Going beyond the obvious

Project management software today provides far more functionality than its name presupposes. Secondary gains include using the technology for integrating or standardizing systems as a platform for administrating change management and as Internet connections grow for document collaboration.

The conventional function of a project management package is to help organizations plan schedule and keep track of projects. But users are not stopping there. The Veterans Health Administration for example views project management as a vehicle for standardization.

The VHA operates a number of chief information officer field offices housing research and development software development installation and end-user support organizations. The software development component recently standardized on Platinum Technology Inc.'s Process Continuum project management software. The three other organizations within the CIO field offices are expected to follow in the next year.

"We are a very large and scattered organization " said Julie Harvey acting executive assistant for technical services at the VHA. "What we have looked at in the past is one project that showed up on four different reports. We need to be able to standardize the reports that we generate."

Federal agencies are putting a range of project management tools to the test. At the high end of the market vendors include Platinum ABT Corp. a New York company that sells Project Workbench PMW Artemis Management Systems Inc. a Boulder Colo. company that sells the Views product suite and Privamera Systems Inc. the Bala Cynwyd Pa. developer of Primavera Project Planner known as P3. Single-user licenses for these projects generally start around $2 000.

For $150 to $600 agencies can purchase project management tools that provide the same basic functions as the more expensive products but do not scale to support enterprise project management capabilities.

But the lower-end products have begun scaling up as evidenced by the recent Microsoft Corp. Project 98 enhancements. Project 98 is targeting project management professionals as it provides the ability to update resources across multiple projects. The product also features expanded links to other project management and business planning tools such as Oracle Corp.'s Projects and Micro-Frame Technologies Inc.'s Program Manager.

High-end project management vendors meanwhile are moving downstream when it comes to ease of use. Generally as the project management user community has grown more diverse vendors have made their products easier to use. "Higher-end players are trying to make their products more accessible by incorporating import/export capabilities with Microsoft Proj-ect and by adding wizards to make them easier to use " said Melinda Ballou project management software analyst with Meta Group Inc. Waltham Mass.

Supporting Change Management

Change management is one way the government is expanding the use of project management tools. This year the Military Health Services System (MHSS) began using high-end project management software to effect the change-management requirements set forth in the Defense Department 5000 Series directives. Those mandates provide Defense Acquisition Policy Procedures that include information technology and information management (IMIT) systems.

The DOD directives hold project managers more accountable for measuring performance linking performance back to the budget and providing change management if benefits and results are not realized. But project managers in the past didn't have the information they needed to make development and deployment decisions in a multiple-project environment on a day-to-day basis said Lt. Col. Skip Heath chief of evaluation life-cycle model and analysis.

After complying with federal directives the MHSS wanted to solve a systems integration problem. The organization's six business units all used different tools and different terminology to describe the same concept. "We were using activation date implementation date and start date all for the same purpose " Heath said. To address those issues and others the agency deployed Primavera's P3. "This is change management " Heath said. "The primary objective is to integrate standardized project schedules across the MHSS/IMIT.

"With Primavera the focus tends to switch from working independently to working in a standardized information-sharing methodology with dependencies identified " he said. In the past managers often could not identify infrastructure dependencies such as the relationship between a wide-area and local-area network and the requirement for existing networks to support new system deployment.

In November the DOD medical mission will begin to deploy the World Wide Web-enabled features of P3 Version 2.0 and a browser-based add-on called Webster. Primavera's Webster allows a project team member to review and update project assignments in real time.

Using Microsoft Exchange in concert with the e-mail capabilities of P3 users at medical treatment facilities will be able to send P3 files over e-mail in PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet formats. MHSS will release schedules by way of DOD Health Affairs' home page informing users at medical facilities of training dates system arrival dates and operational dates. "The Web will allow feedback mechanisms so that personnel can plan schedules interactively online " Heath said.

The use of the new Internet features illustrates the evolution of project management itself. "Project management used to be an isolated endeavor with managers in ivory towers. Now it's integrated more into core operations " said Nancy Allen Primavera's director of marketing.

Back to Basics

But as the use of project management tools evolves government agencies continue to focus on such basic benefits as improving operations.

DOD's Standard Depot System provides one example. For 20 years DOD depots have used SDS as the baseline architecture managing the maintenance and restoration of heavy-combat vehicles. "In some cases you take all 8 000 pieces apart rework and reclaim them then put them back in final assembly. If you do this on 300 to 400 vehicles per year in 40 different categories with hundreds of subsystems you can see the complexity of the project " said Jesse Poor director of mission plans and operations at the Anniston Army Depot Anniston Ala.

But SDS was designed to handle three times more depots than currently use it and four times the volume than is actually processed Poor said. "It was so out of touch with reality that it was not in keeping with standard cost accounting. Ten percent of all our program management was in up-front planning while 90 percent of the effort was in putting out fires from the day you started " he said.

To enhance SDS with planning scheduling and reporting capabilities Robbins-Gioia Inc. Alexandria Va. built the Unix-based Program Depot Maintenance Scheduling System (PDMSS) specifically for the Anniston depot. The system is based on Robbins-Gioia's Control Analysis Tool a highly customized project management system designed using Artemis products.

This fall PDMSS will incorporate Open Database Connectivity compliance with Microsoft and Oracle products as well as Web publishing capabilities said Mark Robbins Robbins-Gioia's director of depot maintenance and modifications.

Another product that was designed specifically for DOD specifications is Micro-Frame's Program Manager. Tailored to the requirements of government cost-specification reporting for Cost/Schedule Control System Criteria (C/SCSC) Program Manager is basically program management without a scheduling system. The system provides Earned Value management which forecasts end dates and end costs by collecting data about performance against plan and using that data to calculate earned value. It can import and export data with Microsoft Project.

"When the government audits for C/SCSC compliance the use of Micro-Frame Program Manager makes certification much easier " said Joe Soulia president of Micro-Frame Ontario Calif.

State agencies also are using high-end project management software to improve operations. In response to a Missouri Department of Transportation initiative that proposed to have nearly $2.6 billion in transportation projects under contract by 1999 the state DOT sought a way to deliver on time and on budget. The agency chose Artemis Proj-ect View a module within the Views product line to develop schedules for transportation projects in 10 districts. Initially the department ran ProjectView on IBM Corp.'s OS/2 but it is now moving to Windows NT and Windows 95 said Kyle Kittrell program manager of the Missouri DOT Jefferson City Mo.

Specific Solutions

But not all projects are as complex as those of the federal and state systems. As such there are numerous project management software products that focus on specific functions. For example ManagePro from Avantos Performance Systems Inc. Emeryville Calif. focuses on goal/people management. And Denver-based Decisioneering Inc.'s Crystal Ball is a risk and cost/benefit analysis product used by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine the best course of action for cleaning contaminated Superfund sites.

The Navy began using Avantos Managepro to track the goals of 32 employees within a division. That expanded to 400 users across an entire command said Larry Lahtinen director of network services at the U.S. Navy Fleet and Industrial Supply Center San Diego. "We use Managepro for day-to-day operations we like the simplicity of use " said Lahtinen who uses it on a Compaq Computer Corp. PC running Windows 95.

"You'd almost have to be a rocket scientist to understand some project management software " he said. Managepro is well integrated with Microsoft Project which Lahtinen uses for resource allocation. But he pointed to the unique people-management tools in Managepro as being particularly beneficial.

The tools include progress and review data as well as an "adviser" feature which teaches supervisors how to provide effective coaching and feedback techniques and how to talk to somebody who is stressed out he said.

Lahtinen said he is likely to use the Internet capabilities in the upcoming release of Managepro. In fact most project management software either has just added or is ready to add Internet capability with Web browser support. The new Internet capabilities along with the increased ease of use position project management software to become even more ubiquitous.

-- Gerber is a free-lance writer based in Kingston N.Y.

* * * * *

At A Glance

Status: Agencies are employing their project management systems as agents of change management and organizational integration.

Issues: High-end tools are looking to become more user-friendly as low-end tools move toward providing enterprise capabilities. Most products are adding World Wide Web support.

Outlook: Good. Project management tools should continue to play a role in the federal market because agencies are under pressure to stay within budget and justify expenses.

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