Challenges to implementing a Web-based project management system

Our columnist shares the challenges faced, and obstacles met, by one company deploying a Web-based project management system.

Helping plan and implement a Web-based project management system for one of my clients, a global construction company, presented a number of challenges. One of the main challenges was developing a system that would allow the sharing of hundreds of thousands of documents among teams stationed around the world.

Following a comprehensive planning phase, we embarked on implementing the system. While the organization considers the new Web-based project management system a success, the project did have its difficulties along the way. As with any other project, there were pitfalls to avoid and a learning curve to follow. Here are some of the challenges we faced, along with advice on how you can avoid some of the same problems.

Catching up with part 1
Part one of this series covered the project’s planning phase.

Refusal to use the system
We underestimated the high level of commitment and loyalty that some users had to the tools and techniques that were already in place, a factor that was apparent when some legacy tools and techniques conflicted with the new system. It took a considerable amount of time to convince several individuals about the benefits of adopting our new Web-based project management framework.

In spite of all the training efforts and directions from upper management to utilize the system, a few team members refused to use it. There were several causes for this problem. First, the implementation was taking place in the middle of a project, and the team members did not have time to learn new tools. Second, the team could not visualize the benefits from using this new system and were not willing to invest the time and effort to learn it. Third, in the beginning, management mandated the use of tools but failed to follow up with enforcement. In addition, we had to refocus training on how to perform job functions using the system—nobody wanted to take time away from work to learn something that wasn't directly relevant to his or her job.

The primary lesson we learned is to introduce the system to the participants before project planning begins, as it is much more difficult to switch to a new system than to begin with a new one.

Measurement problem
For some team members using the new system, benefits appeared to be marginal. This effect was the result of a measurement problem. How did we measure benefits? The team needed to compare the old process with the new one. We had to devise a mechanism that measured the effectiveness of the new system in terms of resource usage, availability of reliable and timely information, and project controls. Some of the things we looked at included:
  • The ability to consolidate multiple project plans.
  • The average time a major, outstanding issue remained opened.
  • The extent to which team members and project managers maintained their own separate schedules.

Many of the parties involved in the project did not have a clear definition of productivity. For example, for team members paid by the hour, reducing the number of hours required to do a job was not an attractive option unless there were balancing considerations, such as competitive pressures. Only the owners of the company were clearly motivated to do more with less. However, the owners were not the main users of the system.

Savings can be significant
Part of the success of this Web-based project management system implementation was evident by the savings in courier costs alone for this major international construction company. The electronic transmission of documents was faster, cheaper, and more auditable than using courier services. The net savings in courier costs fully paid for the cost of development, implementation, and maintenance of the new system. The cost of development (version 1.0) and implementation was around $350,000. Total savings associated with courier costs and paper were around $400,000 for the duration of the project.

Using old project management processes
The new Web-based system was in place, but the organization continued to employ the same project management processes. We needed to integrate the new tools into the existing project management strategy.

A consistent, integrated, systematic approach to Web-based project management would yield the best results because we should build processes around information, knowledge management, and collaboration. This would lead to major changes for most organizations, regardless of their core businesses. Your organization should take an accurate inventory to assess its current alignment, willingness, and readiness for a Web-based project management approach.

Resistance from different types of users
We faced resistance from users at different levels in the project process. For example, project managers did not want to share information, higher-level managers did not want to become involved in project decisions, and team members found it burdening to update a common schedule. To overcome this problem, we had to integrate a change management plan with our implementation plan. Raising the awareness within the organization through workshops, e-mails, bulletins, newsletters, training, help desk, and upper management commitment was essential.

Difficult-to-use interface
A few team members felt that the Web-based interface was not user-friendly. This problem was the result of ineffective testing of procedures from a user’s point of view. A few team members became frustrated with the interface and stopped using the whole system or decided to use only a small part of its functionality. To rectify this problem, we needed to have extensive user involvement in preparing the procedures and designing the interface.

Critical success factors
We believe that our success in the implementation of a Web-based project management system was due to the following factors:
  • The appropriate selection of technologies, tools, and techniques to support the analysis, design, development, implementation, and maintenance of the tool
  • Senior management support and commitment to the tool
  • Extensive training that focused on task completion
  • The organization’s readiness, willingness, and ability to work in a Web-based project management environment, including assessing/adapting the organization’s people, technology, work environment and culture, systems, and processes

Plans for the future
The customer is preparing to use an upcoming major upgrade to the system on a few pilot projects. The new version is more flexible and customizable. The company is preparing to take advantage of the advancements in technology that took place during the last two years and is anticipating additional benefits, such as integrating its major suppliers and subcontractors to streamline bidding and procurement activities.

Implementing a Web-based project management system is not a silver bullet solution to issues associated with the project management process. It does not ensure adequate employee or client input, it will not automatically resolve issues such as ownership of resources, nor will it guarantee management support. An implementation of this size and scope requires a cultural change in the organization and is associated with many difficulties. This change requires extensive planning, management backing, availability of resources, and monitoring of performance. In other words, it requires all of the ingredients for completing a project on time, within budget, according to specifications, and meeting customer expectations.

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