Sunday, March 25, 2012

Which work management solution you use doesn’t matter—it’s the process that’s important.

A review of project management and maintenance management-related discussions on the web indicates a consistent trend: experienced users avoid mentioning specific tool vendors or specific controls software solutions and tools. The following is a typical statement:
“It doesn’t matter what solution or software you use—what is important is the process and that you follow.”

The implication is that the the solutions and software that people are using are all basically the same, and the process is more important because the solutions can’t get the job done in and of themselves. (Note that I, too, am declining to mention any of the solutions and tools that are common in our industry! But I am not doing so because any names that I mention would not constitute a complete list.)

Current scheduling tools are just that—scheduling engines that take your activity lists, your logic, and your resources and crunch the numbers using the critical path method, (CPM)  and produce diagrams and lists of those activities with calculated dates. However, the scheduling function is but a fraction of the entire scope of issues associated with managing a project. The same limited function applies to estimating, procurement, accounting, and cost control tools.

So, project management and maintenance management teams typically use each of these tools as required to accomplish the work that they need to complete. Where a solution is not available, or the skilled personnel required are not available, they can always use their trusty Excel spreadsheet! Simply put, none of these tools are integrated work management tools.

With such an approach, you never have all of your project data in a location where all use of that data is made possible within the same tool. Use of isolated tools promotes the creation of data islands—one island for scheduling data, one for estimating data, one for commitment data, etc. It’s no wonder that a common concern among PMs and MMs is the need for an integrated work management solution.

Current practitioners have grown adept at navigating between and linking these islands, and this expertise now defines and delineates who they are and the skills that they have. They train the new crop of project managers to continue this with this non-integrated paradigm.

By continuing to use this 30-year-old paradigm and ignoring newer technologies, our industry now runs the risk of falling way behind the capability curve. We risk having another generation of project managers tied to aging tools and concepts.

The amazing simplicity of use of the Apple-inspired suite of products has ushered in a new mindset that where users expect to get the information that they need when they need it. They do this without:

  • Finding the source data (on some island?)
  • Merging it (in Excel?)
  • Formatting it (in Excel?)
  • Sending it for approval or reviewing it (in Outlook?)
  • Receiving it and tracking comments and approvals (in Outlook?)

In order to keep up with the technology that is available today, 20 or 30 years after the introduction of the tools we currently use, we really should consider using a newer, more effective set of solutions and tools! A well-designed solution integrates the functions of each of the tools and maintains integrity by adhering to company business rules across the board, regardless of specific processes.

New technologies are enabling these new solutions to take shape

In 2012, the technological foundations that the new tool can—and should—leverage in order to perform in a way that meets user and customer expectations include:

  • Web: The web has been around long enough to become so well used that many people do not even think that they are working on the web. People now bank online, buy online, socialize online, etc. We should ensure that they can work online as well.
  • Mobile: The availability of laptops, tablets, and smartphones allows people to access their data wherever they have access to a cellular signal or a Wifi hub. This means that they can be completely untethered from their desks.
  • Cloud: With your data in the cloud, you now have your organization in all locations (cities, states, countries) accessing the same data set. This enables economies of scale that could only be imagined (someone did imagine the cloud!) a few years ago.
  • Improved User Experience: Apple and Android-based web app products amply illustrate what I mean by “improved user experience.” With these products, it is nearly impossible for you to enter bad data or have a user experience that results in you feeling that you have just wasted your time due to not having the results that you expected. Traditional (Windows-based) systems have many opportunities for you to enter potentially incorrect data—without complaint from the  system. This data may then remain in your system for a long time, cluttering the view of future analysts and costing unimaginably more in wasted analysis and questionable conclusions.
  • Improved Team Collaboration: By integrating the required reporting and data management for your project or program, each team member is kept in the loop and can contribute to the preparation of and approval of the deliverables on a predictable and trackable basis. This feature reduces dramatically the need for face-to-face meetings and ensures more productivity in those meetings that do occur.
  • Integration with Legacy Systems: All businesses have legacy systems that contain data and use processes that are integral to the operation of the business. The Internet provides a means to ensure that this data is securely moved to your cloud-based solution and made available to all of your team members. So, your investments in systems can continue to be leveraged despite the use of new technologies.

What are you waiting for?

Clearly, the time is right for a change to a less risky, less confused, less expensive, less disjointed model with fewer training requirements than what is currently in place in the majority of departments and work places in industry today. Are your budgets tighter? Are you happy with the current situation? Your SaaS (software as a service) vendor’s cost and implementation costs should be low enough to make you think twice before continuing on the path of the current experts.

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