BY Mahesh Singh | October 26, 2009 | Blog

I have spent a lot of time over the last 10 years discussing or working with a large number of our customers who have moved away from the ‘traditional’ methods of managing software projects to a more centralized and “institutional” method. An overwhelmingly large number of these companies have evaluated Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools as their first option for moving away from their disparate solutions, which usually would be a combination of MS Project on the desktop, email, spreadsheets and a lot of hand-waving!

The promise of PPM tools is enticing. From the capability of management dashboards that unambiguously tell you whether projects are in Green, Yellow or Red status, to being able to smoothly make Fund/ Kill or Go/ No Go decisions about a project that is not exactly meeting its objectives, the case for PPM appears crystal clear. Who would not want such capability?

The reality however has been somewhat different for a number of companies.

Can I really trust my PPM dashboard?

In other words, is the data reliable? How is it being collected, collated and consolidated? Is there a reliable process behind this? Are basic steps such as estimation, time tracking and baselining of projects in place?

When organizations and project teams attempt to move away from managing projects using office productivity tools and other point solutions, they are not just switching tools, they are very often changing fundamental processes of how they work and how they manage their work. PPM tools demand a significant level of data reliability – which translates to process maturity – at the ‘operational’ level; to ensure that all aspects of project effort are being looked at, all the project deliverables – not just tasks but various deliverables and work items – from requirements to documents, from test scripts to defects – are being considered in computing the ‘real status’ of projects. This means that execution/ operational level processes need to be in place and automated so they can feed reliable data to the PPM solution.

A lot of PPM efforts have resulted in failure due to this fundamental problem of lack of automation at the operational level of project teams and the lack of project team buy-in. Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools that include or integrate with PPM/ Process Governance tools can much more effectively help in this regard.

Where do I file my time on this issue?

One of the basic challenges of project planning tools such as MS Project is that they are great at project planning but not at managing project execution. While PPM tools have ensured that some of the earlier challenges of over-dependence on the lone project manager have been taken care of, they still do not take care of resolving such basic issues as tracking effort on unplanned work.

It is humanly impossible for a project manager to put down every last bit of work as part of their WBS. On the other hand, filing time in a common “Miscellaneous” task means losing visibility to where 15-20% of the project effort might be being spent, so that one could plan better in the future! Very often, PPM tools miss out on all the effort being spent on unplanned work in projects and thus relying on incomplete data for providing management status update.

Integrated ALM tools help by focusing on the project team and making them more productive rather than just providing a dashboard for senior management which may not be fully reliable.

Why are so many defects still open?

Have you run into these questions – “Is that project really green? Or did the PM omit to take into account the large number of unmet requirements?” Or, for that matter, “Is the testing task really completed? Then why are all the defects still open?”

The ability to drill down into a project’s ‘real’ status is most important for portfolio management teams. PPM tools by themselves, do not and cannot provide this visibility and still continue to rely on the abilities of the project manager and project teams to ensure that they collect data from all sources and tools manually before providing that update.

ALM tools with integrated PPM capability make the project managers far more effective by one, providing the PM a comprehensive view of the project and in fact, proactively alerting them of potential red-flags; and two, by dramatically reducing the overhead of collecting data from myriad sources and putting it all together for status reporting, resulting in as much as 40-55% increase in Project Manager productivity.

Where is the final revision of the requirement??!

The value of a single repository for all project artifacts cannot be measured. Having managed projects directly and indirectly for over 20 years, I have seen project teams struggle with the simple task of managing all the information and artifacts – requirements, change requests, documents, issues, defects, test cases, deliverables – related to their project across a combination of email, portals, network directories, configuration management systems and team members’ desktops – resulting in horrendous loss of productive hours and project delays. Just to be able to go to a single place for all of that – makes team productivity go up by as much as 20-35%! PPM tools do not address this crucial business need; and thus do not contribute to mitigating the very factors that lead to project failure.

I believe PPM tools are great management tools for executive decision making. However, they do not focus on or deal with the operational processes that need to be in place so that PPM tools get reliable data. In order to have a good executive information system, it is imperative that the operational processes are cleaned up and automated through a good set of execution/ operational tools. In the world of applications, products and software, ALM tools do precisely that. To have a good PPM implementation, ALM solutions are not only necessary but are also a pre-requisite!

Mahesh Singh
Vice President – Product

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