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The Role of Collaboration in Enterprise Projects

Most large organizations today use Project Portfolio Management (PPM) tools that help organize and manage a group of projects simultaneously, using a highly structured approach. They track the elements of the work breakdown structure, including costs, timelines, milestones, risks, resources and other critical elements. Executives can then regularly review entire portfolios by monitoring the at-a-glance dashboard indicators ubiquitous in PPMs. In this article, David Coleman teams up with Ann Marcus and explains how the integration of tools, techniques and data types can produce both top- and bottom-line benefits.

Ann Marcus and I have looked at the role of collaboration within Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and have coined a new acronym, "CPPM", for an emerging set of tools that are starting to come to market. In this two-part article, based on the recent research and interviews we have done, we explore the role of collaboration as part of this emerging tool set for corporate project productivity.

More Productive Project Management

Our goal is to help senior management in mid-to-large-sized organizations understand what is needed to make their projects, portfolios and programs run more smoothly and achieve better results. We believe that a new way of looking at existing tools and project information can do just that.

We begin with an explanation of the origins of and evolution to CPPM. We then show how senior managers and organization leaders in a variety of industries have begun to recognize the need for an integrated tool set. We also detail the advantages of employing CPPM and provide some questions to help you determine whether your organization would benefit from adopting a CPPM.

Finally, we illustrate how this integration of tools, techniques and data types can produce both top and bottom line benefits for the project organization and the enterprise as a whole.

Introduction

In any organization senior management must be able to allocate resources to initiatives, goals and programs in order to accomplish the strategies and aims of that organization. Project management across the organization, sometimes called "Program Management" or Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is becoming a more important issue for most organizations. As the level of complexity and volume of projects, portfolios and programs rises, management has the increasing challenge of oversight on these projects. 

Often the day-to-day management of projects, portfolios and programs is delegated to project portfolio managers. The new tools and technologies we are beginning to see emerge require a keen understanding of the immense volume and complexity of data these managers must manage to be effective. They must evaluate the progress of a portfolio at a glance, be able to drill down to project-level details should operations go astray, and use the data to make key decisions that keep the projects aligned with organizational goals and objectives.

Staying on top of their game requires these managers to have effective tools that flex and respond to inputs and reporting requirements—the structured foundation of project management. The prevailing tools of the trade for project portfolio managers have been Project Portfolio Management (PPM) packages.

These tools are powerhouses when it comes to allocating and tracking resources across projects, developing and maintaining schedules, flagging warning signs and presenting critical summaries in easy-to-read formats. However, when it comes to handling all the unstructured data that surround projects—brainstorming, proposals, document revisions, specifications and so on—PPM tools haven't really measured up.

In all fairness, PPM tools were not designed originally to store this type of information, but in the complex, global business climate today, the unstructured data has assumed new importance. Responsible managers must assess whether failing to capture and link this information to specific projects/processes will result in negative effects: missed business opportunities, reduced team involvement, regulatory compliance shortcomings, and overlooked business processes innovation.

That's where a new class of tools we call Collaborative Project Portfolio Management, or CPPM, comes in.

Recognizing The Need

Acknowledging the practical interplay between a project's objective elements and the impact of a team's subjective interpretation and style is the first step in understanding why we propose this new approach. Blending objective, structured formats with subjective, unstructured information can help clarify the logistical assumptions and realities that go into executing a successful project. We propose that linking the data, creates a clear, relationship between the elements and results in a more complete picture whose combined value is "greater than the sum of the its parts." For example, regular collaborative involvement has been proven to strengthen team commitment and the resulting quality of the work that team produces all while reducing costs and minimizing wasted effort.

Acknowledging the practical interplay between a project's objective elements and the impact of a team's subjective interpretation and style is the first step in understanding why we propose this new approach. Blending objective, structured formats with subjective, unstructured information can help clarify the logistical assumptions and realities that go into executing a successful project. We propose that linking the data, creates a clear, relationship between the elements and results in a more complete picture whose combined value is "greater than the sum of the its parts." For example, regular collaborative involvement has been proven to strengthen team commitment and the resulting quality of the work that team produces all while reducing costs and minimizing wasted effort.

Based on the growing complexity of business today, the need is greater than ever to integrate project information in a way that works for all levels of the organization. Access to shared materials and subject-matter experts, both in real time (synchronously) and via posted messages (asynchronously) is critical to moving a project along, especially when a team is distributed geographically.

Our research reveals that project, line and organization leaders would welcome a seamlessly integrated set of tools to archive, retain and review both structured and unstructured data. They want to be able to peruse it in a "just-in-time" fashion to answer team, executive, regulatory and process management requirements. Additionally, they would benefit from doing so in a secure, online location. The executives we interviewed indicated that access to such an integrated set of tools would allow them to reinforce critical project and portfolio decisions, drive team buy-in and performance, and assemble process management collections that have the potential to become organizational knowledge assets on their own.

Project Portfolio Management (PPM)

Coordinating and keeping portfolios on track and on budget is a profound challenge for any organization. The bar continues to be raised with the demands of a global marketplace for efficient operations, lower overhead and the best use of resources, such as around-the-clock schedules for teams whose members extend beyond national boundaries and datelines. Regulatory compliance requires careful handling and full accountability with respect to dialog, documents and decision-making. The tools necessary to manage the structure and the texture of such a grand undertaking must therefore be robust and up to the task.


Figure 1. PlanView Enterprise, a PPM Tool, provides at-a-glance portfolio analysis.

Most large organizations today use tools known Project Portfolio Management (PPM) that support the ability to organize and manage a group of projects simultaneously using a highly structured approach. They track the elements of the work breakdown structure, including costs, timelines, milestones, risks, resources and other critical elements. Executives can then regularly review entire portfolios by monitoring the at-a-glance dashboard indicators ubiquitous in PPMs.

In banking, for instance, project portfolios are often global in scope, highly regulated and as detailed as snowflakes. PPM tools are used regularly to initiate, optimize, fine-tune and manage the process and performance.

Project Team Collaboration

Project portfolio managers rely heavily on the use of the PPM application's highly structured format and easy-to-read dashboard indicators that display key metrics graphically. For project portfolio managers, the benefits of tools like PPM are obvious.

Dashboard project metrics are an effective tool to help management make decisions, such as on the selection of projects for portfolios, on resource management or on the alignment and compliance of projects with corporate goals and regulations. However numbers alone don't play the whole tune. Another class of tools, called Project Team Collaboration (PTC) tools, provides centralized, secure storage of all manner of unstructured project content and objects (See Figure 2).


Figure 2. Project team collaboration tools (PCT) like EMC Documentum eRoom provide a centralized environment for sharing discussion and materials.

PTC tools focus on the interactive aspects of teamwork and offer tremendous support for logging and tracking the context-sensitive materials and iterative discussions that lead to project ideation and creation. Maintaining the collection of materials intact and available for review is more critical now than ever with shorter project cycles, smaller budgets and increasing regulatory governance and control.

EMC Documentum's eRoom, for example, provides a virtual team work space to manage discussions about the project plan, issues, risks, and best practices. Its ability to support the various elements of project collaboration is essential to give breadth and depth to the project or portfolio and provide a fuller, richer sense of understanding. PTC products support the contextual element of projects in a superior fashion to PPMs but often lack the ability to support detailed operational reports.

Next month we will look at industry challenges for CPPM, based on some of the interviews Ann and I did as well as the evolution and application of CPPM today.

David Coleman is the Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies CS). He is the author of two books on groupware, and is the editor and writes the “Guru's Corner” column for this newsletter. He can be reached at davidc@collaborate.com or 415-282-9197.

Ann M. Marcus is a Collaborative Strategies Analyst and Consultant focused on vendor collaboration strategies, collaboration in education, and knowledge management for virtual teams. She also provides product marketing, business development and editorial expertise and is a contributor to the Collaborative Strategies Advisory Services Group.

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