Micro Times July 21, 1999 page 41

Project Management:
It Ain't Just Software

By Deidro-Ann Parrish

If you attend industry trade shows and keep up on technology trends, you've probably heard a lot about project management software. But reading about it and making it work are worlds apart.

None of the many project management packages on the market today actually get the job done; all they do is track, record and forecast what you've accomplished. You need to combine project management software with a solid communication system and a value added reseller (VAR) that understands the mechanics of your company.

Before you blindly throw software at problems, you must analyze them and discover why projects don't work out as expected. Only that knowledge will help you bridge the gap between technology and the needs of your company.

Any project is defined by at least two of the following elements: need, cost, labor and time. The success of any project management job depends on finding the most important element in that list and designing your project plan around it.

A project plan is a physical document - not simply a notion in someone's head - that defines the scope of any project. It's the axis for any project. Until recently, most project management soft- ware focused on the plan. It made one person a project manager who could manipulate, edit, revise and track elements in a project. This process generated report after report - really just up-to-the- minute revisions of the project plan.

But this one-person process is ineffective. Every team member needs access to the plan. An experienced VAR can ensure this access. Any VAR that has implemented project management software should know how to design a system that coordinates the efforts and input of key personnel.

Projects so often fail due to simple mismanagement. When an organization asks staff members to work on a project, it often heaps this new responsibility atop existing work demands. But this approach jeopardizes a project's success. The formula for success is something like: t + t x t = success, where the ts are team, talent and time.

Get senior management to recognize project management openly as part of the standard duty cycle. Make it part of daily life and assign adequate resources, including to the back end. That means hiring temporary help to complete line business tasks so employees pulled into projects have enough time to do the job right.

I don't mean to downplay IT's role - it's key. But IT must apply its efforts correctly. Too often, a business implements a technology such as groupware, but management's needs aren't met because it didn't make them clear to IT

Understanding these goals takes more than one meeting with a VAR. Creating, managing, and disbanding or reorganizing virtual teams is a complex process, even when you use software designed for this purpose.

Have management assign a liaison between itself and the VAR to discover some parameters for the project. What shared resources are required? What access will management need to monitor progress?

With management's support, you can begin designing a detailed project plan. Whether you use a Pert chart or an old-fashioned flow chart, you it must define the objective and scope of the project, but it should also include deadlines and be flexible enough to bend when extenuating issues require it.

Select tools and resources carefully to enable this kind of management flexibility. You need to choose good software and train employees and managers so everyone can use these tools.

Many tools can augment project management software to help things move smoothly. Ordinary background products such as voicemail and e-mail can go a long way in tying temporary project teams together. Voicemail, if it's designated a priority, can cut down on phone-tag problems. E- mail can be saved in hierarchical shared folders, not only for record-keeping but also as an active resource for everyone on the team.

Many groupware and intranet vendors tout the usefulness of shared discussion threads on Web pages or in newsgroups. But they usually play a minor role in the real world. Usually, projects are moving too fast for idle written discussion during working hours:

Team members are concentrating on their specific tasks and have little time to chat about the project in general. It's not a complete waste of time, but it shouldn't be a huge priority when building a working environment.

If you have the money and time, groupware and databases are excellent tools. But these technologies are as complex as they are powerful. Hiring a single guru for these tools and expecting other employees to pick up a working knowledge from that person by casual interaction is hopeless.

You should provide in-depth training for team employees and hire or create experts in these tools. Lotus Notes or a similar program can be a savior if you give it the proper resources to work. While these resources are expensive and time- consuming, the software is wasted unless they are applied.

The key to successful project management isn't accumulating the most expensive or most talked-about software. It's selecting the products and the VAR that jibe with your work environment and your project protocols to provide the results you want.

Deidra-Ann Parrish, formerly of VARBusiness, runs a New York-based marketing communications firm and has been writing about business and technology for eight years. She has written for LAN Times, Selling Windows NT Solutions. Solutions Integrator Tech-Data's Market Smart, Black Enterprise and New York Newsday. Reach her at dap-48@juno.com