In-Depth

Project Management: Old IT hand plays new tune

What do project managers for Boston's big dig, one of the world's largest construction projects, and California's Health and Human Services Data Center, which supports the IT systems for California's welfare system across 58 counties, have in common? Both have to plan and schedule for multi-year projectsmanage personnel and budgets, and ward off scope creep and requirements changes. But clearly, the work of a software engineer differs from that of a civil engineer, and the tasks involved in building a software application are different than those involved in building a tunnel. And they may need different types of project management tools.

For corporate software developers, project management has taken on a new urgency in many large organizations, both to manage costs and to ensure that projects fit into corporate strategies. For many years, project management tools have been used across industries and projects, but experts say those days are ending quickly. Today's tools must include features aimed specifically at particular projects, such as software development. The new tools for software development projects include a growing focus on process, as well as an ability to manage multiple, complex projects at the same time.

"The horizontal market is starting to mature and splinter, moving away from the general distributed project management tool and into specific processes and industries," said David Coleman, founder, principal consultant and managing director at Collaborative Strategies LLC, San Francisco. "Software development is an area we've seen a lot of activity in; also product development and product life-cycle processes. We've also seen a lot of vendors move into the AEC [architecture, engineering and construction] space," he said.

In this economy, IT faces more pressure to deliver projects on time and within budget, while managing teams that are often distributed across the globe. As a result, the importance of understanding and managing the actual work and processes involved increases, as does as the management of resources and software portfolios. No one tool does it all today. Some project managers are using industry- or process-specific project management tools, while others are harvesting information from software development tools and utilities and integrating that information with their project management software.

"A project management tool has to get its data from outside, so it better be able to get data from a development environment," said Wayne Kernochan, managing vice president, platform infrastructure at Boston-based Aberdeen Group. "You want a development tool that allows you to see things in summary format, and you want to integrate project management, testing and deployment all under the same umbrella as much as possible. It's a long overdue trend.

"And project management tools must keep up with the constant need of development teams for new project management capabilities," Kernochan said. "One thing is characteristic both in and out of the development side of things - everybody uses Microsoft Project," he said. "No matter what you do, you won't make money in providing a basic [PM] tool; you'd better be fancier than that."

Project management vendor Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., for example, positions itself as a maker of project management tools that can manage multiple, complex projects. The company offers solutions for five PM application areas: construction and capital projects, new product development, maintenance and turnaround, professional services, and IT and software development.

Primavera's TeamPlay toolset is aimed at software projects, "giving these people information and tools in a way they'd like to see it," said Mike Shomberg, vice president. Different implementations of the tool are aimed at specific members of corporate development teams - developers, architects, resource managers, business executives and project management office (PMO) types. "You need to provide [resource management] tools for all those different aspects," Shomberg said.

Evolve Software Inc., Emeryville, Calif., also sells tools targeted specifically at managing software development projects. With its roots in the emerging Professional Services Automation (PSA) market, a subset of project management, Evolve recently rolled out separate versions of its product for the PSA market and corporate IT. The Evolve suite includes portfolio and resource management, time and expense management, and collaboration capabilities. "There are unique needs in corporate IT," said Avril England, Evolve's director of product management. "We're continuing to tailor our two products in different directions," she added.

Regardless of the industry, though, all work projects share some commonalties - like value, visibility, velocity and repeatability - but the emphases are different, said Primavera's Shomberg. In terms of value, projects "must achieve ROI [return on investment] and reduce costs. And, in today's economic environment, corporations cannot afford to have projects that go south. They also can't afford duplication or repeated effort," he said. In terms of velocity, there has been a shift in emphasis for software developers," noted Shomberg. "Time to market used to be king; people would put something out there and approve it once it got there, but with the 'dot.bomb' experience, that emphasis has slowed down quite a bit."

For some industries, he said, the value of project management is cost containment, "whereas in software development, it's not as much about cost containment as aligning the project with the strategy of the business."

Aligning IT spending with business objectives and corporate strategy is more critical today as organizations face tighter budgets, said Evolve's England. One obstacle to doing so is "inconsistent business processes," she said. "You'll find the one-off project management tools help individual project managers, but they don't ensure consistency. A lot of companies are interested in adopting methodologies to drive consistent business processes." (See related story: "Shoes for the shoemaker".)

The importance of process
Indeed, the integration of process and project management capabilities is one of several key trends identified by Collaborative Strategies in a distributed project management (DPM) study conducted in 2001. The report found that complex projects are plagued by unexpected issues not foreseen by project management tools. As a result, "expectations of the 'planners' can be different than those of the 'doers,' CS consultants found. Thus, CS has seen a trend toward tools and users that strike a better balance between real-life work processes and PM methodologies.

"Software development companies want process management," said Primavera's Shomberg. "We deliver the product with a set of best practices that are software-oriented. It accelerates the planning cycle dramatically and reduces risk."

Software developer Metrowerks, Austin, Texas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Motorola Inc., is representative of several trends identified in the Collaborative Strategies report. In addition to moving to process management, Metrowerks is also managing distributed, complex projects across continents. According to Jeanna Stavas, director of program management, the company needed a tool that would provide a view across multiple projects, track issues and resource management, and work in a distributed fashion across a multi-platform environment. Prior to purchasing Primavera's TeamPlay in the spring of 1999, Metrowerks had been using Microsoft Project, as well as some Access databases for tracking issues. "We wanted enterprise tracking to see the big picture. We also wanted Web publishing - letting everyone who wants to see into [the project] without the actual project software.

"What Metrowerks did not use initially, and now uses "heavily," according to Stavas, is TeamPlay's methodology manager. "We now have repeatability; we're working toward CMM Level 2. It brings process management into project management.

"Consistency across the company is a tangible benefit of managing methodology, said Stavas. "I'm able to report on milestones that are the same for all projects at any time. We have activity codes, which allow us to watch where we might consistently come in early or deliver a little late. There's also a benefit in the way we can look at best practices and review projects we've done this year, to see what went right and pull that into a knowledge base.

"Metrowerks has a TeamPlay user base of about 300 people, said Stavas, including engineering, project managers and the documentation team. In addition, "the marketing people are beginning to use it to track marketing deliverables that need to go out with the product," she said.

The ability to have a lot of information about all aspects of a project - resources, issues, processes and so on - helps Metrowerks meet its business objectives, said Stavas. "Budgets are tight now, so the efficient use of resources is critical. And we've been much more efficient in planning projects in terms of repeatability and not creating everything from scratch."

Repeatability is also a goal of California's Health and Human Services Data Center, said Tom Arnez, a consultant from Sacramento, Calif.-based Aeon Group working with the data center in the process improvement area. Arnez is working with the group that supports IT systems for California's welfare system - systems that may have life cycles as long as 20 years from RFP to development to maintenance and phase-out. The department outsources the development of these systems and manages the contractors who do that work. They recently signed a contract with San Jose, Calif.-based Speedev Inc., developer of a collaboration framework for incorporating best practices for software projects. The suite includes modules for requirements management, issues management, timesheet management, process management and planning. It integrates with Microsoft Project for scheduling.

Arnez's work begins before a project goes to the software developers. "For us, the question is: How do we interpret regulations and meet end users' needs? We have to document these discussions. We're looking for the [Speedev] tool to track threads of discussions, do issues tracking and reach conclusions. The tool is very workflow- and process-oriented, so we can build processes like security and login; it keeps a history of everything. If you think about processes, then everything goes through a scenario that repeats itself. If you can collect that information, you can use it for issue tracking and for the management of tasks. Our major concern is issues you can't plan for, and how those issues get to resolution. You plop it into [the] tool, you apply it to the process you follow, and Speedev does the rest," he said.

While Arnez can see the possibilities, he acknowledged that the department's project managers, who use Microsoft Project, are not quite there yet. "We demoed [Speedev] to project managers and their eyes got glossy. Project managers are moving at 110,000 mph, and the tool didn't look like anything they've seen. They didn't make the connection between the process piece and how it can help them out by tracking where the issues are. It would prevent the project manager from always having to be in the loop. Today, if they collect data on a static database, they send an e-mail asking team members, 'What do you think?' Then there may be 30 people who have to respond back statically to the project manager, who then interprets it and sends it back out. The idea [is] to collaborate and put it on a bulletin board, then send it to the project manager or a designated person who can pull it together and draw a conclusion.

"Sky Basu, Speedev's CEO, said the suite is designed to complement a project management tool, not replace it. "We do not do any scheduling or critical path analysis by design; we wanted to use Microsoft Project for those," he explained. "At our end, we generate tasks based on process and requirements, and you can export those tasks to MS Project. Second, tasks are assigned to users based on process. Our system helps find the right person for the job. Those assignments are exported to MS Project, which is used as a scheduling engine only; all inputs and outputs are taken care of by our system," he said.

"We also have a dashboard to give you a list of tasks and what's happening in the project, which is also integrated with Microsoft Project. You can use MS Project for scheduling and all that cool stuff, then bring it back to our product; it's a round-trip synchronization. Many project managers can work in an MS Project environment and still use our product," said Basu.

Speedev and other vendors that position themselves as complementary to MS Project or Primavera help to address another key trend Collaborative Strategies has identified in its report: a "shift from top-down planning to a focus on the actual process of executing the project plan."

For example, the new Web-based ProjectConsole in the latest version of Rational Suite v2002 from Rational Software, Lexington, Mass., tracks the status of the actual work getting done via a graphical dashboard. Project Console shows "at what stage are requirements complete, how much of the requirements have been implemented, how much code is complete, how many defects have been discovered, and how it compares to last week or other projects at this stage," said Dave Locke, director of product marketing. The Rational suite also addresses process via its own embedded methodology.

Russell Stanley, a quality/configuration engineer with consulting company NobleStar, Reston, Va., said ProjectConsole allows the development team to focus on their work while project managers focus on risk. Essentially, he said, the tool automates a previously manual process. "Everything that our engineers do - RequisitePro for requirements, Word, Rose for modeling, activity diagrams, test requirements ID, test design, performance engineering - is stored in the Rational repository datastore file, but it's a manual process of going in and running reports to pull that out. What this product brings to the table is a way to take that off your shoulders and put it on a server where it belongs," said Stanley.

ProjectConsole integrates with Microsoft Project, which NobleStar project managers already use. "The whole spectrum [of work] is now visible. If you're a gearhead and you want to know if the ClearCase nightly process was run with no errors, you could tie in. For project managers, it allows them to focus on risks, so you can mitigate those risks and communicate them to management," he said.

Automating the manually intensive process of reporting on issue tracking, test tracking, completion, automated test script reporting and so on, helps both project managers and team members, particularly for distributed teams. According to Collaborative's Coleman, "IT people we know are doing a lot of work offshore, and they're looking to these [DPM] tools to help them mange groups in India and Russia," as well as in other places.

"Distributed teams are the biggest challenge" to software development projects, said Larry Boldt, vice president, Starbase Corp., Santa Ana, Calif. "It's the focus of our entire product suite, so people [are] looking at [the] most current version of requirements and tasks, and they're not hidden in documents or project plans," he said. Starbase develops the collaborative tools for requirements management and configuration and change management.

Like Rational's products, the Starbase tools are meant to be used with a project management tool. Today, StarTeam integrates with Microsoft Project and Boldt said they are getting more inquiries about integration with Primavera.

Michael Eason, chief quality officer at NCR's Teradata CRM division in Raleigh, N.C., also cautions against using these types of tools as replacements for PM applications. "When we started using [Starbase's] CaliberRM, the project management people tried to use it as a project management tool; it isn't." Yet, he said, these types of tools will lift some of the burden from project managers.

The changing nature of projects
In addition to lifting that burden, the collaborative information gathered in these tools will help project teams deal better with the changing nature of projects themselves. "Over the last five years, the types of projects have changed," said Aberdeen's Kernochan. "They've not only reverted to more basic languages like Java, but the demand for Web applications generated applets, or small applications, fast. That, in turn, meant your projects were shorter, more incremental and there were more of them. The idea of 'refactoring' is the ability to design your software to take [this change] into account, to anticipate that the software you design will be upgraded or changed much more frequently. That's part of a general trend that affects project management.

"It used to be that a project manager would need to keep track of information as you plowed through long, complex projects," he continued. "Now the project manager doesn't need to keep quite so much information, but they have to be quicker about anticipating the need to gather information, so they're juggling multiple projects at one time. That's where the complexity lies."

NCR's Eason agrees. It is one thing to track, say, code changes or defects manually for a single project, but at NCR they have parallel development efforts going on, he said. "It's a project management challenge. As the software becomes more robust and quality improves, more people want it, which is the upside. But now you're expected to put releases out faster and of higher quality. Keeping up with all the stuff we're doing puts a burden on the project management guys. That's something StarTeam will be able to help us with," Eason said.

As NCR brings Starbase's CaliberRM and Mercury's Test Director online, and integrates them, Eason hopes to reach a point where he can "create this traceable development process. Eventually, I want to make it very easy for people to know what they're supposed to do all day." He would also like to integrate portfolio management, "so no matter who you are, you should be able to look and find out if an object exists and what it does. The economies of scale and efficiencies would be pretty huge," he added.

No matter what tools a team uses to manage a project, whether it is a project management tool or a source code or requirements management tool integrated with a project management tool, users have to strike a balance. They need to let the tools work for them, not be a slave to the tool. "Sometimes the robustness of [Primavera's TeamPlay] is a benefit, as well as a challenge," said Metrowerks' Stavas. "But I'm an advocate; I don't think I could go back to a simplistic tool. At the same time, you don't want to implement too many things and spend too much time managing the tool and not the project. You just have to find a balance."

(See related story: "Shoes for the shoemaker

Featured

Upcoming Events

AppTrends

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.