Posted by: Linda Russell | 7 March, 2008

We have a problem with managing our projects – what we need is some software

Managers at all levels in an organisation sometimes think that a project management software tool is a “golden bullet” that will solve a multitude of problems.

These could include:

  • projects coming in late
  • projects over budget on costs
  • projects under budget on margins
  • resources over-stretched
  • resources under-utilised

What is often not recognised is the need to have a sound business process in place as well as a software tool that supports it effectively.
Having worked in software implementation for over 25 years, I have frequently come across situations where the technology is under-used (or even lies redundant) because the relevant business processes do not exist or are not fully understood.

Customer Review Meeting
This was brought home even more forcefully recently at a regular review meeting with one of our customers. We were looking at how they are currently using our software, what their business problems and issues are, and whether the system could help resolve these by using it more effectively.
The company is involved in the precision design and manufacturing industry, producing one-off unique assemblies for customers. Their projects run from a few weeks to several months, starting from the initial design all the way through to completion, and have a fixed selling price based on the customer’s definition of requirements and the company’s initial estimates for labour and materials.

The main issue they had identified was resource overloading, particularly in the workshop, leading to double-shift working, or sub-contracting elements of the work. Either of these solutions inevitably results in increased costs, and hence reduced margins on each job.
The root of their problems lay in the fact that they bid for any and every piece of work which is offered to them, without understanding the resource loading implications if the bid is won.

Process Map
As their newly-appointed MD knew nothing about our software, he was given a brief overview of the product, including elements which were not currently in use, but which were likely to be useful to the organisation. At the end of the short presentation, the MD turned to the management team and said:
“It’s clear that 4c can do what we want. What processes do we have in place to make best use of the tool?”
There was an embarrassed silence.
“Very well,” declared the MD, “I’m going on holiday next week for two weeks. When I come back I want to see a process map which identifies all the steps we take from the initial decision whether to bid, through to completion of a project.
I pointed out that the process map should include the points at which 4c is to be used and how, and offered our consultancy services to help compile the map.

Documented Processes
When the system was implemented about two and half years ago, the sequence in which the software was to be used by the various people involved (estimators, planning engineers, designers, project managers and workshop section leaders) was clearly documented. Apart from several of the management team being unaware of the existence of this documentation, they had never defined how the software process fitted into the business processes. As a result, many of the software processes were not being fully followed. Lack of demand for management information reporting and a failure to follow processes through had led to people entering only the minimum information required to make the system work for them.
All agreed that if the documented processes were followed correctly, there would be considerable improvement in the quality of information provided by the 4c system, particularly for forecasting workshop resource requirements and monitoring project progress.

Furthermore, the implementation of a complete business process to follow the progress of a project from the initial enquiry through winning the bid to ultimate completion would make it easier to communicate the importance of entering complete and accurate data into the software system, and facilitate the provision of timely and useful management information.

The Future
It’s still early days, but provided that the process is clearly defined and communicated to all concerned, and is implemented and managed effectively, this organisation should become more efficient, and also gain a greater return in their investment in the project management software tool.

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Responses

  1. A tool is as good as the knowledge of those who use it. Still good tools can make getting things done much easier. Main problem of most of project management and resource scheduling tools is that they are too complicated. Project management usually needs to be done with team and team has the members with different computer skills. MS Project is quite complicated piece of software too. Me and my friends have created something much simpler and easier to share. Check it out at http://www.yutiti.com


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