Editor’s note: This article was originally published on December 9, 2002.
A project management information system (PMIS) contains the information essential for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing a project. For project managers, a PMIS can perform a mission-critical role by detailing a complete picture of all projects in your organization through all the phases of the project life cycle.
One of my clients, a global engineering company, took a major step by deciding to implement a PMIS. The next step is to determine the uses of the PMIS system to make certain that the PMIS will meet the information needs of the project manager and stakeholders.
The PMIS framework we implemented provides the methodology for collecting, organizing, storing, processing, and disseminating project information. It provides the basis for assessing the status of the project with respect to time, cost, and quality performance objectives. It also provides intelligence on how the project contributes to the organization’s strategy and success.
The PMIS also consists of people, policies, procedures, and systems (automated and manual), which provide the means for planning, monitoring, evaluating, and controlling a project through both formal and informal channels. (Formal channels include written progress reports and formal project evaluation and control meetings. Informal channels include observations by the project manager and discussions with the project team.)
PMIS in the project management life cycle
It is important to identify the PMIS functions and how they relate to the project management life cycle. Those functions occur in four primary areas:
During the initiation phase, the project manager uses the PMIS for:
- Preliminary budget, including cost estimates, labor requirements, and financial structure.
- Preliminary schedule, including the network model, schedule, and summary graphics.
- Approval cycle, including defining work scope, preparing the bid, and presenting the information to management.
In the planning phase, the project manager uses the PMIS for:
- Detailed schedule, including detailed task analysis, project working calendar, and critical path analysis.
- Cost management planning, including detailed work breakdown structure analysis, integration of control procedures, and specifications of cost accounts.
- Resource planning, including labor/material/equipment requirements, availability of resources, and resource leveling.
- Obtaining sign-off for baselines. This includes establishing baselines for scope, schedule, and cost.
Execution and control
Once the project is under way, the project team collects and enters current information from all project sites into the project database. The project team compares the actual to the baseline plan to track project progress. The PMIS provides cost and schedule forecasts to assist the project manager to develop scenarios concerning alternatives and corrective strategies. It assists the project manager and stakeholders in investigating opportunities for reducing costs and accelerating schedules. If we integrate the PMIS with purchasing and inventory databases, it will assist in expediting purchase orders, controlling inventories, and tracking deliveries. In this phase, the project manager uses the PMIS for:
- Materials management, which includes expediting orders, tracking deliveries, and controlling inventories.
- Cost collection, which includes collecting actual costs, extracting accounting data, and summarizing cost data.
- Performance measurement, which includes monitoring project status, analyzing variances, assessing productivity, and forecasting trends.
- Records management, which includes controlling drawings, tracking contracts, and records management.
- Reporting, which includes revising budgets, modifying schedules, analyzing alternatives, and recommending actions.
During this phase, the project manager and the team use the PMIS for reviewing requirements to ensure that the project has met all of its contractual requirements. Throughout the project life cycle, the team has entered information into the project database. We need to properly organize this information because it provides a comprehensive set of project archives, which includes contract performance review, productivity analysis, final project report, and historical archives.
The major modules of a PMIS
A PMIS (manual or automated) consists of the following modules designed to meet the specific reporting and decision needs of a project:
Planning and scheduling: This module provides a systematic process for depicting the qualitative goals, interdependencies, and time-sensitive information within the project.
Budgeting: This module provides for cost control monitoring. It integrates with the work breakdown structure. It keeps track of the funds and costs associated with work packages.
Work authorization and control: This module provides the basis for releasing work orders. Each work order is a small but crucial part of the project control. It specifies how we are going to implement requirements, which resources we are allowed to use, and the time over which we should complete the work.
Control of changes: This module provides a formal system for change review and control.
- It identifies changes as they occur.
- It reveals their consequences in terms of impact on project costs, duration, and other tasks.
- It permits managerial analysis, investigation of alternative courses of action, and acceptance or rejection.
- It communicates changes to all impacted parties.
- It specifies a policy for minimizing conflicts and resolving disagreements.
- It ensures that the project team implements approved changes.
- It periodically reports on all changes to date and their impact on the project.
Communicating all of these functions: This module provides regular narrative reports at every level of the project. These reports need to satisfy the information requirements of all the project stakeholders.
Others: Certain projects may require additional modules such as resource management, inventory control, document management, safety, and risk management.
The acquisition process
We developed a list of requirements based on the information needs of stakeholders throughout the project life cycle and used the list to research products, contact vendors, and reference all evaluation materials available. We identified a short list of three products, heard vendor presentations, and selected one product for further testing that would let us determine if the product meets the requirements. We then tested the product on a small-scale project and, after some minor modifications, decided to go with full implementation.
The system has been running for about six months, meaning it is too early to start quantifying the benefits. These benefits are highly dependent on the system as well as on the enhancements to the project management process. We need at least one year to develop a fair assessment of these benefits.
Project stakeholders should understand the importance of a PMIS in committing and using resources on a project. A PMIS is an essential component of planning and controlling the project. It has life-cycle coverage and supports the organizational information system. It provides relevant, accurate, and timely information, which is critical for managing a project.
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