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EPM is Pronounced PMO!

“How do you pronounce ‘EPM’?” I asked one of our consultants recently.

“Enterprise Project Management?” he replied.

“No,” I said. “You pronounce it P-M-O.”

It has become more and more common in recent years for us to have to deliver this message to prospective clients considering the implementation of an Enterprise Project Management System.  It’s no wonder that most consulting firms who deliver EPM system deployment assistance also manage extensive requests to implement Project Management Offices.  “Do you have a PMO?” has become one of our most immediate watershed questions.  Those who answer no are usually not in a position to take immediate advantage of an EPM system.  Those who answer yes often have established some of the basic pre-requisites that anyone should be looking for before putting down money for their favourite EPM Software.  Here are a few of the key pre-requisites we look for when a client calls and asks us to implement an EPM System.

Do You have a PMO?

I might as well start here given it’s how I started the column.  The existence of a project management office is almost essential to a successful EPM deployment and here’s why.  Every EPM system essentially brings many project managers and project resources together into a centralized project management environment.  All their data will now be centrally stored.  The data may be centrally calculated and analyzed.  The benefits being sought by those who buy EPM systems are typically centralized benefits; things like resource capacity planning and inter-project impact reports and organization-wide project variance analysis and corporate reporting.  All of these things can be wonderful, but they imply some level of coordinated action.  The data must be saved by everyone in the same period of time.  The data must be analyzed in the same manner.  The data from project one must be able to integrate at some level with the data from project two and so on.  This simply doesn’t happen by accident and while EPM tools have the capacity for coordinated action, they can’t make people behave differently. 

What each EPM system absolutely needs is a centralized place where standards and the enterprise project management system can be maintained.  It requires someone who will be looking for others to comply with the central system and will ensure that data received is both complete and acceptable to the standards that have been set.  Imagine if there was no common understanding of how to define resource assignments or even how to name resources.  Some project managers would enter them as skills, others as individuals, others as departments.  It would be chaos.  Imagine if some project managers updated their projects every week, others every month and still others only at the project’s outset and completion; you’d never know when you could produce an accurate organization-wide report. 

A flag-bearer for standards

While we’re talking about standards, there has to be someone central who will be their champion.  Even if these practices and procedures somehow got produced from the end users, who will be their keeper?  Some will say “We’ll all keep them,” but that leaves no one accountable to ensure the practices are being followed.  Standards are essential to an EPM system even if that system is completely manual.  Some people get concerned that this centralized person will have too much authority but this too can be managed within the standards.  The notion that a group of people can be accountable is silly.  People will do whatever they think is best but creation of standards doesn’t happen randomly.  This can only be done by someone central.  Moreover, you’re going to have to think about the future.  Even when standards and practices have been adopted, there will be changes.  When a change must be made, who will create it, update it, get it accepted by everyone and then ensure that it is written into corporate policy?  Again, this doesn’t happen from a random end user, it requires someone whose role it is to support those standards.

Project Management Practices and Procedures

One of the most common things we encounter when we’re called by a prospective client is a lack of centralized process.  When we ask to see a list of accepted practices and procedures for project management, we usually get a blank stare.  It’s not enough to have a PMO and a centralized Standard Bearer for the process, you’ve actually got to bite the bullet and create and agree on those standards.  Our usual recommendation is to start with the most minimal number of procedures possible and then let the list expand over time.  Some clients will try to create the ultimate über-list of practices and procedures and end up with a 700 page tome that no one will ever read because it’s too confronting.  Starting small but getting a high degree of consensus is by far the preferable plan.

One way or the other though, you’re going to have to agree on a few basics:

  • First, how you’ll name things. Naming conventions for projects, tasks and resources is absolutely essential
  • That you’ll store your projects centrally in whatever tool or repository you’ve chosen. A firm agreement has to be made on what data must be saved and what data need not be. Without this agreement and someone who will monitor compliance, your EPM system is going nowhere fast.
  • Frequency of updates. It makes no sense to have some data updated every week and some updated every year. Make an agreement on what the frequency should be for different kinds of data.

Support for the Technical Infrastructure

I can’t possibly list all the weird and wonderful infrastructure problems we’ve encountered at client sites.  We’ve been called in to help with a centralized server-based project management system only to find that it’s not installed on a server at all. It’s been squeezed onto someone’s laptop and every time they reboot, the system becomes unavailable to everyone.  We’ve seen server-based systems that aren’t listed in the IT department’s list of secure servers because some department installed them on their own.  The installation went fine, but the server will never be available because the IT department allows only authorized servers through the firewall.

Whatever centralized tool you select, you’re going to have to make sure that it is supported by the people in your organization who do such things.  Server-based project management tools are not like tools from 10 or 15 years ago.  They depend on a ‘stack’ of technology.  A database server, a web server, a firewall, an internet connection, a browser, the client operating system, an identity or security server and more.  When an update to your EPM system arrives, it may well require updates to all kinds of elements of the ‘stack’.  Someone needs to be accountable for ensuring that the system and all the technology that it depends on is maintained and monitored. There will be regular maintenance and monitoring required and that won’t happen with some random user.  It requires someone who will report back to the PMO that the system is working properly or that maintenance effort is required.

Implementing an Enterprise Project Management environment can lead an organization to a tremendous increase in efficiency.  When the economy is challenging, being more efficient is in high demand.  But, not having the pre-requisites ready or not considering what might be required to make an EPM environment successful can make an efficiency project very costly both in time and money.  Ask someone with experience to make sure that you’ve prepared properly before embarking on your EPM deployment.

Chris Vandersluis is the founder and president of HMS Software based in Montreal, Canada. He has an economics degree from Montreal’s McGill University and over 22 years experience in the automation of project control systems. He is a long-standing member of both the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) and is the founder of the Montreal Chapter of the Microsoft Project Association. Mr. Vandersluis has been published in numerous publications including Fortune Magazine, Heavy Construction News, the Ivey Business Journal, PMI’s PMNetwork and Computing Canada. Mr. Vandersluis has been part of the Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Partner Advisory Council since 2003. He teaches Advanced Project Management at McGill University’s Executive Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

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