The changing face of enterprise project management

The ebb and flow of Canada’s economy revolves around projects and the teams and tools necessary to drive them forward. From the investigation of new oil and gas deposits, to the construction of towering office buildings, to the development of new medical treatments and drugs, workers across various disciplines must come together and coordinate their actions toward a common goal. Since the business community is continually asked to do more with less, Canadian enterprises are turning to technology tools such as enterprise project management (or EPM) software in order to accomplish major tasks quickly and efficiently.

EPM is a constantly evolving discipline, growing in complexity as Canada’s business environment changes and organizations find themselves no longer limited by geography in their team-building efforts. With the impact of globalization on our workplaces comes the challenge of managing a wide variety of initiatives in a more formal way. Communicating with teams often becomes a challenge in itself, especially in distributed organizations where virtual teams have to successfully coordinate their efforts to carry out critical business initiatives on schedule and on budget.

Customer demands for shortened delivery cycles as well as monetary constraints also mean that increasingly managers are being asked to oversee a larger number of projects at the same time. To ensure that decisions are made in a timely manner, managers need visibility into how people are spending their time. Yet, since each of the projects they’re handling requires the coordination of a team, without an EPM tool in place managers can easily find themselves in a situation where there is just too much detail to keep track of projects successfully.

the rise of EPM tools

The use of EPM tools is becoming a more common business practice, allowing Canadian organizations to gain a holistic view of the status of all projects across the business. This allows managers to prioritize resources according to business drivers and extinguish failed or irrelevant projects. It’s not surprising then, that an IDC report measured the worldwide revenue for EPM applications to be US$1.96 billion for 2002, an increase of 18.2% from 2001. IDC expects the market to increase to US$3.0 billion in 2007, representing a 9.1% compound annual growth rate for the period 2002-2007.

EPM technologies deliver an infrastructure that strengthens collaboration and accountability among all levels of the organization. They allow managers and teams to make more strategic decisions by giving them Web-based access to real-time data. They also improve levels of project management participation, ownership and responsibility among employees by enabling team members to easily manage, track, and report on their activities through familiar tools, like the Web and e-mail. Accountability among team members is improved through a central tracking system that enables teams to easily record progress, assign tasks, and resolve issues.

one manufacturer’s experience

The Mark Anthony Group, a Vancouver-based, privately held manufacturer and distributor of premium wines and alcoholic beverages, including Mike’s Hard Lemonade, has experienced huge growth during recent years. The company now serves both the Canadian and U.S. market, employing 450 employees in five offices on both sides of the border.

With business expansion came new, more complex IT support needs and the implementation of new solutions, such as a CRM system. To direct internal resources, as well as two consulting companies, through a rather complex project roadmap, the Mark Anthony Group relied on an EPM solution to keep the implementation on budget and on schedule.

“Some of our projects are interdepartmental, such as our IT department working with the Canadian sales and marketing group to streamline the management of point of sales materials and deliver a winning solution,” says Mihai Strusievici, Mark Anthony Group systems development manager. “All of these people are not in the same building, but they are connected to the same network. With EPM technology we can all track and share our successes and challenges, and work better as an integrated team. We can also provide management more confidence in the status of the implementation and provide both managers and team members with more control.”

Implementing an EPM solution across its network means the Mark Anthony Group is able to consolidate information from different projects into one central location, making it easier for the Canadian and U.S. offices to access information. With the solution in place, managers can view multiple projects, while team members can quickly check the status of tasks from all of their projects.

The Mark Anthony Group is not unique. For an increasing number of Canadian organizations, project execution has evolved to mean the coordination of large, geographically dispersed teams. This has placed great emphasis on effective communication and made the tools that facilitate it more critical than ever to the successful completion of business tasks. Teams need clear communication processes in order to share knowledge, efficiently work together, and quickly respond to change.

changing nature of projects

The changing nature of project work has also meant a shift in the type of workers involved. Project management is now moving out of being exclusively the domain of a small group of information technology professionals and consultants. Successful execution of projects means that sales departments, marketing teams, as well as retail sector managers all have a hand in the process.

The need for integration across different levels of the company, some perhaps not as familiar with EPM solutions as others, means that the technology tools that support them have to evolve. It is essential that while the software remains resilient enough to support core business needs and flexible enough to accommodate existing processes and infrastructure, it has a learning curve small enough to allow all team members to meaningfully contribute to the process.

The most successful EPM solutions have the ability to accommodate different levels of users’ familiarity with project management software, which is precisely the scenario found at the Mark Anthony Group.

“We’ve set our system up to just have one or two key power users in the organization who use the most complex features of our EPM software,” says Jerzy Zwierzchowski, Mark Anthony Group operations manager. “Everyone else already knows what Outlook is, and what Tasks are. That’s how the assigned tasks are sent out. They don’t need to be a project management expert to complete their respective parts of the project.”

In all sectors of the Canadian economy information silos are crumbling and improved team work has become a necessary business reality. In an economic climate less forgiving of budget overruns and delivery delays, it’s crucial that project teams work together as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Through better project management practices, Canadian businesses can study their past practices, control present business challenges and best prepare for the future. Since Canadian businesses are becoming familiar and comfortable with project management they are now in an ideal position to utilize IT resources and employ intelligent EPM solutions. EPM technologies ensure quality work is accomplished on time, every time, making these solutions a strategic investment for Canada’s business community.

Joe Galati is a product manager for Microsoft Canada Co. He is based in Mississauga, Ont.

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