Implementing a Computer-based
Project Management Capability:
Components for Success

Author: Harvey A. Levine
The Project Knowledge Group
Saratoga Springs, NY & San Diego, CA

Last month, we wrote about a balanced approach to selecting project management software. However, the process of specifying, evaluating and selecting project management software is only one part of the larger process of implementing a computer-based project management capability. For this implementation to be successful, we must apply four additional steps. The five components of this process are:

  • Methods
  • Tools (Software Selection)
  • Training
  • Implementation Plan
  • Audit Process

This phase must precede the tools selection phase. The tools are required to automate and facilitate the application of your project management methodology. Therefore, you have to define this methodology first. By "methodology" we mean "how do you manage projects". This includes how you are organized to handle projects, as well as what practices are in place to manage projects.

If you do not yet have such practices in place, this is the time to address these issues - rather than after you have selected the tools. Specifically, I prescribe that you outline the entire PM process, creating manual forms for all of the practices, data and reports that you will be needing for the process. Later, in the tools phase, you will replace the manual forms and reports with your software-generated forms. These may be hard copies, screen forms or both.

Start by holding workshops and brainstorming the desired PM processes. Review your current methodology. Assess the adequacy of your current methods. Consider the corporate culture and the system users.

You will be looking at both processes and culture. Bob Lewis, in InfoWorld, describes "Processes" as the steps that employees follow to accomplish a result. He describes "Culture" as their attitude and behavior. Naturally, both must be considered.

Identify the project stakeholders and get them involved in the process. Project stakeholders may include: The Project Manager, The Functional Managers, The Project Sponsor, Top Management, The Doers, The Client, and Regulatory Agencies. Don't forget the staff functions, such as Finance, Training, Systems and Personnel.

Ask the team: What do you manage? What are project sizes, data volume, update frequency? Who are the system users? What is your computer environment? Is this environment changing?

All of this should lead to the determination and documentation of your preferred PM process. Now, you can move on to determining your PM software needs and developing the selection criteria. This was discussed in the previous whitepaper.

Now that we have taken care of the first two phases; Methods and Tools, we can move on to the third key element preceding the implementation itself. This is personnel training. There are two distinct training categories:

  • Project Management Training
  • PM Software Training

General PM training is the most important. You can be certain that the results from use of the tools by un-knowledgeable individuals will be detrimental to your success. Everyone involved in contributing to project success should be trained in the basic concepts of project management. It is an error to assume that everyone inherently understands project management, and it is unfair to expect these people to perform successfully in this area without the benefit of such training.

A formal program should be made available to a wide audience, encompassing a wide scope of topics and skills of value to both project and functional performers participating in projects. This program should define the firm's policies and expectations for the management of projects. It should also make it clear that project management is a "way of life" in the firm, and that support for the program is a "condition of employment".

Detailed PM training, including use of the tools, should vary according to the role of the individual. For instance, I first like to divide the user community into two types: In-ses and Out-ses. The In-ses are people who feed information into the system. The Out-ses are people who use and respond to information from the system. This first group of people must understand the basics of planning and control. If you are using critical path scheduling, they must understand what really happens when you say that task A is a predecessor to task B. My experience has been that untrained people will describe their project to the system and be completely dismayed by the result because they did not understand what the tool did with their inputs.

The Out-ses also need to understand how the resulting information was determined. But my biggest concern is that they often don't know how to interpret and respond to the information. It is important to remember that reports are not issued just to provide status. They are issued so that problems can be identified and that corrective action can be taken. Therefore, we need to train these people to read the reports, how to identify an out of tolerance condition, and how to respond to such situations.

When implementing the system, you will want to identify all recipients of the outputs, determine what they need to know, and design custom outputs for each one that presents the story that will help them to carry out their specific project responsibility. Once these reports are designed, tutor these individuals to get the response that you need. You cannot take it for granted that the reader will know what to look for and how best to respond so as to remedy any problems. In each case, we need to look at what each participant needs to know to be effective in their project management role. You need to ask: "Who needs to know what?"

Finally, to bring a professional demeanor to the PM process, think about implementing a PM certification program, either internally or by sponsoring attendance at an educational institution. Also consider promoting PM certification via the Project Management Institute's PMP program.

Today's project-centric organizations are promoting excellence in project management and are finding ways to recognize project management excellence within their organization structure.

Implementation Plan
Now that we've defined our PM methodology, selected tools, and trained personnel, it's time to look at how the new process will be implemented? It is imperative to develop an Implementation Plan. There are several components to this plan, including:

  • Directive
  • Procedure
  • Plan
  • Kickoff Program

First, you'll need a Directive, from senior management, establishing project management as a "way-of-life" in the firm, and support for project management as a "condition of employment".

Next, develop a set of Procedures, defining the implementation process. Remember, the implementation of your computer-based project management capability is, in itself, a project. Treat it like one, and use this opportunity to test and improve your process.

Follow this with an Implementation Plan, showing the steps of implementation and a schedule for their accomplishment. It is not necessary to implement the full project management process at once, across the firm. It is best to select pilot projects for implementation. That gives people and the processes time to come up to speed. The practices can then be fine-tuned as we learn from our initial experiences.

Start things off with a Kickoff Program. You're looking for procedural and cultural change when you implement project management. You need to make a big deal out of it. You need to draw attention to the program and its importance. You need to make certain that people know that top management is serious about this. Introduce the Directive, the Procedures, and the Implementation Plan with a formal program.

The Audit Process
You can't initiate a program and expect that things are just going to happen. There needs to be an Audit Process. So you need to develop a procedure for monitoring the implementation plan. The audit process makes sure that the directive and procedures are clear and are being followed. Responsible Managers are designated to conduct the audit, on an ongoing basis. They will provide assistance in getting people up to speed, and, if necessary, call people to task for not supporting the program.

The Gantt Chart, below, illustrates a typical PM Implementation Plan. The timing is not as important as the phases and steps.

PM Implementation Plan (Click to enlarge)
Click to Enlarge


Harvey A. Levine, with 43 years of service to the project management industry, is founder of The Project Knowledge Group, a consulting firm specializing in PM training, PM software selection, evaluation & implementation, and PM using microcomputers. He has implemented or enhanced the project management capabilities of numerous firms, often combined with the selection or implementation of computerized project management tools. For more information on Harvey Levine or the Project Knowledge Group, please visit

Mr. Levine is the leading consultant to the project management software industry and is recognized as the leading expert in tools for project management. He has been Adjunct Professor of Project Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Boston University. He has conducted project management public seminars for ASCE, AMA, IBM, PMI.

Mr. Levine is the author of books, articles and videos on Project Management. His 2002 book, "Practical Project Management: Tips, Tactics, and Tools", is still available from John Wiley & Sons. Mr. Levine's new book, "Project Portfolio Management, A Practical Guide to Selecting Projects, Managing Portfolios, and Maximizing Benefits", Jossey-Bass, was released in July, 2005. Mr. Levine is past president of the Project Management Institute, a recipient of PMI's 1989 Distinguished Contribution to Project Management award, and has been elected a Fellow of PMI.

Mr. Levine has offices in Saratoga Springs, NY and San Diego, CA. His e-mail address is: