“E”, has long had a place of significance, at least during my lifetime.
Perhaps my first remembrance of “E” was on an eye chart. Actually, my eyes
were so bad that I could hardly get below the “E”, so the lone “E” at the
top made a lasting impact.
Today, we are continually bombarded with E’s, both large and small. The
little “e” generally stands for “electronic”, such as in
"e-mail". We have gone from the “me” generation to the “e”
generation. It is everywhere and effects almost everyone (except my
92-year-old mother-in-law, who bemoans the inability to participate in the
family’s e-mail round-robin, but continues to resist capitulating to the
ERP and all that Jazz
For us in the project management community, the large “E” generally refers
For over at least a decade, we have had it drummed into our heads that
“projects” do not exist in isolation, nor do businesses normally rely on a
single project for their success.
Emerging from this “revelation”, of course, were tools to assist the
enterprise in addressing the issues associated with running projects within
the larger scheme of things. Hence was born: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
software. A new industry emerged, both as extensions of existing developers
(Oracle), and vendors who focused on ERP, such as SAP, Baan, Peoplesoft and
J.D. Edwards. (Note: As this is being written, the ERP field may be
whittled down to as little as two or three survivors.)
ERP tools focus on specific sub-sets of the project-based enterprise. Among
the most popular are accounting & finance, and human resource
management. Others include supply chain, and opportunity management.
Extending the Focus to PSA
As different industries joined the search for software that stretched
beyond the usual span of project management, a few new enterprise-wide
approaches came on to the scene. In the Information Technology (IT) area,
the project focus was changing from an emphasis on the schedules, to an
emphasis on the effect on resources. While the engagement timing concerns
were still an issue, even more attention was addressed to whether there
were enough resources available to support the engagements, whether the
right resources were available, and if not, were they obtainable. There
were two sub-sets of the IT application. The first was for groups that
handled their IT needs with internal labor. The other was for groups that
provided such services as a business. The latter are called Professional
Services Organizations (PSO). These PSOs are also concerned with the return
on their resource investment.
To meet this emerging set of needs, a new software industry was born:
Professional Services Automation (PSA). For PSOs, PSA solutions work to
automate as much of the sales cycle as possible. This includes managing
leads, managing contacts, drafting proposals and bids, managing projects,
and performing win/loss analysis. PSA software allows for the storing of
detailed customer information including contact information, competitor bids
and proposals, as well as any documents that relate to a given opportunity.
The software allows the PSO to know the needs and habits of prospective
clients so that it can generate successful bids.
The focus by IT Departments is slightly different. Managers can search
across programs and projects and access very detailed information on
employees to find the closest desired match in a weighted manner, which is
dynamic in certain instances. This includes the ability for parametric
(case-based reasoning) searches.
Typical PSA software is a collection of any of the following capabilities:
Sales Force Automation (SFA), Opportunity Management, Resource Management,
Human Resources, Program/Project Management, Time and Expense Management
(T&E), Document Management, Knowledge or Practice Management, Invoicing
& Billing (Financials), and Customer Relationship Management.
Unless the PSA offering is a development from a traditional PS software
vendor, the PM component of most PSA systems is either an external product
(such as Microsoft Project) or another third-party or acquired product. The
potential for interoperability deficiencies can diminish the usefulness of
the total offering.
The PSA industry, now about five years old, is struggling to reach
profitability and many of the new firms have failed or been absorbed by
Extending the Focus to PLM
As I look at some of the developing trends, I see people getting on the
bandwagon for "fads" that have little substance. Yet, as these
fad-of-the-year categories hit the street, it seems that everyone wants to
claim a stake to the territory. The latest one is PLM. At a conference that
I attended in Scottsdale
recently, at least half of the discussions and vendor focus was on Project Lifecycle Management.
This conference was attended primarily by people who are at the leading
edge of designing and using computers in support of Mechanical Design and
A/E/C applications. The core applications for this group are CAD, CAE, and
document handling. There is also limited interest in traditional PM.
The PLM approach is, for this community, a different look at PM, such as
PSA has become for the IT community. A Merrill-Lynch investment manager
described PLM as an emerging market and one that is attractive for
investment. I’m not betting my wad on this.
What is PLM? If you ask ten people, you are likely to get at least twelve
descriptions. One answer, when you ask what it is, is "you’ll know it
when you see it". It appears to have a varied scope, depending on the
application and the vendor. They are still working on the message and the
definition. But that is not stopping everyone from talking about PLM.
In general, PLM is the recognition that there are several linked phases to
a project, starting from conception and continuing through closeout. There
is a major benefit from being able to capture all pertinent data and
knowledge (in some digital format) that can be carried through to the next
phase (rather than starting all over).
Obviously, this is not a monumental discovery. But what these people are
saying is that tools in support of projects should address all of these
phases. As a result, we are running into a second popular theme. This is
There seems to be some question as to who is really responsible for
interoperability. We don’t see too much effort on the part of tool
designers. So this provides an opportunity for third-party "systems
integrators". Among those firms attempting to claim a stake in PLM are
IBM, EDS, and PLC. (Is there a law that says that all acronyms must contain
Certainly, the ability to select and match components of a PLM system, and
then bridge the interoperability hurdles, will take time. And, based on
past history, will take a few iterations.
More Alphabet Soup: Project
Along with ERP, PSA and PLM, we will run across PPM (Project Portfolio
Management). This is another catch-all term for doing what we ought to be
doing. But, again, the scope and shape of PPM defies definition. It is
certainly more than a software solution. It is even more than a process.
PPM is a culture. It includes the tools. It includes the processes. It
requires the establishment of some type of central project office. It
mandates an advanced system of data management, analysis, and
communication, all aimed at efficient and effective collaboration and
Therefore, do not expect to “buy” PPM as an off-the-shelf product, from a
PPM calls for the alignment of projects with enterprise goals and strategies.
PPM calls for the alignment of resources with projects, and vice versa. PPM
calls for the optimization of ROI, opportunities, client satisfaction, and
rewards for the firm.
PPM is certainly another “E” term. It can encompass all of the above, and then
some. You don’t want to be in the projects business without addressing and
satisfying this capability.
Traditional PM Tools
With the emergence of ERP, PSA, PLM and PPM, where does this leave
traditional PM tools? As mentioned earlier, some of these tools have been
embedded (or loosely connected) to the emerging systems. In other cases,
the rock-solid PM tools have expanded their capabilities to address the
wider needs. This is especially noticeable in the area of Resource
Before we get into this, let’s note that the ERP-PSA-PLM solutions, for the
most part, treat critical path scheduling as a minor part of the system.
When they talk about the “project management” segment of the system, it
usually is not as robust as what we will find in traditional PM programs.
So, if you’re really serious about project planning and control, you will
usually be better off with a proven traditional PM tool. But, we can’t
forget about the need to address resources and costs on an enterprise-level
basis. This means beefing up these capabilities in our traditional tools.
Let’s look at Resource Allocation, for example.
Expanding the Resource Allocation
Capabilities in PM Tools
In the enterprise, our resource pool may be quite large. It may consist of
permanent, temporary and outsourced personnel, having multiple skills, in
multiple locations. The resources may be allocated to single projects, or
split among multiple projects. They may be allocated for specified time
segments, or possibly reserved for pending projects.
Today’s PM programs must allow for these conditions. They must allow a task
owner to define required skills and schedules for tasks and the system must
allow initial assignment by classification (and skill) as an option to
eventually selecting a specific resource. The system must aid in this
selection, working from an enterprise-wide database. Conditional
allocations must be able to be made to reserve resources for opportunities
that are not yet approved projects. Classic resource leveling routines are
not adequate to do the job.
We are beginning to see these capabilities become available and they will
be most welcome. Look, also, for improvements in tracking actuals and time
accounting, to support the wider range of conditions in an enterprise-wide
Traditional PM software vendors continue to be profitable and most have
survived the technology economic downturn. This is the most solid segment
of the industry.
The Significance of “E”
The “E” word (enterprise) is certainly popular and relevant to project
management. We must look for computer support that aids in achieving
project success in this environment. Many solutions are offered – each with
advantages and disadvantages. Many will fall short of delivering their
promise, and none will do everything that you want, even if you apply them
Yet, I wouldn’t want to venture into the projects fray without a good set
of tools, placed in a well-structured project environment. Hopefully, this
overview will help you to find the best solution for your needs.
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 http://home.earthlink.net/~halevine/.
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,
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: email@example.com.