A combination of business trends are radically changing the way we work. As a result of offshoring, project teams are likely to be geographically distributed. Outsourcing creates another twist; many key members on the team may not even be employees of your company. Finally, vertical organizations silos are becoming things of past – being replaced with cross-department, cross-company, geographically distributed flexible teams.

 

Such fundamental shifts in how teams are organized will make some of today’s popular project management systems obsolete, the key reason being that project management systems such as Microsoft Office Project were designed for solving project planning problems, typically handled by project managers. The success of any data warehousing and analytics project is about starting with a good plan and then having a flawless execution. It is in the execution of the projects where the complexity has multiplied due to large and geographically distributed teams. As a result, such planning-oriented project management systems are no longer effective.

 

It is time to look more closely at project management systems that are specifically designed to handle the project execution complexity.

 

Getting Project Status

 

When you have a team of two people who are in a cubicle next to your office, it is easy to walk up to their cube and get a status update. However, when you have a large team and some of them are a few time zones away or work for your business partners getting a status update from every team member becomes a chore in itself. Project managers in these environments typically spend a few valuable hours every week chasing each of their team members via email or phone to get visibility into the status of their tasks, so he/she can update their project plan. Only once he/she collects all the data, can they find out if the project is still on schedule. If the project status yields a surprise, then the manager creates a revised plan, which may affect the schedule of some of the team members. Once the revised plan is created, the project manager then spends a lot of time communicating the new plan back to team members and the steering committee so everyone knows the new schedule and due dates. This process alone can become a huge drain on time. As a result, if that person is responsible for other deliverables and not just the management of this project the other deliverables begin to suffer.

 

Being on the Same Page

 

One of the biggest reasons that projects are delayed is because the team members are not on the same page about their project specifications, deadlines, dependencies or impact on other tasks. In an environment where teams are large, distributed across time zones and include partners, the project manager has to work very hard to ensure that not only does each team member clearly understand his/her tasks, schedules and dependencies, but they all must also be on the same page with respect to the project specifications, revisions and assumptions. They can spend a lot of their time on this effort. Only when everyone is on the same page and is executing to the plan do the odds of completing the project on time increase significantly. Single-user project management tools such as Microsoft Office Project, which are designed for creating and managing project plans, don’t address this issue, and team meetings only go so far. Sending emails to team members with attachments to bring the team onto the same page regarding dependencies and specifications often results in multiple versions of the same document floating around and only adds to the confusion. It is also critical that when a new member is added to the team that they come up to speed very quickly and they understand the context for some of the decisions made in the past.

 

The Next Generation of Project Management Systems

 

A convergence of service-oriented architecture (SaaS) and collaboration technologies is enabling organizations to deploy the next generation of project management applications that support a new way of working and are designed to specifically address the project team execution problems described above.

 

These project management solutions leverage email as a mechanism to automatically query team members at scheduled intervals and capture the status of their tasks – all in the background. Team members get an email containing an embedded query about task status and they reply back with the status data. The systems consolidate all the responses to keep project status current - project tracking becomes automatic and managers save a lot of valuable time not having to chase team members. The solutions automatically provide alerts and highlights to allow managers to stay on top of their project's ever changing status and proactively eliminate unpleasant surprises. The solution allows project managers to focus their time on addressing issues rather than collecting data.

 

These solutions also leverage team-sharing technology to store/share documents, notes and discussion threads with each work item, providing team members an easy way to share their knowledge and be in sync. As a result, everyone within the team is on the same page - no more emails with multiple versions floating around. When a new person joins the team midway, the context for every decision and assumption made is in the notes and documents attached to the tasks.

 

Consistent Internet access ensures that any team member can access their project plans, task schedules and associated documents at any time – irrespective of their geographic location, the organization they belong to or their business travel schedule. This makes it easy for the project manager and the team to work together, even when on the road. In addition, these solutions use intuitive Web 2.0 technologies to enable 100 percent adoption.

 

In the past, Project Management tools were created to address the project planning problem and were rightfully a single-user system. However, as project teams began to grow, team execution became very important, and single-user project management systems are not designed to address such issues. Email as a way to fill the gap just does not cut it and only adds to the problem. The next generation of project management tools takes advantage of collaboration and SaaS technologies, such as team collaboration, always-on Web-access and proactive alerting to enable you to successfully execute your projects and eliminate surprises.

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