Keeping your IT projects on track takes teamwork

As any seasoned IT manager will tell you, successfully managing an enterprise-wide IT project is like landing a 747 in a thunderstorm: the experience is fraught with challenges and uncertainties.

A smart IT manager will spend the bulk of his or her time building a road map, predicting what challenges lie ahead and devising contingency plans. A lack of foresight can cost corporations thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

Project management suites help IT managers plan long-term projects, assign resources and create accurate budgets. Enterprise-wide applications, such as Primavera Systems’ TeamPlay, facilitate cross-departmental communication and enable project managers to keep an eye on the process.

TeamPlay 1.5 is an integrated management suite built specifically for IT and product development teams. The software provides tools for creating best practices and allocating resources; plus, it offers risk management features that help project managers track and manage complex projects. TeamPlay acts as a central repository for all project-related information. It also enables project managers to publish that information to a Web site to conveniently share it across an organization.

One of TeamPlay’s closest competitors, Results Management Suite from ABT, integrates with enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, a feature that is missing from this first release of TeamPlay. Many of Primavera’s other applications offer ERP integration, and the company plans to add the enhancement to TeamPlay later this year.

Unlike a single-user product such as Microsoft Project, TeamPlay is a complex, high-end project management tool and is not for the faint of heart. You will need to plan carefully before setting up and configuring the application. A successful implementation will require training and consultation.

TeamPlay provides three different user interfaces to accommodate three distinct types of users: the Project Manager for team leaders, the Portfolio Analyst for business executives, and the TeamPlayer for team members.

The Project Manager lets you create new projects, set up and allocate resources and establish best practice methodologies. Configuring the Project Manager is a time-consuming process, and it is important that you do it correctly. Project Manager’s busy interface is equipped with wizards for setting up new projects and methodologies; however, its lack of documentation, coupled with its complexity, make for a rough road.

Allocating proper resources to a project is a key ingredient for a successful completion. With TeamPlay, one of the first steps in the process of using the tool is to define a Resource Pool, which is a repository of background information about all of the people involved in a project. By filling out the Resource Pool, I could easily assign the right people to a task. For example, when you create a task that requires Java programming, only the names of people with that skill will pop up when you assign the task.

TeamPlay also provides a Methodology Manager to help project leaders establish process methodologies and determine risks. Project managers can build their own processes, such as the number of days you expect a task to take or how much you expect it to cost, based on prior experiences. These processes can be used repeatedly for other projects. The software also comes with pre-built processes.

Pinpointing potential risks ahead of time — for instance, a programmer who quits or an operating system that doesn’t scale — will help project leaders build contingency plans. Project leaders can define these anticipated risks in the Project Manager and conduct an impact analysis in terms of dollars. You can also define a threshold that will notify the project leader when the threshold is met.

In this new world of IT and business working as partners, it is crucial that senior management be informed of project results and resource allocation. The Portfolio Analyst gives people on the business side access to all of the information they need. However, it will take some time for nontechnical people to master.

The TeamPlayer is the simplest of the three modules. It enables team members to access their assigned activities, make note of their progress and record the number of hours spent working on specific tasks. As time sheets are filled out, they can be submitted directly to managers for approval.

Users access the module with a desktop client or with a browser if TeamPlay is set up that way. In my testing, I could log in to the TeamPlayer and see what activities were assigned to me, access the documents associated with specific tasks, send comments to my project manager and mark items as completed.

Project management suites go a long way toward helping to improve the success rate of large-scale projects, such as year 2000 compliance or a new product rollout. Selecting a tool that will meet all of your needs requires thorough examination. Although TeamPlay is a definite candidate in the realm of project management tools, it is complex and will require help from a consultant. Before you buy, you should weigh that against the needs of your project.

— IDG News Service