Project management for all?

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1 April 2005 | 0

Microsoft has played a very significant role in making project management a mainstream recognised practice, thanks to the runaway success of its Microsoft Project software.

Project management software costs have tumbled incredibly since 1980. For example, when I was Chief Cost Engineer on the Aughinish Alcan Alumina project (£630m) in the early 1980s, our project management application for scheduling, performance and cost management was Artemis. Such an application, that used to cost hundreds of thousands of euro is now available for hundreds of euro, and includes an interface that is graphical and friendly, with features for reporting that simply weren’t available in 1980 — at any price.

One of the side effects of the success of desktop project management tools like Microsoft Project is that the expectations of who can be a project manager have decreased. For example, senior Management might look at a schedule or risk assessment and presume that the data is the subject of expert, professional analysis. The increased ability of project-management systems to generate beautiful reports and graphics of all kinds only serves to make people feel that the analysis involved must be of equally high calibre.

 

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Do project management systems reports have disclaimers in the footers saying: ‘this report was generated by a new project management user who has been using XYZ project management software for less than 8hr’? Of course not. The very thing that makes desktop tools so attractive can leave management with data that has not been professionally assembled or analysed.

The growth of the Microsoft Project market is simply remarkable. Reports put Microsoft Project sales at $1.4bn in 2001. It is estimated that there are at least 6m copies in circulation. Obviously the purchasers of Microsoft Project have the intention to use their software to manage projects. This raises an interesting question from the perspective of people running international professional project management organisations.

A number of years ago, I discussed this very point with the then president of PMI, Ron Waller. The issue is that although the world’s leading project management organisation (PMI-USA) continues to increase its membership base (currently circa 110,000), there has not been the same geometric increase in membership that MS Project has achieved in terms of number of users.

Membership not valued

If, for example, 10 per cent of the estimated users of Microsoft Project decided to join this organisation, its membership base would be a truly stunning 600,000. Why have organisations such as PMI and IPMA (International Project Management Association) not been able to attract members from this massive base of Microsoft Project users? It appears that users do not relate their use of the product to a need to join a professional project management organisation.

The number of project management software licences sold by Microsoft is truly impressive. However, despite the fact that virtually every major company in the world probably has at least one copy of MS Project, enterprise project management integration still eluded this product. Many people in the high-end project management software market believed that Microsoft would never enter the high-end arena. There is now a battle brewing here, with the very recent introduction of a Microsoft Office Enterprise Project Management product into the enterprise space.

The EPM product is very flexible. With it, organisations are provided with up-to-the-minute information so that employees can optimise limited resources by prioritising projects and synchronising individual initiatives with the organisation’s overall business objectives. Moreover, it is unique among management systems because it ensures widespread participation using familiar, integrated tools. Housed within the new Microsoft Office System, organisations know that these tools are easy to use and will not require significant training and support costs.

Quick to satisfy

Microsoft Office Project 2003 offers a set of products that will allow organisations to better manage project information and act on that information quickly to satisfy colleagues, customers and partners. Chief among these products is the Microsoft Office Project 2003 Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution, which combines client, server and Web-based technology, specifically Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003, Microsoft Office Project Server 2003 and Microsoft Office Project Web Access 2003, to supply everything a business needs to orchestrate company-wide projects smoothly and sustain a competitive edge in its industry.

Project Professional 2003 operates as the project management program for EPM and can be used to connect to Project Server 2003. In turn, Project Server 2003 provides a central place for employees to publish project and resource information. Project Server 2003 is integrated with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services for document management capabilities (now including versioning and check-in/check-out); risk tracking and other collaboration tools that enable team members to better coordinate projects regardless of their geographic locations. Users connect to Project Server 2003 through Project Professional 2003 and Project Web Access 2003 to save, retrieve and interact with Project Server 2003 data.

With Project Web Access 2003 project managers and team members can easily view and update information on the Project Server 2003, and employees at all levels can become instantly vested in a project’s outcome. Combined, this total EPM product set enables organisations to set goals and streamline the manner in which they achieve them. This EPM solution also helps organisations make better-informed decisions, simplify their key business processes by reducing unnecessary work, make teamwork easy and intuitive, and enable their employees to have a greater impact in what can be a demanding, competitive and stressful business environment.

Select few

This niche previously had been the domain of only a select few high-end project management software companies, such as Primavera, Open Plan, and Artemis. Microsoft’s latest release is targeted directly at this market. Although Microsoft has been amazingly successful at capturing the desktop market for project management software, pressure had increased over the last several years to make Project better able to deal with issues like multiproject, central resource pools, enterprise reporting and portfolio analysis.

Some serious project management professionals contend that Microsoft Project carries the stigma of not being a serious project management tool. They identify it as a tool for inexperienced or unskilled project planners. Despite this, Microsoft has the advantage of huge market penetration. They can honestly say that they have sold more project management software than any other firm, ever. Microsoft clearly controls the desktop market.

Microsoft must convince senior project personnel that it has the capabilities to handle enterprise-level use. They must also convince management that Project now is of enterprise-level quality and can be integrated into core financial and production systems.

The author is the Director General of the Institute of Project Management of Ireland (www.projectmanagement.ie). The Institute spearheads project management education, certification and research in Ireland.

17/10/2003

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