What does EPM mean to you?

The infamous three-letter acronym; “epm”. We throw the term around in our industry in a cavalier manner and yet the degree of confusion of deploying enterprise project management (epm) is remarkable. One of the fundamental challenges in this industry is the range of meaning that these three little letters represent.
No where is this more apparent than in the exhibit areas of symposiums like PMI or ProjectWorld. Here, a plethora of software, service and training vendors, put up colorful displays offering project managers the very latest in project management assistance. While attending such a show recently I was struck by a strange paradox. The range of products and services for project management is more extensive than ever, yet the description of the solutions being sold is stunningly similar “Enterprise Project Management Solution” is in virtually every display booth. For project managers who have been around the industry for years, this represents little challenge as they are quickly able to sort out who can offer something that will assist them. Imagine, however, a new project manager in the industry or, worse, a senior executive now tasked with implementing enterprise project management in their organization.
When we are called upon to implement epm one of the first things we do is work with the client to define what they mean by the term. There are many categories to choose from and no one is better or worse than any other. For you, epm may be a cost-centric conversation. In this case, managing project costs including labour, materials and equipment may be your focus. For others, the epm concept may be centered around integrated project schedules.
Here are a few categories you may wish to think about when you define epm for your own organization:
Schedule-centric. Long-term project schedulers will identify with this definition. This type of epm refers to enterprise project schedules including multi-project schedules, inter-project linking and hierarchical sub-project schedules.
Resource-centric. EPM may refer here to management of resources including resource “contracts” with project managers, skills inventory, skill scheduling and resource leveling. Often a human resources oriented system will play a role in this type of project management environment.
Resource Capacity Planning. This must be the Holy Grail of enterprise project management concepts. With every project including every proposed project and every resource in the same system, you can gain the ability to forecast resource loads in the future and look at the impact of starting a new project.
Labour Actuals Management. This is mostly about timesheets which turns out to be a surprisingly common definition of epm for many organizations. Collection across the enterprise of what people are actually doing gives management the ability to see where time is actually being spent and reallocate resources in the future to the highest priority work.
Cost Management. This is again a surprisingly common epm definition often proposed by the Finance department or the vendors of Finance and ERP systems. The focus here is on project budgets and project actual costs allowing management to see the cost variance on work accomplished.
Document-Centric. Many high tech projects are largely focused around the production of documents. In this case an integrated document management system may be just the ticket for a document-centric definition of epm. Document work-flow and versioning become critical here.
Issue-Centric. In some organizations, the schedule is less risk than the numbers of issues to manage during the project. Issue management across the organization in this case becomes the focus of enterprise project management here.
What? I’m not done. Unfortunately not by a long shot. There are numerous other definitions of epm. You might also be an EVMS (Earned Value Management System) environment. This is the derivative of the old C/SCSC (Cost/Schedule Control Systems Criteria) project structures designed for defense, aerospace and energy mega projects. You might also be focusing on Quality Control in which case we might be talking about the ISO 14000 standards or Six Sigma project management.
Now, if you’re looking at this list and are concerned that you either don’t understand any of these categories or, worse, thinking that you fit into all the categories, that’s fine and not at all uncommon. One of the things that’s worthwhile as you’re defining what epm is for you is to focus on the priorities. You may end up developing an epm practice around all of these elements as time moves forward but it’s good to start with the aspects of project management that are most critical to you. As your environment becomes more mature, you’ll be able to fold more and more aspects into it.
So, how do you get started? Like most project management deployment exercises, it’s best to think of deploying epm as a project itself. What would you do with a new project? Start with some Vision exercise and develop a Project Charter so everyone who follows you will know what the core intention of this project is. In a project like this, it may be worthwhile to engage a facilitator to walk the key players through some kind of focus session to define what epm means to your organization. The sessions I’ve done like this lately have been very rewarding for all the participants.
A few months ago, I was asked to work with one of our larger banks to help get an epm deployment organized. One of the most significant concerns voiced by management was the expected resistance we would encounter as we approached the front line project managers. The upper management were all aligned, they told me but the project and resource managers had been burned before and would not want to participate.
We organized two separate visioning sessions: one for the senior directors and a second for the front line project and resource managers. In each session, we went through the same exercise, after identifying all the possible aspects of project management that might be applicable to this organization, I asked the group to identify the three top aspects they believed should be deployed first. They were stunned after we were finished that both groups came up with an identical list. The imagined resistance never happened. Once both groups were clear that they were invested in the same goals, the team was able to create a plan to move forward.
So, if you asked your epm deployment team, ‘What is epm?’ would everyone have the same answer? It’s a good thing to find out.

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