How to Get Things Done

How to Get Things Done

A guide to smart project management for all departments.

Today's universities are enterprises in the true business sense. Perhaps more than commercial organizations, the actions, plans, and management of universities come under the microscope of alumnae, donors, trustees, parents, activists, and the press. This scrutiny underscores the need for tools and methodologies that facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and oversight among the various work groups and communities within universities.

Project and Portfolio Management software is one such tool. If projects are the currency of getting things done in today's enterprise, managing multiple projects involving groups of people and resources spanning the university grows in importance.

An estimated 80 percent of a project's life cycle is spent in execution, arguably the measure of a project's success or failure.

With their complexities, interdependencies, resource constraints, and time limits, projects are costlier, riskier, and more mission-critical than ever before. But, contrary to most peoples' perceptions, project planning is not the key to success. An estimated 80 percent of a project's life cycle is spent in execution, arguably the measure of a project's success or failure. Things rarely go wrong in the planning stages of a project; they go wrong while the work is being done. Project requirements may change unexpectedly-- budget cuts, zoning requirements changed, resources lost. The impact of changes must be quickly analyzed and communicated to project stakeholders. Decisions need to be made, change reports written, project plans updated and distributed. In most projects, it is not long before even the best plan is rendered obsolete by events on the ground.

Universities are beginning to address these challenges with project and portfolio management applications that enable departments within universities--such as planning, facilities, IT, and other cross-functional support organizations--to consolidate project planning, workflow, and collaboration across departments. Standardizing on PPM enables these groups to consolidate tools, relieving dependence on expensive, proprietary project planning, CRM, and organizational tools. A number of universities are improving project success with PPM tools that help project managers move beyond the plan and focus on execution. A new breed of enterprise open source PPM application is also available today that integrates easily within existing IT systems and can be easily customized to suit the unique needs of diverse functional groups across university departments.

Organizations select PPM applications for a variety of reasons. Few, however, focus on project execution, which rests on the application's ability to provide visibility, alignment, speed of execution, support for standards and reuse of components. With a PPM application that stresses project execution, project managers can set different levels of visibility for each stakeholder, allowing access to project documents such as team rosters, issue lists, and schedules for most projects, while project customers--say a building committee--may only be allowed to view high-level status and final deliverables, with the ability to submit new requirements, issues and change orders.

For each project, essential information is published within the enterprise. People at every level are presented with appropriate information to effectively make project portfolio decisions that optimize the portfolio's value. At the project team level, this includes contact information and roles for the project team, the project mission, related enterprise goals, relationship to other projects, current status, risks, completed deliverables, high-level open issues, and business decision requests. Project status benchmarks include graphical indicators of how well the project is tracking according to schedule, scope, and budget objectives. This project status information is published centrally, with the objective of keeping all stakeholders and dependent project teams informed.

At the management level, visibility is provided to the entire portfolio, with emphasis on project interdependencies. Management also receives specific information in order to make decisions about reallocating budget and resources, adjusting schedules, and the performance of project teams.

Some universities are turning to commercial open-source PPM tools. Typical leading off-the-shelf project planning applications do not support Mac and Linux users, and cross-department interoperability is often a requirement. For cross-functional support organizations, open source PPM allows department project managers to provide broad access for distributed teams to project information, including project plans, documents and plans too large to be transmitted in e-mail. Planning groups are able to set up accounts in the PPM application for consultants and contractors, enabling all contributors to a project to access the system and track how a project is going.

A robust PPM application should be able to scale to hundreds of users. In addition to enabling these users to collaboratively participate in and track the status of projects, project participants can use the PPM application as an organizational tool, tracking databases and forms and entering meeting notes into the system. Planning groups can essentially create a project that never ends, allowing them to store data that supports planning and collaboration within the group, and in the larger universe of users.

From a single organization using PPM in a university setting, successful execution of a project often presages adoption of PPM by the rest of the university. The IT operation is often first among the groups to evaluate PPM applications. Key functions to look for include central authentication, a simple and intuitive graphical user interface, the ability to upload and share multiple file types, and the ability to brand the PPM application to match the appearance of all university sites.

Often, universities make the selection of a PPM application based on the technical needs: application support, platform independence, ease of use, and user interface. Support for streamlined construction of custom forms and access to source code are important considerations. Key advantages of a PPM application include its document management capabilities; cost savings that come from not needing a proprietary project planning application license; and centralization of project artifacts and control. Project managers should be able to easily add users to the system, reducing administrative demands. To facilitate project execution, a PPM application should also include workflow capabilities to support collaboration and getting things done.

The chief benefit of Project and Portfolio Management is helping organizations look beyond planning to project execution. This way managers avoid the common pitfall of assuming that everything will go according to plan. PPM provides a system that effectively deals with the entire project life cycle, and all its inherent unpredictability, enabling effective collaboration and providing access, visibility and decision support for projects at all levels of the university.

Cornell University's Facilities Services group is addressing the issues of project planning versus execution with Project.net, a commercial open-source PPM application. The driver for turning to such a PPM tool was the need to consolidate project planning and management, workflow, and collaboration across several departments. Standardizing on a PPM tool that could replace a mixture of proprietary project planning, CRM, and organizational tools also factored into Cornell's Facilities Services group's decision to implement the PPM application.

The initiative enables the facilities group to collaborate effectively with the many constituencies it serves. Facilities Services manages and maintains the university's power and oversees construction of new buildings as well as those under renovation. Current projects include project management coordination with the university's utilities group, which has undertaken a major energy turbine building project aimed at recovering energy from the university's central heating systems.

Cornell's PPM application enables the facilities group to ensure project execution by managing the entire project lifecycle--from planning, to implementation, to completion and hand-off, allowing project teams to successfully tackle multiple concurrent projects.

Facilities Services currently has 80 user accounts in its PPM application. The university's environmental office also uses the PPM application as an organizational tool, tracking databases and forms and entering meeting notes into the system.

Facilities Services' goal is to be successful at completing enough projects to help spread adoption of PPM to the rest of the university. Cornell's IT operation is among the groups evaluating PPM applications. Custom coding Facilities Services contracted from the product's development team is a draw here. The new functionality provides a central authentication system, and Facilities Services is at work branding this use of the PPM application to match the appearance of all Cornell sites.

For Cornell, the selection of a PPM application centered on the university's technical needs. Heavy users of Oracle, JSP and Cold Fusion, Cornell executives wanted a PPM application that worked with the technologies with which they were familiar. Facilities Services also sought an application that was platform independent and easy to use, with a clean, simple web interface. Support for streamlined construction of custom forms and access to source code were all pluses. Key advantages of the selected PPM application include its document management capabilities; cost savings that come from not needing a proprietary project planning application license; and centralization of project artifacts and control. Facilities Services can easily add users to the system, reducing administrative demands on project managers.

As to project execution, Cornell's Facilities Services group was interested in a PPM application that had workflow capabilities to support collaboration and getting things done. The group uses the PPM application to create requests for funding to renovate buildings, with a custom workflow. The PPM application's web-based interface makes it simple for users to master the workflow without programming support.


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