Deploying a Project Management System

Project Management systems – it’s about deployment. Sure, there are lots of functions to consider and everyone wants to know your “methodology” but if you are committed to having projects fit into a an organizational system, it all comes down to deployment. Can you assemble a system that will actually be accepted and used by the end-users who will have to use it. Deployment includes all of it: developing the concept, buying or writing the system, installing it and configuring it of course and, most importantly, getting acceptance from the end users who must populate it with accurate and appropriate data.

Over the next few issues of PM Times we’ll be looking at how to deploy a project management system. We can’t of course, give you a complete course in the few paragraphs we have here. That would take a book. We can however, raise some of the key issues and give you some food for thought in dealing with whatever your current project management system environment is today. Whether you’ve got a well established project management system or if you’re just getting started, looking at how your system should be deployed is key to its success.

In this issue we’ll look at establishing requirements for a project control system. In the next issue we’ll cover creating the deployment plan. The next issue will cover training and finally we’ll look at integrating your pm system with other elements of your enterprise.

Requirements of a project management system
It used to be hard enough to set the requirements for a pm system for the organization. Internal experts and sometimes external consultants would congregate and, after extensive interviews with staff and management would go to the market to see what might be available. From the myriad dozens of potential products, the selection team would make a short list and vendors would troop in to display their wares. With luck, the selected system would meet most of the “must-have” requirements and would also squeeze into the budget.

The pace of change in today’s world makes one nostalgic for those simpler, kinder days. Imagine that five years ago there were perhaps 4,000 organizations who had ever heard of the World Wide Web. Now, some 4,000 new domain sites are registered every day. Two years ago, Java was something you had with your donut in the morning. Now, it is on the must-have list of every project management systems requirement.

What hope is there of setting appropriate requirements for a project management system your organization when technology upon which those requirements must rest is changing faster than you can even complete your analysis.

Well, it’s not as bad as you might fear. First of all, forget for a moment about technology. Your search should focus instead on who needs access to the system and, once they get it, what they’ll want to do. The great thing about the proliferation of Microsoft Project is that it has given us a good benchmark to use in describing functionality to end-users. A little thought about your own project management process here, at the beginning of your implementation will be the highest leveraged effort of the entire exercise.

Work on some of these questions:

  • Who has access to the raw data to create new projects and to update existing ones? Should they have direct access to the project management system? What benefits would they gain from direct access? What benefits would the organization gain?
  • What is the project management skill level of the projected users
  • Who receives now and who will receive the output of the project management system? What reports will they need? How will having that report or data make them more effective? Is there an actual purpose to the reports they are receiving now?
  • What lack of project-oriented information or analysis is hurting the organization? What impact would the availability of this information have?
  • Who will champion the project management system? What is their authority? Who at the most senior level of the organization is sponsoring the initiative? What are their expectations? Are they achievable?
  • Are there external influences in the implementation of this system (e.g. contract requirements)? What are they?
  • What other systems will the pm system need to integrate with? Are these systems open enough to integrate? Will the system need to depend on third-party interfaces?

Once you’ve answered some of these questions you can start looking at some of the key building blocks in creating a project management system which will be acceptable to multiple users across your organization. Concentrate on some of the following factors while looking for potential vendors of expertise and systems:

  • Suitability to purpose. Ask the vendor what experience they’ve had with your type of industry. Get references and (don’t forget!) call them!
  • Flexibility, flexibility and (did I mention this?) flexibility. An “open-architecture” system will be one which can be easily enhanced and upgraded and modified from one use to another. This is key when technology may change faster than your projections.
  • Multiple levels of interface for multiple types of user. Sorry, one size does not fit all. Many enterprise-wide vendors will have flexible interfaces or multiple products.
  • Open data architecture. “If you can get at the data, you can do anything.” is a bit of an overstatement but key to interfacing with other systems.
  • Keeping your options open is key to success in the deployment of a project management system. Until the next issue when we look at your deployment plan, I’ll leave you with this thought from Napoleon Bonaparte: “A battle plan lasts until contact with the enemy.”