Online Project Management Software – A Benefits Guide

In these challenging times, many organizations are faced with huge pressure to deliver change and improve business performance in order to survive. These change or transformation programs are managed via a series of projects designed to achieve certain goals be they cost reduction, new product, increased productivity or process improvement. An online project management software tool can benefit most organizations that can be faced with challenges such as project selection, project team collaboration, task management, resource planning, milestones and time sheet tracking.

A major obstacle in rolling out programs across teams or departments is collaboration and communication as project team members are often based at different locations and the natural communication channels allowed by being in the same room or building can’t be tapped into. This is where online project management can make the working life of the project team less stressful and more productive.

The main benefit of online project management software is to give all members of the project team full visibility of information and actions relating to project status, assigned tasks, risks, issues, and resource or time planning.

Some organizations consider a project management system or tool as a stack of overflowing files, multiple excel sheets, unopened emails and post-it notes. A project management solution such as this only hampers a project and case studies prove that most project teams will end up in the situation where tasks get missed or simply forgotten, milestones ignored and ownership has lapsed to the point where the project lurches into the “started but never completed” label.

The Project Management team needs a more organized solution rather than some project methodologies or an email and file sharing system. By having an online project management system in place there will be no more exchanging of emails with excel and word attachments or managers chasing up project team members for updates, as all concerned will have access to the same information from one central interface. This in turn will ensure that the organization is working on one project plan, even if departments and individuals aren’t positioned in the same building or even the same country. Project productivity is boosted as any team member can access their personalized project dashboard from work, home and the airport, the list is endless.

Projects plans can change from one day to the next and this can have significant implications on the management of that project, as the necessary users of that project may not have an updated version of the plan. By having an online system any changes are made once and from there all involved parties can be updated and view all project information in real-time. Visibility is essential to the successful management of projects and an online system achieves one unified version of any project.

Online project management software gives users huge flexibility and enables them to complete tasks, actions and programs to a high standard. This flexibility will have a positive knock on effect on the time and budget management of the projects as less time and money will be wasted updating and transmitting emails and files to team members.

Time spent by the PMO leaders interacting with all team members and reviewing project plan status will be maximized and in a more collaborative way. No more will the project managers have to spend vast amounts of time chasing up team members for project updates. Utilizing an online project management solution ensures that an organization gets completed projects, on time and on budget.
Gone are the phone and email conversation around the management of projects, gone are the excel sheets that require updating regularly. The PMO will have their time dedicated only to the management of projects and not the administration associated with projects.

Another key benefit of using project management software online is an increase in project output as all information is held at one point. The necessary tasks for a PMO such as making updates, analyzing reports can all be done via a single interface, available online 24/7. The information can also be easily accessed by senior management or stakeholders. Online project management unifies the project team, tasks, KPI’s and project goals, ensuring that all team members have a 100% understanding and eliminates project ambiguity.

For the most part, project management ensures that a team’s time is spent on the tasks and actions that get results and move the project forward for the good of the company. Team work is optimized as everyone is able to work together effectively, even if they are situated in different locations. To be successful an organization needs to have in place an effective system to manage all the elements associated with a program. That system should be online.

Overall, project management software will bring measurable financial returns and deliver clear outcomes across projects, programs and risk management to an organization, with its ease of use and flexibility. Lastly, team members will have online and instant access to all the information needed to complete their assigned tasks, making collaboration easier and increasing the project teams success.

Construction Companies Benefit From Project Management Professionals (PMP)

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another 18% joining their ranks in another three years.

There are various reasons that lead to a construction company going in trouble, including general economic conditions, not being competitive, heavy operating expenses, poor accounting system or even high employee turnover, but none impact a construction business as significantly as lack of project managerial expertise.

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is for project managers with extensive experience. Qualifications and testing criteria are rigorous, making it a widely respected certification. Generally speaking, construction projects are run by contractors, not by certified Project Management Professionals (PMPs).

The contractors would say that they’re the only ones who truly understand construction, because they’ve been there and done that; but, is that viewpoint valid? Where does the need for hands-on experience end, and the need for rigorous and structured project management ability begin?

Most contractors, whether general contractors or specialists (plumbers, electricians, etc.), worked their way up in the construction business. That means they started out as an apprentice, became a journeyman, possibly were promoted to being a crew chief or jobsite superintendent by the company owner, then eventually stepped out on their own to start their own company and be a contractor.

Here are 5 basic areas in which these contractors and Professional Project Managers think differently. These areas can make or break a project, specially when it comes to maintaining the project on schedule and on budget:

1 – Bidding Strategies and Change Orders

The world of construction is highly competitive, especially in today’s economy. Each job out there has a number of contractors bidding on it, driving prices down and all but eliminating profit margins. A common strategy which many contractors are using today is to bid the job with minimal overhead and negligible profits, depending on “Change Orders” to make their profits.

While this strategy works, it may not be working quite as well as many contractors would like. The very fact of bidding a job in that manner means that there is little room for error. Even a slight error in scope management, cost estimating or scheduling can take a project from profitable to being a loss.

If the project is being provided under a contract, then some advance thinking has to go into how to deal with “Change Orders” when they occur. Project Management Professionals approach Change Orders with a different mindset, since they see this as a change to the original “Plan” and seek to integrate the change into the overall plan instead of “tacking it on top of” work that is already being done.

Approved change orders can require revised cost estimates, new schedule updates, revised activity sequencing, additional risk analysis and even calculation of cumulative impacts. Therefore setting up a “Configuration Management” process with integrated change control provides an effective way to centrally manage and document change orders, while providing opportunities for increased profit margin.

2 – Claim Management

Although this may seem the same as the change orders (mentioned above), it is actually a separate area. “Change Orders” deal with changes for which both the owner and contractor are in agreement. “Claims” deal with areas where there is disagreement. These are extra charges due to unforeseen problems on the project, which the contractor wishes to recoup from the owner at the time of project closing. What makes these claims challenging is the difference in interpretation of the project scope. The owner may feel that these unforeseen situations are part of the scope of the contractor, while the contractor may see them as extra costs he incurred, for things outside of his control.

Effective claim management requires thoroughly documenting the problem, sending on-time notifications to the owner, including estimates of cost and schedule impacts, along with creating a convincing justification for the charges. This is one of the most challenging communication problems on a construction project. Project Management Professionals are trained in dealing with claims, whereas the typical contractor is usually at the mercy of the owner.

3 – Thinking “Tasks” instead of “Processes”

Eighty percent of construction companies fail within the first two years, with another eighteen percent joining their ranks in another three years. It’s not the lack of knowledge in construction, but the lack of knowledge in how to manage their projects. This article describes how construction companies benefit from Certified Project Managers.

A contractor or construction superintendent usually becomes such because they know how to do the job. But, that isn’t the same thing as knowing how to manage the job. They see the project as a series of separate tasks; get all the tasks right and the project will come together.

However, Project Management Professionals (PMPs) are trained to think in terms of “processes.” Thinking this way creates a more global approach to the project, seeing the individual tasks as only part of the processes. This drastically changes their approach to managing a project, seeing how things fit together not so much by a “gut feeling,” but as a continuing path, filled with measurable risks and challenges, towards a specific goal. There are parts of this PMP mindset, such as Communication Management, Risk Management and Time Management which are not directly related to the ability to swing a hammer:

– Not knowing how to set up a “Communication Plan” to clearly define how to communicate the right information to the right stakeholder at the right time can cost a company that just got off the ground heavily.

– Not knowing how to create a “Risk Management Plan” or “Risk Register” for the project, including how to deal with those risks, whether by mitigating them, eliminating them or transferring them, could become fatal.

– Not knowing which tasks on your project are on the “Critical Path” could extend your schedule (hence costs) by enough to make your profits marginal or non-existent.

4 – Managing Technical Changes

Integrating, communicating and managing technical changes, such as changes to a building’s blueprints or equipment drawings requires thorough action, which is properly documented to ensure that everyone is made aware of the change. These technical changes can be as minor as a change in paint color to something major enough to cause a skyscraper to fall down in high winds. Regardless of the size of the change, each one is important to the owner, requiring proper integration and implementation.

As part of their training, Project Management Professionals learn that change requests should be subject to a thorough process that may require analyzing estimated impacts on cost, quality or schedule before the change is approved. Coordinating changes across the entire project, and documenting the complete impact or technical change should be a second nature to any project manager who seeks a successful and profitable project outcome.

5 – Managing Suppliers and Subcontractors

A major part of managing a construction project is ensuring that the work crews and supplies are on the job site when they are needed. A typical contractor deals with their suppliers at the last minute, calling in their orders and expecting delivery the same day. Their way of dealing with subcontractors bears a closer resemblance to browbeating than any accepted management philosophy.

When a construction project is properly managed, a project schedule is created before the first person shows up at the job site. This schedule is maintained and adjusted as needed, be it due to adverse weather, construction delays or other problems on the job. With an accurate project schedule, there is no reason to deal with suppliers and subcontractors on a last minute basis. Everything can be pre-planned and communicated to the proper people well in advance.

Another problem with managing sub-contractors is that when problems occur, the buyer (contractor) has little leverage for claiming the incurred costs due to seller’s (sub-contractor’s) fault. A procurement contract should include terms and conditions that contractor specifies to establish what the sub-contractor is to provide. By including the right terms and conditions into the sub-contracts, many typical problems can be avoided.

As part of the Project Management Professional training, “Procurement Management” is discussed within the perspective of buyer-seller relationship. This relationship exists at many levels, including sub-contractors performance evaluations. These processes indicate if the sub is performing the work according to plans, rate how well the work is being performed, create the basis for early termination of the sub’s contract, and application of penalties, fees or incentives.

The Importance of Project Closeout and Review in Project Management.

Description

The well known English phrase “last but not least” could not better describe how important the project closeout phase is. Being the very last part of the project life-cycle it is often ignored even by large organizations, especially when they operate in multi-project environments. They tend to jump from one project to another and rush into finishing each project because time is pressing and resources are costly. Then projects keep failing and organizations take no corrective actions, simply because they do not have the time to think about what went wrong and what should be fixed next time. Lessons learned can be discussed at project reviews as part of the closeout phase. Closure also deals with the final details of the project and provides a normal ending for all procedures, including the delivery of the final product. This paper identifies the reasons that closeout is neglected, analyzes the best practices that could enhance its position within the business environment and suggest additional steps for a complete project closeout through continuous improvement.

Project managers often know when to finish a projects but they forget how to do it. They are so eager to complete a project that they hardly miss the completion indicators. “Ideally, the project ends when the project goal has been achieved and is ready to hand over to customer” (Wellace et. al, 2004, p156). In times of big booms and bubbles, senior management could order the immediate termination of costly projects. A characteristic example of that is Bangkok’s over investment in construction of sky-scrapers, where most of them left abandoned without finishing the last floors due to enormous costs (Tvede, 2001, p267). Projects heavily attached to time can be terminated before normal finishing point if they miss a critical deadline, such as an invitation to tender. Kerzner (2001, p594) adds some behavioural reasons for early termination such as “poor morale, human relations or labour productivity”. The violent nature of early termination is also known as ‘killing a project’ because it “involves serious career and economic consequences” (Futrel, Shafer D & Shafer L, 2002, 1078). Killing a project can be a difficult decision since emotional issues create pride within an organization and a fear of being viewed as quitters blurs managerial decisions (Heerkens, 2002, p229).

Recognition

The most direct reason that Project Closeout phase is neglected is lack of resources, time and budget. Even though most of project-based organizations have a review process formally planned, most of the times “given the pressure of work, project team member found themselves being assigned to new projects as soon as a current project is completed” (Newell, 2004). Moreover, the senior management often considers the cost of project closeout unnecessary. Sowards (2005) implies this added cost as an effort “in planning, holding and documenting effective post project reviews”. He draws a parallel between reviews and investments because both require a start-up expenditure but they can also pay dividends in the future.

Human nature avoids accountability for serious defects. Therefore, members of project teams and especially the project manager who has the overall responsibility, will unsurprisingly avoid such a critique of their work if they can. As Kerzner (2001, p110) observe, “documenting successes is easy. Documenting mistakes is more troublesome because people do not want their names attached to mistakes for fear of retribution”. Thomset (2002, p260) compares project reviews with the ‘witch hunts’ saying that they can be “one of the most political and cynical of all organizational practices where the victims (the project manager and the team) are blamed by senior management”. While he identifies top management as the main responsible party for a failure, Murray (2001) suggest that the project manager “must accept ultimate responsibility, regardless of the factors involved”. A fair-minded stance on these different viewpoints would evoke that the purpose of the project review is not to find a scapegoat but to learn from the mistakes. After all, “the only true project failures are those from which nothing is learned” (Kerzner, 2004, p303).

Analysis

When the project is finished, the closeout phase must be implemented as planned. “A general rule is that project closing should take no more than 2% of the total effort required for the project” (Crawford, 2002, p163). The project management literature has many different sets of actions for the last phase of the project life cycle. Maylor (2005, p345) groups the necessary activities into a six step procedure, which can differ depending on the size and the scope of the project:

1. Completion

First of all, the project manager must ensure the project is 100% complete. Young (2003, p256) noticed that in the closeout phase “it is quite common to find a number of outstanding minor tasks from early key stages still unfinished. They are not critical and have not impeded progress, yet they must be completed”. Furthermore, some projects need continuing service and support even after they are finished, such as IT projects. While it is helpful when this demand is part of the original statement of requirements, it is often part of the contract closeout. Rosenau and Githens (2005, p300) suggest that “the contractor should view continuing service and support as an opportunity and not merely as an obligation” since they can both learn from each other by exchanging ideas.

2. Documentation
Mooz et. al (2003, p160) defines documentation as “any text or pictorial information that describe project deliverables”. The importance of documentation is emphasized by Pinkerton (2003, p329) who notes that “it is imperative that everything learned during the project, from conception through initial operations, should be captured and become an asset”. A detailed documentation will allow future changes to be made without extraordinary effort since all the aspects of the project are written down. Documentation is the key for well-organized change of the project owner, i.e. for a new investor that takes over the project after it is finished. Lecky-Thompson (2005, p26) makes a distinction between the documentation requirements of the internal and the external clients since the external party usually needs the documents for audit purposes only. Despite the uninteresting nature of documenting historical data, the person responsible for this task must engage actively with his assignment.

3. Project Systems Closure
All project systems must close down at the closeout phase. This includes the financial systems, i.e. all payments must be completed to external suppliers or providers and all work orders must terminate (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2004, p13). “In closing project files, the project manager should bring records up to date and make sure all original documents are in the project files and at one location” (Arora, 1995). Maylor (2005, 347) suggest that “a formal notice of closure should be issued to inform other staff and support systems that there are no further activities to be carried out or charges to be made”. As a result, unnecessary charges can be avoided by unauthorized expenditure and clients will understand that they can not receive additional services at no cost.

4. Project Reviews
The project review comes usually comes after all the project systems are closed. It is a bridge that connects two projects that come one after another. Project reviews transfer not only tangible knowledge such as numerical data of cost and time but also the tacit knowledge which is hard to document. ‘Know-how’ and more important ‘know-why’ are passed on to future projects in order to eliminate the need for project managers to ‘invent the wheel’ from scratch every time they start a new project. The reuse of existing tools and experience can be expanded to different project teams of the same organization in order to enhance project results (Bucero, 2005). Reviews have a holistic nature which investigate the impact of the project on the environment as a whole. Audits can also be helpful but they are focused on the internal of the organization. Planning the reviews should include the appropriate time and place for the workshops and most important the people that will be invited. Choosing the right people for the review will enhance the value of the meeting and help the learning process while having an objective critique not only by the team members but also from a neutral external auditor. The outcome of this review should be a final report which will be presented to the senior management and the project sponsor. Whitten (2003) also notices that “often just preparing a review presentation forces a project team to think through and solve many of the problems publicly exposing the state of their work”.

5. Disband the project team

Before reallocating the staff amongst other resources, closeout phase provides an excellent opportunity to assess the effort, the commitment and the results of each team member individually. Extra-ordinary performance should be complemented in public and symbolic rewards could be granted for innovation and creativity (Gannon, 1994). This process can be vital for team satisfaction and can improve commitment for future projects (Reed, 2001). Reviewing a project can be in the form of a reflective process, as illustrated in the next figure, where project managers “record and critically reflect upon their own work with the aim of improving their management skills and performance” (Loo, 2002). It can also be applied in problematic project teams in order to identify the roots of possible conflicts and bring them into an open discussion.

Ignoring the established point of view of disbanding the project team as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary overheads, Meredith and Mandel (2003, p660) imply that it’s best to wait as much as you can for two main reasons. First it helps to minimize the frustration that might generate a team member’s reassignment with unfavourable prospects. Second it keeps the interest and the professionalism of the team members high as it is common ground that during the closing stages, some slacking is likely to appear.

6. Stakeholder satisfaction

PMI’s PMBoK (2004, p102) defines that “actions and activities are necessary to confirm that the project has met all the sponsor, customer and other stakeholders’ requirements”. Such actions can be a final presentation of the project review which includes all the important information that should be published to the stakeholders. This information can include a timeline showing the progress of the project from the beginning until the end, the milestones that were met or missed, the problems encountered and a brief financial presentation. A well prepared presentation which is focused on the strong aspects of the projects can cover some flaws from the stakeholders and make a failure look like an unexpected success.

Next Steps

Even when the client accepts the delivery of the final product or service with a formal sign-off (Dvir, 2005), the closeout phase should not be seen as an effort to get rid of a project. Instead, the key issue in this phase is “finding follow-up business development potential from the project deliverable” (Barkley & Saylor, 2001, p214). Thus, the project can produce valuable customer partnerships that will expand the business opportunities of the organization. Being the last phase, the project closeout plays a crucial role in sponsor satisfaction since it is a common ground that the last impression is the one that eventually stays in people’s mind.

Continuous improvement is a notion that we often hear the last decade and review workshops should be involved in it. The idea behind this theory is that companies have to find new ways to sustain their competitive advantage in order to be amongst the market leaders. To do so, they must have a well-structured approach to organizational learning which in project-based corporations is materialized in the project review. Garratt (1987 in Kempster, 2005) highlighted the significance of organizational learning saying that “it is not a luxury, it is how organizations discover their future”. Linking organizational learning with Kerzner’s (2001, p111) five factors for continuous improvement we can a define a structured approach for understanding projects.

This approach can be implemented in the closeout phase, with systematic reviews for each of the above factors. Doing so, project closure could receive the attention it deserves and be a truly powerful method for continuous improvement within an organization. Finally, project closeout phase should be linked with PMI’s Organizational Project Management Maturity (OPM3) model where the lessons learned from one project are extremely valuable to other projects of the same program in order to achieve the highest project management maturity height.

References

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