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Project Management Hits the Desktop

Project management systems are focusing on the fundamental question of getting creative thoughts turned into realities in a specified period of time, every time, repeatedly.

Projects start. Then they stop. Between those endpoints is a ballet of resources: machines, materials, money, and—especially—people. This seems true with any project.

Also what seems to be true is that the larger the project, the larger the problems. New product introductions, plant shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages are incredibly hectic times. These projects involve choreographing hundreds, sometimes tens of thousands, of tasks. Some of these tasks overlap; some are sequential. Many have priorities. All consume resources. And they can be damn expensive.

Automotive OEMs, for example, constantly replace portions of their assembly lines. They make changes for new model years or because they've found a better, faster, cheaper way of doing things. These changes are complex and cost millions of dollars per year. Design/engineering projects, such as new car designs, are equally complex and expensive.

For quite some time, project management (PM) software tools have helped schedule and manage the time, materials, equipment, and labor to complete a project—efficiently, on time, and within budget. What's new is the real understanding that "projects" may be a misnomer. "When they were big and independent, projects tended to have a life of their own and they'd have their own control systems," explains Joel Koppelman, president of Primavera Systems Inc. (Bela Cynwyd, PA). "The old PM stuff was focused on these large, autonomous projects, helping planners make decisions for the project's own good without worrying about whether the decisions were good for the entire enterprise."

 

Evolution of Project Management

Past

• Few projects
• Authoritarian management style
• Simple projects
• Employees easy to manage
• Few opportunities
• Few tools available
• No user involvement
• Manual project management processes
• Little management support/understanding

Present

• Many projects
• Participative management
• Complex projects
• Employees more difficult to manage
• More opportunities
• More tools available
• Increasing user involvement
• Automated PM processes
• More management involvement
Source: Richard Magoun, The Clorox Company

Now managers are facing multi-project and resource constraint problems. These raise several questions: Which projects ought to move forward, be funded, be terminated? Which ones are most important to customers, to prospects? And how do we balance all of these concerns with the flow of work that has to be done? Answers to these questions become even more crucial in long-term projects, where multiple resources either cross budget years or departmental funding.

No longer are companies willing or even able to throw tons of money at the projects that unceasingly pop up in a year. More to the point, there are fewer skilled and capable people to throw at these projects.

The answer: better project management.

 

PM Is People Management

Project management is fundamentally about scheduling tasks. Contrast this with two other manufacturing domains. Maintenance management focuses on managing assets and optimizing the availability of those assets. Finite scheduling on the plant floor focuses on equipment capacity, labor availability, material flow, moving work and materials from one equipment or labor resource to another, and controlling the use of those resources.

The words used by these three domains are the same. Namely, all three talk about resource constraints, baseline requirements, scheduling activities, and tracking resources against a plan to ensure the project is on target. But the nature of the resources is different. Says Koppelman, "In the people scheduling business, where people are the resource, the productivity of resources is absolutely unknown. How long does it take to design a widget or write a report?"

PM assumes you know what needs to be done. After you enter a list of the tasks that need to happen, the PM system will help you schedule them. In operation, PM takes target dates, applies craft availability to those dates, levels all the resources, and then generates a feasible schedule based on the crafts, craft calendars, the plant schedule, and individual schedules. The result is a set of start dates that a supervisor can then "microschedule" for the next shift, day, or week.

Ideally, there will be a feedback loop in there somewhere. This loop will indicate criticality, network characteristics, logic, float, and most important, changes in resource availability. Blending these together with the latest schedule results in an optimized schedule.

 

Levels of PM

PM tools of old were very task-oriented, acting more as activity monitors. Today's PM tools act more as resource managers, playing a far more active role in costing, scheduling, and performance, as well as forecasting assignable resource tools. In general, PM tools fall into three categories based on functionality and price: schedulers, midrange tools, and high-end systems.

Schedulers are the least expensive PM tools. They have basic scheduling capabilities that follow Gantt scheduling algorithms. Charting capabilities are similarly basic, providing bar and Gantt charts. These tools often include filtering, find, sort, and percent-complete; some let you track multiple project dates and flexible work calendars. Milestones, Etc. 5.0, a 32-bit application for $199, and $99 Milestones Simplicity (both a 16- and a 32-bit application) from Kidasa Software, Inc. (Austin, TX) fall into the category of low-end project schedulers.

For resource management, budgetary management, and more sophisticated charting capabilities, consider mid-range PM tools. These programs let you define resources, constraints, tasks on the critical path, and some budgetary requirements. Charting includes resource profiles, cumulative resources curves, time-scaled and pure logic diagrams (for example, CPM, Gantt, and PERT charts), bar charts, activity matrices, and even WYSIWYG reports.

In this category is Primavera's SureTrak Project Manager (list $400), which is specifically for controlling multiple small- to medium-sized projects. At $500 is Project 98 from Microsoft Corp. (Redmond, WA). Project 98, one of Microsoft's Office 97 family, is extremely "mousified"—a mouse is essential. Like SureTrak, Project 98 has the ability to split tasks to account for such real-life situations as work interruptions. Any number of splits are possible, with a few clicks and drags of a mouse. Project 98 also includes resource contouring, which eliminates much of the manual adjustment necessary in assigning additional resources to a project.

Another PM application, Project Scheduler 7.5 from Scitor Corp. (Menlo Park, CA), available for $600, comes with a report wizard and 55 help topics. It can maintain five profile baselines per project, including cost, resource availability, percent-complete, and even inflation. Subprojects, even subproject data fields, can be summarized; partial summaries can be viewed any time. Project Scheduler can use SQL commands to import and export scenarios. Fields can be customized to track such details as phone numbers, department names, resource grade levels, full- versus part-time status, and risk factors. You can define accounting periods, such as payroll periods and fiscal calendars. And you can assign resources using a pick list, filtered and sorted based on user-defined criteria such as skills, availability, and cost.

 

Project Management Software Requirements by Level

Executive User Level

• Easy to use
• Strong in presentation abilities
• Strong in synthesis abilities
• Strong in data acquisition abilities
• Strong in top-down planning

Professional (Strategic) User Level

• Strong in time, resources, cost, and risk analysis
• Strong in data integration
• Strong in roll-up and drill-down capabilities
• Strong in project controls
• Strong in flexibility of output

Desktop User Level

• Easy to use
• Intuitive
• Data entry must be simple and fast
• Graphical
Source: Welcom Software Technology

 

High-End PM

Then there are the high-end PM systems. These enterprise-wide systems, costing several thousand dollars, anticipate problems, errors, and bottlenecks by appropriately allocating (that is, leveling) resources during forward and backward passes through the list of activities for the project. To alleviate those bottlenecks before they happen, you can simulate and then manipulate activity scheduling, redirecting it based on changes in resource utilization. You can also take time slices of the project, look at specific opportunities for moving those slices, dump additional activities in, and simulate the results.

This is pretty sophisticated stuff, involving float analysis, the grouping of crafts and equipment by calendars, availabilities, complex and multiple constraints and precedences between hundreds of job steps, people, and equipment. You can establish priorities for work orders based on the requirements of production, environment, safety, quality, finance, and so on.

Open Plan Professional for Windows, for example, from Welcom Software Technology (Houston, TX), features hierarchical structures with roll-up functionality, inter-project relationships, cross-project resource analysis, security, and the ability to handle large amounts of data. As a multi-user application, multiple team members can work simultaneously in the same project or ancillary files. Open Plan Professional includes risk analysis with Monte Carlo simulation, earned-value cost analysis, what-if analysis, and advanced resource management options such as skill, pool, and alternate resource scheduling. Plus, the application comes with a Wizard-like feature called Project Management Director which guides you through the entire project management process.

High-end systems have other high-end features. Workflow capabilities provide variance, change, and document control. Rules-based scheduling uses multiple rules to make the schedules more practical, easier to comply with. For $4,000 per seat, Primavera Project Planner (P3) gives you 24 activity codes, 16 custom data items, 19 levels of sort, 28 levels of selection criteria, 31 activity calendars, 150 predefined reports, ODBC-compliance (for database integration), and VIM- or MAPI-compliance (for electronic mail integration). Plus, it can be integrated with enterprise resource planning systems, such as SAP R/3 and Oracle Applications.

 

Brave New Worlds Are Coming

As with so many other computer applications, the Internet is also affecting PM. Says Koppelman, "The old metaphor was that I can reach out and talk to everybody involved in a project. Today, I can reach out and talk to everybody, but only through the Internet. The Internet is probably going to have the most impact on PM." For instance, using electronic mail or an intranet can be used to exchange information such as who should be doing what, who has done what, and a project's status. "The communication and interaction among the people doing the work, the people responsible for these projects, and the people who are buying these projects is increased several orders of magnitude. It gives greater visibility, greater understanding," continues Koppelman.

Webster for Primavera, for example, is an add-on product for Primavera's P3. This add-on gives project team members interactive, real-time access to the project database across intranets or the Internet through a web browser. Without using P3, team members get a personal view of their assigned activities, they can interactively review and update project data (start and finish dates, remaining task durations, and task percent completion), and they can share project information and knowledge with other team members.

Producing JPEG, BMP, and HTML files from PM data is becoming standard in today's PM tools. While this is great for publishing schedules for Internet/intranet use, it also helps resource-centric PM systems hide much of the verbiage involved in project management. These systems let middle managers allocate resources throughout an organization appropriately—and maximize the utilization of those resources. They also let lower-level organizational people know what's expected of them and report back what they did, what they found out, where are the variances, and what change orders are needed to make everything work appropriately.

Now, finally, computer-based PM systems are rising above being yet another measurement and punitive system, and are truly helping management "do" project management.

 

Top-Down PM Software Implementation Approach

Pros

• By definition, this plan has management support
• Plan can be implemented quickly because management has already approved
• Funds are typically available thanks to management approval

Cons

• Upper management may have little appreciation for requirements at the lower level
• Users may balk at having their environment mandated by management
• System may, in fact, make the expert planners less efficient

Professional-Level PM Software First Implementation Approach

Pros

• Given that the product is picked by the company experts, it is likely to be very functional
• The company experts will be better enabled to provide advice to the other levels
• This kind of system has the integration capabilities to interact with tools at the other levels

Cons

• The product may require excessive training at the other levels
• The product may require too much data input at the other levels to make it popular

 

Desktop-Level PM Software First Implementation Approach

Pros

• The chosen system will be easy to use
• The largest group of users are already using the system
• Since low-end software is inexpensive, this is likely to be the least expensive, hard-cost option

Cons

• The low-end tool is unlikely to have the functionality required at the strategic and high levels
• If this is imposed on the strategic planners, the organization's experts will be impeded
• The low-end tool is unlikely to be able to integrate the different levels together
Source: Welcom Software Technology

Factory Automation & Control System For only $99, Kidasa's 16- and 32-bit Milestones Simplicity lets you quickly and easily knock out the Gantt chart. Or you can create time line, milestone, line balance, machine cycle, and employee schedules. New schedules are created by entering task start and end dates in "smart columns," which automatically draw the type of schedule you desire, or by "clicking and dragging" from the toolbox up to 55 built-in symbols on one of several time lines. A dependency option lets you tie tasks together (vertical relationships).
Source: Kidasa Software, Inc.

 

Open Plan Desktop

Creating and maintaining several perspectives of your project management data is possible with the Open Plan Desktop and Professional products from Welcom Software Technology. Here, details about the activity bar chart are shown in the spreadsheet view, including the duration of tasks, specific dates, and responsibilities. Views can be seen singly or, as shown here, in combination. The views are also interactive interfaces for entering, updating, and reporting on project management data.
Source: Welcom Software Technology

 

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Project Management Director in Welcom Software's Open Plan Desktop and Professional products helps with the project management process, including area of scope, time, cost, human resources, communications, quality, risk, and contract/procurement management. This guidance is based on standards from the Project Management Institute. The templates in this module can be customized, and new templates can be created as required.
Source: Welcom Software Technology