President, HMS Software

How many times have you heard about yet another failed project? And how rare is it to hear about one that actually came in on time, on budget? Project management has been a struggle for many organizations. Technology can be an enabler, but too much focus on the tools – and not enough on the people and processes behind them – can lead to failure.

IT Executive Development Series

The art of project management

The business drivers coming from the director of HR, for example, will likely be quite different from those of the CIO. As a result, there’s a move away from focusing on project execution to getting the right data into the right views and integrating with everyday tools to drive broader adoption across the enterprise. Ultimately, it’s about coming together to create one roadmap based on agreed business drivers from all stakeholders. Here are a few tips on successful project management from attendees at Microsoft’s Project Conference in Seattle.

1) Pick the right projects

Canaccord Capital, an independent investment dealer in Vancouver, always had a strong track record on the execution of its projects. But it needed to focus more on making the best choices, said Sean Maguire, the firm’s project manager. The PMO has four people, with another five or six project managers across the organization.

By formalizing the PMO, the firm is able to see what projects look like when they’re tracked properly – and why other projects don’t look like that. In April it went live with Microsoft Portfolio Server 2007, and currently has about 150 projects in the system – half driven by IT and the other half driven by business. This has given the company an ability to see what’s on its plate while it’s at the prioritization and budgeting stage.

2) Involve everyone – not just IT

Many organizations don’t have a clear understanding of simple questions. “A lot of organizations haven’t looked at aligning projects with strategy,” said Michael Treasure, senior partner of Western Principles, a project management company, in Vancouver.

There’s an increasing use of project management tools outside of the IT department. By involving all stakeholders in the process, it can help an organization hone in on what a project should be accomplishing. “It’s more cross-functional projects as opposed to silos,” he said. It can also help everyone get on board in the growing area of regulatory compliance.

3) Understand the culture of the organization

A few years ago, Moneris had so many projects on the go, it was losing control of them. “We needed a better understanding of our projects – execution but also selection,” said Bob Kulin, manager of the PMO for Moneris Solutions, an RBC Royal Bank / BMO Bank of Montreal Financial Group joint investment in Toronto.

But it was a challenge getting people onside and working on the same page. So it began looking for a tool to help gain that control. Like Canaccord, it’s using Portfolio Server to help prioritize and choose projects (currently, it has 80 potential projects for 2008). But Kulin recognized that processes have to come before tools. “You have to understand the culture of the organization,” he said. As a young company, it has an entrepreneurial spirit, and started out doing projects by shooting before aiming. That worked for a while, but then projects started to get duplicated.

The PMO was put together to bring order to that process, but Kulin didn’t want it to be considered “the controller.” It’s about tools, not rules, he said, so there’s not much governance built around those tools. However, there is some structure, such as monthly reporting on the status of projects. Still, it’s a challenge to get everyone onside, because some feel there’s too much documentation involved.

4) Consider the human factor

There’s a lot of work to be done that’s not technical, such as cultural change. “Success is a lot more than installation,” said Chris Vandersluis, president of HMS Software in Pointe-Claire, Que. Project management is not a technical project, he said, and it takes about a year to get compliance from everyone involved. It can also be difficult to sell to management – the easiest sell, after all, is after a project fails. “Unfortunately that’s rather common.”

Success is a lot more than installationChris Vandersluis,>TextIn some cases, a vice-president’s compensation is based on projects, so they’ll never make their projects priority No. 2. If that’s the case, progress could be hindered when attempting to prioritize projects.

“When we used to talk about project management, we talked about product management software,” said Vandersluis. There was a notion that people had to be trained to step up to the product. But project management isn’t about algorithms anymore – it’s about interacting with people. For project managers, this has shifted the vision of what project management is all about. And it affects more than a few key individuals – instead, it involves users, clients, vendors, external partners and the development team.

5) Find the right tools to enable people and processes

“Technology can become a great enabler, being able to deliver the insight and visibility into what it is we are doing and how we are doing against what we set out to do,” said Jason Brommet, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft Office with Microsoft Canada.

In a lot of cases, organizations don’t have that line of sight, nor do they have the organizational maturity around people, process and technology. Some are using Excel for basic project management, though it’s a static view of processes, and doesn’t allow them to associate resources or understand interdependencies.

Portfolio Server allows an organization to create a central repository of all project, program or application portfolios, and this can help when there’s a decision to be made between many alternatives with limited resources, said Brommet. Building a portfolio can help define the business case and costs – and how it aligns to your strategy.

Project Server, on the other hand, becomes the platform on which projects are managed and reported on. After selecting the portfolio, a project manager can move that into Project Server to begin managing the work – from assigning timelines to resources.

Some organizations start with Portfolio Server and move to Project Server as the organization matures; others are far more structured on the notion of project management and will look to move to portfolio management – which research firm Gartner Group says is a relatively new market, but one that’s becoming much more of a priority.

Canaccord doesn’t have any plans at this point to move to Project Server. “We’ll wait to see if Microsoft will combine those two,” said Maguire. Moneris hasn’t installed Project Server either, since it involves more resources, training and commitment. “That’s a big step for us,” said Kulin. “We’re walking before we run.”

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