishnan. Because of the distance involved and distributed team development, there is much more discipline and rigor involved in the methodology the firm implements, he added.

"Collaboration and communication are very important; we set up good communications with our customers," he said. "Our teams also interact daily through teleconferencing, and a common requirement is to ensure that a project is running smoothly."

Infosys also has its own methodology, part of which is a project management method. This method calls for tracking and weekly status reporting, explained Gopalakrishnan. "We feel that more and more development will be happening in a distributed manner because of geographically dispersed teams and the popularity of telecommuting."

Into the new millennium

Bringing in a new method or process can be somewhat of a culture shock to any
organization. Yet the overall benefits of implementing project management and its related disciplines have been gaining ground over any resistance.

Project management appears to have a whole new look for the millennium. There are, however, still several areas in which the discipline can grow and improve. The Web is one such area. "A lot of people are just now getting their feet wet in this area," said Keane's Wyatt. "We expect to see this technology evolve as time goes on."

There are also many newer technologies being implemented as part of the enterprise project management discipline, including resource management, risk management and requirements management. (See related article, p. 34.)

And, said ABT's Farrelly, a lot of sophistication can still be added to project management, particularly in the way of metrics and measures.

Another major step may be the im-
plementation of a methodology at or-
ganizations not currently using one. A methodology and project management go hand in hand, said Klesmith of The MacManus Group. "There are more methodologies out there now than there were a few years ago," he said. "There are also more experts to help, and more knowledge. In-house expertise and mentoring people is a real skill."1

The need for a disciplined approach to project management in corporate America has never been more evident. Today's complex IT requirements have project managers juggling multiple projects simultaneously, in many cases with fewer resources due to downsizing, shared resource pools and acquisitions/mergers.
It is not your dad's project management practice. In fact, it is probably not even your older brother's project management practice. No longer is project management centered on the planning and scheduling of a project. "From a scheduling point of view, project management is just a small part of the whole picture," said Roger Oberg, vice president and general manager of the Requirements Management and Automated Documentation Unit at Rational Software Corp., Cupertino, Calif.

This has meant an evolution in best practices, said Oberg. "Projects didn't have a fair chance of succeeding because requirements were not scoped out ahead," he said. How important is requirements management, and how does it fit into the scheme of project management? "You have to have techniques for discovering the customer's needs, and then organize that. You are collecting infinite amounts of information, and you must prioritize that and assign people to it," said Oberg. "This way you can capture meaningful information and provide a probability in meeting the schedule."

In the end, project management is all about people, he said. And people must use tools effectively. "It's become clear that we can reduce wasted effort by not going down the wrong path," said Oberg. "You need to organize material and manage change, because requirements are constantly changing throughout the life cycle."

Rational Software has added requirements management to its suite of products with RequisitePro, which interfaces with the firm's suite of products for software design, testing, configuration management and document management.

Another player in the requirements management market is Technology Builders Inc. (TBI), Atlanta. Darrell Kalichak, product manager for TBI's Caliber RM tool, noted that in the past coding would begin before requirements were specified. "Sometimes that worked, often it didn't," he said.

Requirements management and project management go hand
in hand, explained Kalichak. "Caliber RM can serve as the project manager's best friend. [It] records requirements before the coding begins, and provides alerts of all changes to those requirements by E-mail."

An important attribute of requirements management is its ability to provide a forum in which people can be shown what a specific project is expected to accomplish. All requirements are stored in a central database, which allows a collaborative approach. This also lets multiple people input requirements simultaneously.

The Web also facilitates better requirements management. "A key part of managing requirements is making them visible to the team. For example, specifications should be shown to others. The Web is the ideal place for making these things visible," said Rational's Oberg.

Competing with Rational and TBI in the requirements management market is Integrated Chipware Inc., Reston, Va. The firm sells RTM Workshop for requirements traceability management. The product is built around the Oracle database, and provides visualization and navigation of all project data from a single source. In addition, tools are provided for requirements engineering, configuration management and information management.