[Published on Microsoft's Office site as "Leveraging the power of project team collaboration"]


Leveraging the Power of Project Team Collaboration

How project managers can support team collaboration
with Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management Solution

 

By Dan Webb, Principal Consultant, Whale Projects LLC (Dan@WhaleProjects.com)

 

About Dan Webb, CEO of Whale Projects LLC

For more than twenty-five years, Dan Webb has managed software development projects based on the practices of process improvement, collaborative process management, success metrics, and high-performance teamwork.  Dan has provided professional consulting services in project management, relational database application development, Web application development, strategic planning, and effective teamwork for enterprises such as Microsoft Corp., The Boeing Company, 3M Corp., Washington Mutual Bank, the law firm of Robins, Kaplan & Ciresi LLP, and The Federal Reserve Bank System as well as for many small and medium-sized companies. 

 

Outline

·        The Impact of Team Collaboration

·        Success is Unlikely

·        Knowledge and Consensus

·        Communication Skills

·        Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution

·        An Information-Rich Environment That Promotes Team Collaboration

·        Supporting Quality and Best Practices

·        EPM Features that Support Team Collaboration

·        Summary

 


The Impact of Team Collaboration

A great number of project managers have used the basic capabilities of Microsoft Project — tasks, resource assignments, predecessor task dependencies, etc. — to predict finish dates, display Gantt charts, and print time sheets.  To be truly successful with a demanding project, a project manager needs to track a lot of information about a project, including estimates of work hours and duration, resource usage and availability information, issues, risks, measures of progress, and schedule variance data.  Beyond tracking the schedule- and resource-related data, a project manager needs to support knowledge sharing and team collaboration or suffer risks like these: 

§         Under the typical urgency to begin building a solution, an important requirement goes unrecognized until the customer acceptance test.  Correcting the problem so late in the product development cycle takes a factor of 20 or more times the duration and/or cost of designing for that requirement from the beginning — and at the most visible and costly time to blow the expected delivery schedule.

§         Two developers begin inventing in incompatible directions.

§         The customer’s priorities are not well understood by one of the business analysts.

§         Under time pressure, a software developer misses an important specification.

§         A program manager assumes that a key new member of the team will know what information he’ll need at each step in the process and will ask for it then.

In each case above, the Gantt chart won’t tell you that there’s a serious problem fulfilling the customer’s requirements until it’s too late to recover.  A gap in communication or understanding or agreement can fail a project more easily than a late milestone can. 


Success is Unlikely

The Standish Group research shows a staggering 31.1% of projects are canceled before they are completed.  Further results indicate 52.7% of projects will cost 189% of their original estimates.  On the success side, the average is only 16.2% for software projects that are completed on-time and on-budget.  In the larger companies, the news is even worse: only 9% of their projects come in on-time and on-budget.  And, even when these projects are completed, many are no more than a mere shadow of their original specification requirements.  Projects completed by the largest American companies have only approximately 42% of the originally-proposed features and functions.  Smaller companies do much better.  A total of 78.4% of their software projects will get deployed with at least 74.2% of their original features and functions.


Knowledge and Consensus

Ineffective team collaboration is one of the primary contributors to costly rework and delivery failure in IT projects.  Team collaboration is about sharing knowledge and reaching consensus within the team.  Consensus results from effectively detecting and resolving conflicts in data, perceptions, interpretations and actions. 

A key human-factors challenge for project managers is to make sure that all crucial information related to the project has been validated by at least two team members who agree about the results of the validation and that the information has been effectively integrated by the stakeholders whose successful performance depends upon it.  Team members need access to crucial information, and they need support for communicating clearly and reaching agreement with ease.  Clear communication and ease of agreement can never be assumed without some appropriate test for that condition.


Communication Skills

Project Management Institute’s (PMI’s) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines communication skills and responsibilities this way: 

10.2.2.1 Communications skills.  Communications skills are used to exchange information.  The sender is responsible for making the information clear, unambiguous, and complete, so that the receiver can receive it correctly, and for confirming that it is properly understood.  The receiver is responsible for making sure that the information is received in its entirety and understood correctly.  [Emphasis added.]

Simply making information available to stakeholders does not insure that communication has occurred.  For example, publishing a list of tasks assigned to a developer does not insure that the developer has understood the work to be done or that the developer is committed to complete the work according to a particular schedule. 


Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution

Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution delivers a rich environment for knowledge sharing and consensus building, whether it’s adopted as an enterprise-wide standard or it’s being used to support one mission-critical project.  Later in this article, we’ll look at the capabilities of the EPM solution that are ready made to support team collaboration.

A leading financial institution in Seattle is piloting the EPM solution as a replacement for a disparate array of project-related tools and information sources.  In a future article, we intend to present the enterprise-wide impact of that EPM implementation. 


An Information-Rich Environment That Promotes Team Collaboration

The information about a project that the project manager maintains can come from a variety of sources, including individual team members, customers, other stakeholders, external resources, accounting systems, and other enterprise data sources.  One of the technical challenges for project managers today is creating an information-rich environment that promotes team collaboration, whereby all project management data can be collected easily and shared with appropriate filtration and security using a highly automated solution that provides feedback to the stakeholders about the quality of communications. 

For instance, how many times have you, as a project manager, re-entered task performance data that you received from team members because there was no other way to update the project plan?  The time spent on re-entering data distracts you from being more vigilant in higher-risk areas.  And how many times have you heard from team members that if they could get e-mail notifications about upcoming tasks and delivery dates, they would better be able to multi-task more effectively and keep on schedule?  If your project management solution doesn’t provide that kind of precision and timing in the transmission of the right data to each team member at the right time, you’ve missed an important opportunity for driving risk out of the project.


Supporting Quality and Best Practices

Quality management methodologies focus on specifications, processes, standards, best practices, and performance metrics to improve precision in fulfilling customers’ requirements.  If your project management solution doesn’t facilitate the definition and presentation of relevant specifications, processes and performance metrics in a way that’s easily accessible by each team member at just the right time, there are still unnecessary risks in the project.  Microsoft’s EPM Solution goes a long way toward providing a ready-made, information-rich collaboration environment that raises the quality of project outcomes.

Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) solution includes these components:

§         Project Server, including Project Web Access (PWA)

§         Project Professional

§         SQL Server with Analysis Services

§         Windows Server

§         Internet Information Services

§         SharePoint Team Services

§         Office


EPM Features that Support Team Collaboration

Here’s a table showing elements of best practices in team collaboration as we envision them, with the corresponding supporting feature(s) of Microsoft’s EPM Solution:

Team Collaboration Capability

EPM Feature

Benefits

Standardizing on a project methodology

Project templates specify prototype project plans with prototype deliverable documents already linked to tasks.

§   Standards and best practices can be built into each project plan from the beginning so a standard doesn’t have to be interpreted from scratch for each project.

Defining and accessing specifications of deliverables

Defining and accessing business processes

Project Web Access provides Web-based document check in, check out, and read-only access (through SharePoint Team Services).

Project Professional ->
Collaborate ->
Documents ->
Shared Documents

§   Ensures that there is only one authoritative version of each document.

§   Provides one well-organized, central location for all documents.

Ready access to the most relevant documents at any point in the project

Tasks in the project plan provide hyperlinks to related documents, both in Project Professional and in Project Web Access (through custom Project Guides).

SharePoint Team Services can be configured to generate E-mail notifications when a document is changed.

§   Every team member knows what deliverable is required to complete each task according to project standards.

§   Team members can by notified whenever significant documents change.  They can subscribe to E-mail notifications sent when a document, to which the person has subscribed, has changed.

Sharing all Microsoft Office documents

SharePoint Team Services – accessed through the Documents tab in Project Web Access

§   Team members can check in and check out Office documents, ensuring there is only one authoritative copy.

Issues management

SharePoint Team Services – accessed through the Issues tab in Project Web Access

§    

Risk management

Tasks in the project plan can provide hyperlinks to risk-management-related documents, both in Project Professional and in Project Web Access (through custom Project Guides).

§   Information about risks and risk mitigation can be connected to tasks in the project plan to provide quick and easy access to project stakeholders.

Managing resource assignments

Enterprise Resource Pool

Resource Substitution Wizard

 

§   The Enterprise Resource Pool tracks all project assignments to prevent over-allocation of shared resources.

§   The Resource Substitution Wizard makes it easy to locate available resources who have required experience or certification (identified in Enterprise Custom Fields).

Publishing task assignments

Project Professional ->
Collaborate ->
Publish ->
New and Changed Assignments…

§   Confirmation of new task assignments can be listed on the resources home page in Project Web Access to reduce the chance of miscommunication or having tasks falling between the cracks.

Tracking task assignments

Task views in Project Web Access

All the customary features in Project Professional for scheduling and tracking tasks in the project plan

§   Team members can be given access to task-related views within Project Web Access.

§   Project managers can track schedule and progress data for each task in the project plan.

Updating the project schedule with new progress data reported by resources

Project Professional ->
Collaborate ->
Request Progress Information…

(After receiving update E-mails) Project Professional ->
Collaborate ->
Update Project Progress

The Updates tab in Project Web Access enables communication about changes to tasks.

§   The project manager can generate an E-mail to selected team members asking for updated work estimates and actual work hours for selected tasks.  The team member simply enters the new amounts which are automatically sent to the project manager’s updates list.

§   The project manager can then initiate an automatic schedule update using the new progress information provided by the polled team members.

Requesting and preparing status reports

The Status Reports tab in Project Web Access

§   Using Project Web Access, team members can request status reports.

§   Using Project Web Access, team members can generate status reports, either in response to status report requests they receive or by their own initiative.

Supporting consensus building

Custom Project Guides in Project Professional

Custom Web applications

§   EPM provides an infrastructure that can be customized at relatively low cost to promote visibility of decisions or issues where the team is either in or out of consensus, so the open question can be shown as closed or so the need for escalation or intervention can be made visible to the whole team.

 

Summary

An alarming percentage of IT projects do not deliver expected functionality on schedule and within budget.  And many projects are canceled before they are completed.  Team collaboration issues are very often the reason why projects fail, especially in high-tech, but this is the most often neglected source of variability in results.  Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution goes a long way toward providing a ready-made infrastructure that facilitates effective knowledge sharing.  And it provides an adaptable platform for adding customized features to support consensus building within a project team.