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.