Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel

One of the biggest challenges we have when we arrive to implement enterprise project management (epm) is the wide range of definitions of what is meant.  The problem is compounded when we fold systems into the conversation.

Depending on your perspective, enterprise project management might mean very different things.  If you are the CFO, then epm could mean tracking project costs in a consistent manner across all projects or might mean just being able to categorize costs by project.  In this case, focus rests on the centralized accounting systems or a new ERP system which becomes by default the epm system.  Appalled?  Don’t be.  For organizations which have not been able to do this before, having the actual costs per project is revolutionary. 

Other aspects of project management that people think about include resource capacity planning, inter-project reporting, portfolio management, earned value analysis, integrated annual budgeting, matrix reporting, schedule tracking, resource contracting and team collaboration or team communications. 

For some organizations, epm means just being able to track the detailed labour actuals on a project-by-project basis including details down to the task level.  In this case, a corporate timesheet becomes the central epm system. 

‘Where is the project plan?’ you ask in shock?  In this case it would be managed at the most summary level.   

For people like me who are somewhat project scheduling purists, this seems at first glance to be just awful.  When I think Enterprise Project Management, I imagine integrated corporate project schedules and centralized resource pools and cross-project resource capacity planning.  But this just betrays my own bias in the conversation.  For each organization wishing to improve their ability to deliver projects, the leverage will be found somewhere different.  I have been asked virtually hundreds of times for a timesheet system not to ‘integrate’ into the project management system but to ‘be’ the project management system.  When I bring up planning, it’s not unusual to hear the following from a senior executive:

“Yes, formal integrated scheduling would be fine but, you know, before you showed up, projects were underway.  They’re underway right now, as we’re speaking.  This is happening despite the absence of a centralized planning system.  We have a good handle on the planning, what we can’t tell you is where our people are.  If we could just know from week to week what effort we’re actually spending on our projects our control would be so far ahead of where we are now it’s unimaginable.” 

The first time I heard that was years ago and it stopped me in my tracks.  My purist view wasn’t so important anymore.  What counted is getting the right metric into the right hands. 

So, when you’re looking at creating an epm system, don’t fret that you’re doing it wrong or that the last project management software vendor showed you aspects of project management that you’re now sure everyone is doing.  Look at the different aspects of what you can control and start with that area that will deliver the biggest return on your investment of time and effort.