Projects: Can't live with them, can't live without them. At any one time, any organization seems to have an endless number of projects running and just as many new ones being proposed. Some are vital for business survival and expansion, while others are merely desirable. More than a few turn out to be unnecessary, unwanted or downright destructive.
"Projects may not be well aligned to the organization's strategy," said Kathie Poindexter, manager Product Marketing, Epicor. "This can result in project selection and prioritization inconsistencies, as well as ineffective resource management across projects."
One way to address project chaos is with project portfolio management (PPM). Poindexter defines PPM as a way of achieving a total overview of all projects in various stages in an organization's project portfolio. The goal of PPM is to organize projects and programs by outlining objectives, costs, timelines, accomplishments, resources and risks. It allows executives to regularly review all projects, spread resources appropriately and adjust projects to produce the highest returns, much like an investment manager oversees financial investment portfolios.
"IT leaders are under increasing pressure to improve the speed, accuracy and agility of their project organization," said Yasser Mahmud, vice president of Product Strategy and Industry Marketing for Oracle's Primavera Global Business Unit. "PPM is an integral capability for leading enterprises because it focuses organizations on delivering initiatives that add the most value while balancing the risks and impacts to scarce resources. It complements traditional ERP capabilities to provide a more future-facing perspective complete with visual forecasting, Monte Carlo simulation and what-if scenario analyses."
Although it is perhaps most common in the IT world, PPM has expanded beyond its IT roots and is now being used in the manufacturing, professional services, aerospace and defense, construction and engineering industries. PPM helps organizations in these industries centralize the management of processes, methods and technologies involved in ongoing projects. The objective is to optimize resources, establish timelines and address the constraints imposed by customers, management or external factors.
Shortlist of Project Portfolio Management Tools
In recent years, more PPM tools have become available. Here are a few possible candidates:
Oracle offers a range of both software-as-a-service (SaaS) and on-premise PPM applications. Oracle acquired PPM specialist Primavera in 2008. Primavera is aimed at project-based organizations that want a more standardized approach to managing the work and resources that go into activities such as construction, maintenance, manufacturing and product development. Functional capabilities of Primavera include project planning and scheduling, resource management, portfolio analysis, risk analysis, contract and change management, and project cost controls.
In 2012 Oracle acquired Skire Unifier to strengthen the Primavera product line via SaaS native capabilities for project cost controls, contract and change management, construction document management, and facilities and real estate management. Through the acquisition it also gained industry-specific project tools related to consumer goods, retail, healthcare and education. It also purchased SaaS-based Instantis. Oracle Instantis provides cloud-based PPM targeted at IT organizations as well as Six Sigma process improvement initiatives.
"We see many Oracle customers reap the benefits of PPM solutions in harmony with Oracle E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards," Mahmud said.
CA Technologies offers several PPM options. CA Clarity PPM is available on premise and on demand. Both have similar features and capabilities including: an interface with CA Clarity Playbook to align work in progress with strategic initiatives; "what if" and change impact analysis; financial management and budgeting; resource management; mobile time-tracking; and role-based views and reporting.
"We are seeing increase in demand for our CA Clarity PPM On Demand offering, approximately three-quarters of our new customers choose it because they don't want the hassle of managing infrastructure and supporting another application," said Mary Cauwels, senior director Product Marketing, PPM at CA Technologies.
According to Poindexter, Epicor Project Management is for project managers who plan and execute simple or complex projects that can require intricate multi-level phases as well as strict costing and complex billing. It is available on premise or in the cloud. Embedded within Epicor ERP, it utilizes the estimation, planning, scheduling, costing and supply chain logistics of Epicor for control and analysis of any project.
Epicor also offers Resource Management, which provides a representation of resource capabilities and availability; Time and Expense Management and Approval, which ensures projects accurately reflect true costs; and Billing and Revenue Recognition functionality, which enforces compliance with contract requirements and accounting standards.
"Throughout the process, embedded project analysis and reporting combined with business process management provides status information and alerts," said Poindexter.
Microsoft Project Online
Microsoft Project Online provides either lightweight or rigorous approaches to PPM. Online PPM is a combination of Project Pro for Office 365 (online version of Project Professional 2013 client application) and Project Online. Delivered through Office 365, Project Online enables organizations to get started and prioritize project portfolio investments from nearly any device.
With Microsoft Project Pro for Office 365, users receive the latest version of Project Professional as a subscription through Office 365, said Sajan Parihar, senior product manager, Project Product Management Group, Microsoft. Examples of Microsoft PPM customers include a marketing agency that has decreased project management time by 10 percent using Project Online, and a construction manufacturer scaling Project Online from 20 people up to 10,000 users.
"Prior to the availability of SaaS solutions, it would take few weeks or months and upfront infrastructure costs for users to implement PPM," said Parihar. "Project Online allows them to provision the service within a few minutes and be up and running with zero up-front infrastructure costs."
Parihar made it clear, though, that the value derived from PPM software is directly proportional to the PPM maturity of an organization. Those who have a project management office (PMO) or who have portfolio management professionals on the payroll tend to gain the most benefit, Parihar said.
Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).