Project Management

Considerations when integrating Microsoft Project and PPM solutions

Before integrating a Microsoft Project schedule with a project portfolio management (PPM) tool, there are five questions you should ask yourself.

You can integrate and update a Microsoft Project schedule with a project portfolio management (PPM) tool such as CA Clarity or Microsoft Project Server. By doing so, you can achieve resource management, schedule management, time keeping, and objective project and portfolio metrics. When you incorporate standard reporting templates and integrated project schedule data, you quickly obtain a standardized view of the projects executing across the portfolio using real-time data.

When I first heard about Microsoft Project integration with PPM solutions, I thought it must be the fastest way to achieve transparency between the top-down scorecard hungry portfolio managers and the project teams performing the work. After spending several years managing programs with these solutions, I've found that there are multiple approaches and things to consider. For instance, some project teams may prefer to publish a complete resource constrained project schedule, while others may prefer to incorporate a milestone only plan.

Schedule detail

I find it useful to determine the level of schedule detail required to support Microsoft Project and PPM integration. In order to make that determination, you should ask yourself the following five questions.

1. Do all team members agree to use the PPM tool?

Project teams may comprise of business SMEs, external vendors, and stakeholders outside of the core team; if these team members are assigned tasks on the project schedule, they will need access to the tool to provide updates, record issues, and respond to action items.

In complex projects and programs with multiple vendors and business customers, each camp of stakeholders will have their own processes and reporting expectations. For instance, a vendor will use their own PPM tool, while providing input into the client's project management reporting process.

Establishing how the different PPM tools will be used can help determine how to manage issues, risks, and schedule management in a PPM tool.

2. Do all team members have network access and licenses to use the PPM tool?

A PPM solution that is limited to the project manager falls short of the collaborative project benefits that a PPM scheduling tool provides. All team members who need to update the project schedule, the issue repository, and the risk register will need network access and licenses to use the tool.

Depending on your company's budget, allocating licenses to every project team member assigned to the schedule could be a costly initiative. If your project uses external vendors, the vendor may not even have network access to use the tool.

3. Will all team members exist as resources in the tool?

Organizations seeking to adopt resource management using project schedule data will need to create a resource entry in the PPM tool for every project team member. In small organizations, this is easily accomplished, but in large enterprise organizations, the entire resource pool needs to be converted from a corporate directory or an organizational hierarchy. The resource pool also needs to be refreshed and maintained as project teams turn over. Adding resources in PPM tools isn't difficult, although it does require planning for a small conversion for larger organizations.

4. Do all the project managers understand how to build a project schedule using a PPM tool?

Microsoft Project and Clarity support resource management and maintain a resource pool at the server level and will shift project end dates based on the resource pool's commitments to other projects, corporate-level holiday calendars, and region-specific calendars. Project managers need training to effectively use the server-based project schedule template, assign resources from the resource pool, and develop the project schedule.

If the project managers are simply picking dates and assigning resources to tasks, the end result will be a constraint-based schedule that will cause frustration when resources are added, dates shift, and overallocations occur.

If the project managers understand how to build a dynamic project schedule by leveraging a calendar-driven resource pool, it will reduce the number of problems encountered when integrating project schedules within a PPM tool.

A poorly developed project schedule wrapped within a PPM tool with all the whiz-bang collaboration features and dashboard reporting is still a poorly developed project schedule.

5. Is this a new project?

Since PPM scheduling solutions require the project schedule to be developed with a central resource pool, new projects are better suited to adopt the PPM solution. If the project already has a developed project schedule, and the project has been executing outside of the tool, you should consider a conversion to the PPM solution.

The project team will need to determine if supporting an administrative project schedule conversion is worth the time and effort for in-flight projects. I've converted in-flight projects into existing PPM tools, and it is a manageable but considerable undertaking. Depending on the size of the project schedule, the effort to convert resources, task start and finish dates, task baseline start and finish dates, and dependencies can be a significant.

Evaluation

If you answered "Yes" to all these questions, then your project is better prepared to integrate the entire project schedule with the PPM solution. If you answered "No" to any of these questions, your project may be better suited to publishing a milestone-level schedule in the tool. If you decide to publish a milestone-only level schedule, your organization will lose accurate visibility to the PPM resource management features and just-in-time schedule reporting. However, resource management may not be a priority compared to an accurate inventory of projects in the portfolio.

Integrating a milestone-only schedule will also require you to monitor milestone dates and update the data in the PPM tool separately. In large programs, I've created my own milestone-level project schedule that contains individual milestones from each project in the program. I monitor these milestone dates by comparing them to the detailed level plans and update the PPM tool accordingly.

Tradeoffs

Internal projects that use an established pool of resources and a single integrated plan can benefit from a complete project schedule level of integration. If you adopt this approach, you will need to balance the administrative scheduling overhead in addition to the actual delivery of the project.

If your organization isn't actively prioritizing resource management, I favor a milestone-only approach. If resource management is required, there are other techniques to consider in addition to examining project schedules. No one ever rewarded me for publishing a detailed project schedule in a PPM tool, but they did appreciate the successful delivery of a project.

The PPM features are enticing to use, although the decision making is only as good as the data in the system. Despite the one-click push button demonstrations, integrating a project schedule with a PPM solution isn't as easy as it seems. You need to consider the application of the tool and its collaborative use within the project before jumping to a detailed or a milestone-level integration.

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About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

3 comments
dentrekin
dentrekin

Great article. Moving from stand-alone PM to PPM is very much like moving to an integrated CRM, or HR. There is a price to pay for putting all the data into a normalized system. Resource planning is just one (vital) facet of the equation, and your examples of some of the challenges are spot on. If we are moving from a non-integrated environment, such as MSP, Excel and Sharepoint, then we are familiar with the fact that the planning styles do not integrate with one another. We are probably accustomed to either a fair amount of manual reconciliation or simply not knowing what the big picture actually looks like. We call that manual effort "doing our job." We just muscle things out. But like CRM and HR, you get something for the price you pay. I won't detail the list of what you get here. You can get that from talking to customers who have made the leap and ain't going back. - Demian Entrekin http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/ppmtoday/

Northern PM
Northern PM

I too have spent some time working on trying to integrate tools and processes and people with expectations on Portfolio or resource management tools. In my experience many of these PPM solutions fail in the day to day running, not in the so-called implementation. One can have initial agreements on usage, but no usable training plans or materials. One can have all existing resources added into the tool by project staff and have no method for dealing with moves, adds or changes. This leads to my additional question for any organization thinking about implementing a PPM tool Do you have a resource to be a system administrator and the processes and materials needed for this role? Without someone who is responsible for the tool, it will grind to a halt in a matter of months, maybe longer depending on staff turn around. There must be a system owner/administrator who has the wherewithal to train users, project managers and resource managers and work with those groups to improve the system. The system admin must also be tied into the HR process so that staff changes flow into the system.

andrejs.berzins
andrejs.berzins

Having gone through the process of implementing 200 Project Server users you really need to look at the basic presumptions on the merits of doing it (benefits) and the maturity of your organization. If you are a real project-centric organization, the benefits go on and on (what's listed in the article is 20%). On the other hand, if you allow milestone planning, no requirement for detailed reporting and have other solutions for documentation/QM... you may not want to pay the price for the benefits. Look also closely at the billing / accounting issue. If you really want resource management and really want to see how much time is spent vs. billable you really start reaping the financial and reporting benefits of a PPM solution. Without a PPM, I wouldn't trust any metrics or KPI's provided by any organization reflecting total time spent. Timeslips are ok for billing but not for resource managment.

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