Wednesday 16 March 2022

Project Management: Plan, but Not Only


Many people are engaged in project management in companies, sometimes without even knowing it. More precisely, they may not suspect that what they are doing is a project. Because of this, they do not always understand what and how in their work can be automated, and much can be automated.

Projects are different and differ primarily in nature and scale. The most famous successful applications of automated project management methods in companies that are engaged in expensive projects - in construction, oil production, unique in complexity assembly plants (assembly of aircraft and ships). That is, in cases where the result of the project itself is several orders of magnitude more expensive than live labor or going beyond the planned deadlines is fraught with large losses. In such projects, extensive experience has been accumulated and standards for the production of works have been developed, which greatly simplifies the calculation of the duration and cost of the project. In addition, quality is generally defined by standards, and in many industries is measurable.

In the field of project management for the creation or implementation of IT, the situation is much more complicated. The IT industry is quite young, and the standards of duration, labor intensity and quality are extremely rare. Processes are very often performed iteratively, which is almost not found, for example, in construction. The cost of information systems is often comparable to the cost of developer labor, so the cost of acquiring and implementing project management automation tools for small and medium-sized companies seems excessive to many. The results of work do not always directly affect the efficiency of production and are often poorly measurable. All this reduces the motivation for applying project management methods in the practice of information services. However, recently, due to entering the international market and high competition in the IT market, many domestic customers and contractors have begun to really engage in project management and the introduction of automation tools.

Perhaps one of the main obstacles to this (along with the lack of economic motivation described above) is the low general culture of these methods and the low ability of organizations to restructure their activities. The fact is that the greatest results in this direction can be achieved by rebuilding the work not only in one project, but also in the organization as a whole. Organizational mechanisms should be focused on effective project management (for example, internal reporting and accounting of unit indicators, the procedure for opening and completing contracts and their stages), a personnel motivation system, a scheme for the interaction of services (for example, sales, logistics, design and production units). Unfortunately, such processes have not begun in most organizations and services (most often in organizations that move to work in accordance with the requirements of ISO 9000-2000 or SMM), and this often hinders the introduction of project management methods.

Who manages projects and why

But let all the necessary conditions be met, and we finally get down to business – practical project management. First of all, we will determine who should really do this, what are the interests of the participants in the process, whether they need automation and to what extent, and then how to automate their work.

Projects in the field of information technology (IT) in companies are engaged in different specialists:

the Director of Information Services (DIS);
project manager on the customer's side;
project manager on the part of the contractor.
And each of them is interested in project management in their own way.

For DIS, project management is not always its direct responsibility, but it is always a great concern. Without the organization of work planning, without minimizing the cost of resources, such its activities are simply unthinkable.

From a DIS perspective, it is important

to have:

a list of projects and technical requirements for the results of each of them;
a consolidated work plan with an assessment of its labor intensity, duration and cost;
assessment of the status and development of each project in time, space and resources, which will allow you to take into account which of the planned results are achievable at planned points in time, which are shifted and how this will affect the overall course of the project;

the process of supervising the progress of projects carried out by contractors in order to be sure of the achievability of results means having described and working processes and procedures for interaction with customers within the company and with contractors, as well as using uniform requirements for the quality of work and templates of documents submitted by contractors;
the processes of mastering the implemented IT, training its employees - non-professionals in the field of computer technology, as well as training the personnel of its service, which will accompany and maintain IT.
The customer's project manager, usually an information worker, is interested in four main things:

reasonable and reliable work planning;
fixing IT requirements (on the part of the company's services) and tracking their changes during the project;
accounting of issued tasks and monitoring their implementation;
clear, verifiable indicators of the quality of work performance.
The project manager on the part of the contractor is also interested in similar things.

So, common to all categories of managers are key positions:

  • planning for a range of indicators;
  • accounting for the progress of work, including if the contractor is geographically distant from the customer;
  • requirements and interaction regarding their change, including taking into account the possible remoteness of the contractor;
  • quality indicators.

Today we will not consider the issues of requirements and quality indicators. We will also not talk about the issuance and control of the execution of tasks (for the developing and accompanying organization, the so-called Change Request Management). But the rest of the issues are just the traditional scope of application of automated methods of project management.

Project Management Automation Tools

Managing complex projects without the use of tools ceased a couple of decades ago: it is unprofitable and almost unrealistic. Currently, the products of Primavera, Artemis, Open Plan are widely known - primarily for project management in construction and large-scale assembly production. There is also a positive experience of their use in Russia for projects of this type.

When choosing tools, it is important to understand the scale and nature of projects they are designed for, because depending on this, the tasks of planning the timing and resources of the project can be solved in different ways.

DIS – the director of the information service – is not a builder who orders projects to design institutes. His job is the formation of the company's information infrastructure. However, he also has complex projects related to the supply of equipment, the production of design, installation and commissioning works, with the interaction of a large number of organizations. In most cases, these are medium-sized projects (several hundred or thousands of works). However, for large companies (Gazprom, LUKOIL, Yukos, a large metallurgical plant), projects can be very large – then powerful tools (for example, Primavera) may be required.

A common distinguishing feature of the approaches embedded in large project management tools is that the tools themselves are not implemented. When implementing them, it is necessary to understand the following:

  • project management processes in the organization should be established, that is, organizational and economic decisions should be made and put into effect, establishing the procedure for project management, which, in fact, is automated;
  • training of personnel using automation tools is necessary;
  • work should be planned comprehensively for a number of time and resource indicators;
  • it is necessary to create and maintain a repository (a repository of data about projects);
  • it is necessary to use architectural solutions that allow the customer and the contractor to simultaneously see the status of the project and track its changes, especially in intranet technology.
  • It is also easy to see that the main area of application of market-leading tools is still construction, and their application in the field of IT projects so far has the character, apparently, of experimental implementation.

In programming organizations, MS Project is widely known, which has become the de facto standard in the IT industry: most planning and even design tools have an interface to it. Many people use MS Project to mark the performance of work during the project, to take into account the progress of the project and to visualize work schedules. Especially promising was the direction of its use after the release of the version with the Central repository, in which data on medium and large projects (thousands and tens of thousands of works) can be accumulated. Some software companies use sure Track, Time Line, and ABT Workbench packages to manage medium-sized projects.

From this point of view, it would be interesting in subsequent issues of the journal to see publications on the experience of using tools such as MS Project Central in projects for the development, implementation and maintenance of software systems and the implementation of ready-made solutions, for example, ERP systems. (Such experience is accumulated in a number of organizations, including ours.)

It should be noted that in recent years, Russian products - Project Expert, Spider Project - have also entered the market (primarily domestic and Eastern Europe).

How to plan software projects

For many projects, it is characteristic that they include a software component: software development (for example, a Web site or A B2B system), or its binding to the company's conditions (as they now say in Russian, customization), or the development of an existing system, its maintenance and modification. And in this case, the main difficulty is how to plan the work. After all, programmers do not have such standards as, for example, SNiP for builders. And before planning projects, I would like to have standards or at least a reliable assessment of the complexity and duration of the project. The above tools, unfortunately, do not provide such opportunities.

Specialists with experience in the field of creation and implementation of IT know that a number of factors are important for the success of such a project:

  • class of tasks to be solved, circulation of the finished product, type of work (development, development, support);
  • selection of the work scheme (life cycle model), taking into account the complexity of the project and the capabilities of the development team;
  • experience in the subject area and on development automation tools;
  • equipping developers with automation tools and hardware and software base;
  • the level of customer requirements for the timing and quality of work.

There are a number of techniques that allow you to assess the complexity of a software project, and according to it to predict the complexity and duration of the project. The most well-known methods are SOSOMO [1] and the method of functional points [2]. With their help, a number of organizations, including the CIS, assess the complexity of projects.

Perhaps the most well-known and effective tool for assessing the labor intensity, duration of projects and the number of defects expected during the project is currently the Knowledge Plan [3], a package based on the methodologies developed by Capers Jones [4] in the course of his almost 15-year practice in the evaluation and economic support of program projects. This package allows you to "measure" the processes of software development and maintenance regardless of the technology used to create it; in this case, only those functions that are "visible" to the customer/user are subject to evaluation.

The Knowledge Plan contains a knowledge base that stores the characteristics of about 15,000 completed projects in a parameterized form. Based on this knowledge and on the lifecycle models available in the Knowledge Plan arsenal, you can:

  • generate standard work plans for software development, development and maintenance projects;
  • clarify them with the parameters of the experience of a particular organization;
  • form an evaluated work plan for the project;
  • determine the complexity of planned projects, including the development and maintenance of software;
  • assess the composition of the resources required to carry out the above projects;
  • determine the size and "functional fullness" of the purchased application packages by counting the number of function points for all functions performed in them;
  • conduct a comparative analysis of the quality and productivity of the development of different types of projects or projects of the same type, in the implementation of which different technologies were used;
  • analyze the planned and real assessment of the complexity and magnitude of the developed software and the complexity of the project;
  • get standard software product comparison metrics.
  • You can also accumulate metrics of your organization's projects and form a database of metrics and typical work plans.

Perhaps the most important thing in automated work planning is the ability to recalculate the plan at various indicators in order to understand what will happen if you change the situation: train people, automate their work, add resources, etc. (that is, perform an "what-if" analysis). It is of fundamental importance that the results of the assessment can be exported to MS Project and used in conjunction with it.


Unfortunately, often the discussion, and even more so the comparison of different software packages, quickly turns into a battle – ideological in form, in fact usually taste or trade. I don't want to discuss which project management support package is better. It's almost always a pointless argument. The tool that suits your needs is best, especially if you know how to use it correctly. After all, a person does not become smarter simply by acquiring a smart tool. It is necessary to work competently and effectively – this brings much more benefits than ideological wars.

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