In-Depth

Project management tools: A new look

The project management arena is not new. People have used project management software to automate the administration of their projects for years. What is new, however, is what these tools are now addressing -- portfolio management, improving best practices and providing for collaboration among disparate development teams.

When discussing portfolio management, most people think of finances, including stocks, bonds and the like. In the area of project management, portfolio management refers to being able to better organize and select the projects an organization is responsible for, noted Margo Visitacion, director at Giga Information Group, Cambridge, Mass.

''From an application development perspective, portfolio management helps an organization to see how all their projects fit together and what effect those projects would have on other departments,'' Visitacion explained.

Many project management tool vendors have already added portfolio management capabilities to their products. For example, WorkLenz, from Metier Ltd., aggregates and analyzes project data across the enterprise to identify inefficiencies, predict future work and improve processes. And Microsoft Project includes a centralized repository of projects and resources. OpEnterprise, from onProject Inc., allows users to view all projects, tasks, resources, issues, files, events and notices from the first screen.

Portfolio Edge and Project Office, both from Pacific Edge Software, deliver integrated inventory, analysis, planning and tracking of project, asset and product investment portfolios. The PlanView software, from PlanView Inc., integrates analytics opportunity analysis features with performance management to support investment decision-making as well as the tracking of schedule, cost and project performance.

Business Engine's Business Engine Network (BEN) includes enhanced project portfolio management, budgeting and financial management, external relationship management, and customizable dashboard and CFO portal applications. And Primavera Systems' TeamPlay provides a Web-enabled executive dashboard where project managers can view the real-time status of all relevant projects, including current issues that may affect project performance.

Obviously portfolio management has become an integral part of project management tools. But how important is it to the user?

SunGard Pentamation Inc. is a Bethlehem, Pa.-based company that provides administrative software for school districts and government offices all over the United States. When it found Primavera Project Planner (P3), the firm was not actually looking for a project management tool, per se, but rather a tool that could help manage its business and give it the ability to track every project being performed in the company, said Dave Banko, senior project manager. At press time, the company had 16,540 projects.

With 1,000 customers across the country, SunGard Pentamation analyzes across all of its custom or training projects to gauge its performance. ''We look across portfolios of different types of customers,'' Banko explained. ''We need to be able to keep an historical record of those projects, analyze them across product and customer lines and functions, and then forecast how we're doing in each of our different areas across our products.''

SunGard Pentamation recently migrated to Primavera's TeamPlay product. The company found that it was much easier to gather and store information in TeamPlay than it was in P3. ''From an operational standpoint,'' Banko noted, ''we manipulated P3 in ways it wasn't designed to be used for our purposes, which is what TeamPlay is designed for.''

Always looking for ways to improve, SunGard Pentamation has found that portfolio management saves time and money by helping the company narrow its focus. ''Pulling all that information together into one portfolio has been very effective for us in doing that analysis. This gives us the tool that provides us [with the] information to pinpoint certain areas that need improvement, and that need to be addressed and worked on,'' Banko said.

''[Portfolio management is] very important,'' said Matthew Elias, director of business process management at the Dallas-based Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, a financial services provider to 120,000 Southern Baptist church workers. ''And [it is] becoming more so as we need to become more efficient and effective, and balance our resources.'' He views portfolio management as trying to take project management software into the board room, ''and that's where it needs to be,'' he added.

Research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., expects portfolio management to continue gaining in importance and popularity over the next year. The firm projects that by 2005, 70% of IS organizations will have adopted a mix of project/resource management application services to manage project portfolios, team collaboration, resource allocation, and track utilization and costs.

And the best practice is ...
Another aspect gaining importance in project management tools is that of improving best practices. Five years ago, budgets were a little looser and quality was often sacrificed for speed; today, companies cannot afford to waste money. They also cannot afford not to have best practices, noted Giga's Visitacion. ''Organizations are willing to put in the extra effort to make sure a project is done correctly. Companies are getting an awareness that projects don't happen in a vacuum; organizations need to manage projects as an organization.''

The new project management tools help to improve an organization's best practices by allowing it to standardize its methodologies. Primavera's TeamPlay tool, for example, includes the Methodology Manager module for authoring and storing project plan templates and best practices. Other tools on the market include similar technologies to improve best practices.

Improving best practices played an important role in the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention's selection of its project management tool. That was actually the impetus behind the board's decision to purchase a project management tool. They were looking for a way to standardize their methodology for project management across the board.

After narrowing its vendor choices to Primavera, PlanView and Microsoft, the board selected PlanView over the others because of cost and functionality. With PlanView, said Elias at the Annuity Board, ''we're able to put templates in so a good part of a project is already built. [Users] can take that and customize it for an individual project.'' With the standardized methodology, he added, projects ''have the same processes, terminology and expectations, regardless of where I am.''

Microsoft Project provides a centralized resource pool to improve best practices that allows managers to accurately identify available resources and ensure that resources are assigned to tasks and have the required availability. Wachovia Corp., a diversified financial services company in Charlotte, N.C., uses Microsoft Project for its project management needs.

''Enterprise project management tools help us to identify disconnects,'' noted Treb Gatte, vice president and IT project manager at Wachovia. ''Consequently, we have been proactively examining our processes in greater detail so that we can standardize on best practices. The dialogue it has generated will benefit many areas of the bank beyond IT.''

Wachovia has found the most immediate benefits of using a project management tool to be better management of administrative efforts and communication around projects and their next steps.

Can I get there from here?
Still another aspect new project management tools are addressing is collaboration among disparate development teams. Metier's WorkLenz product includes document attachment sharing, threaded notes discussions and e-mail alerts features to aid in collaboration. In addition, the product is Web-enabled so it can be accessed from anywhere.

Most project management tools are Web-based these days, including onProject's opEnterprise, PlanView, Rational Software's Rational Unified Process (RUP), Business Engine's BEN and Microsoft Project.

Pacific Edge Software's Project Office supports collaboration on logs, documents, links, time, status reports and project plans. Primavera's TeamPlay delivers a common data platform that can be accessed via the Web, desktop or a handheld device. Telelogic's Doors includes Distributed Data Management functionality that allows suppliers, remote sites and disconnected users to work against a subset of the Doors database offline and incorporate updates back into the database when the work is complete.

Collaboration among disparate development teams was the driving force behind Northrop Grumman Information Technology's selection of MKS Integrity Manager to aid in its project management efforts, which largely deal with defense IT government contracts. Northrop Grumman's Bellevue, Neb., site required a tool that would accommodate remote collaboration. It considered Rational ClearCase, Integrity Manager and open-source CVS for the job.

With CVS, ''you get what you pay for or, in that case, don't pay for,'' commented Steve Solti, SCM and testing manager at Northrop Grumman. The company used ClearCase on a different project, but it was a remote site on that project. With that particular version of ClearCase, Solti noted, ''in order to sync up our integration environment with the integration site, we had to put tapes in the mail and send them. It was kind of difficult to manage.''

The company found that with MKS Integrity Manager, ''it's a whole lot easier for a remote site to send us their changes and integrate them into our environment,'' Solti said. ''Everything can pretty much be done online.''

On to maturity
While collaboration among disparate development teams is an important issue, and addressing it will help any given project, other areas of collaboration also need to be addressed. Structured collaboration, for example, will continue to be an important part of project management, according to Giga's Visitacion, but the functionality of collaboration needs to be built and integrated into a project itself. That is something to watch for as the market continues to mature.

Bruce Moore, national managing principal for project management at consulting firm RCG IT, Edison, N.J., believes we will see project management integrate into an organization more naturally so that it becomes a management discipline within an organization, rather than a role to play. He also predicts that we will see project management and the systems that support it being far more integrated into how organizations work.

''As we move into the future,'' Moore said, ''project management is going to be integrated and become more of a business issue than an IT issue.'' With portfolio management capabilities built into most project management tools already, the market is well on its way toward that becoming a reality.

For organizations that have not yet adopted project management tools, the first step to doing so is defining your needs.

''People are not sure what they're after,'' said SunGard Pentamation's Banko. ''They think they need a project management tool, but is that really what they're looking for? Once the need is defined, that will make it clear what type of criteria they need when looking for a good tool.''

The Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention's Elias cautioned that ''the tool is not going to standardize your methodology. The tool's not going to improve the process by itself.'' However, he did agree with Banko's assessment. ''Buy a tool for as much as you want it to do,'' 'Elias advised. ''To look at projects individually, just about any tool would do. If you want to look enterprise-wide, only a few tools will do that. Identify what your needs are and then buy to that level.''

''Make sure that whatever tool you consider getting can adapt to the process you have,'' added Northrop Grumman's Solti. ''Having a well-defined process up front, I think, is the key to the whole thing.''

''It takes time to implement one of these tools into everyday business processes so that it can be used effectively,'' said Wachovia's Gatte. ''Consequently, you will have to prototype and prototype and prototype.''


See the related story ''A sampling of project management tools'' by Lana Gates.

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