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Show Me the Value Improving Project Visibility Using a Web-based Portal Print
If your organization is like most, you are facing an escalating number of projects with ever-tighter deadlines. Many of those projects are increasing in complexity and some may be managed by geographically dispersed teams.

And now, more than ever, real-time project information needs to be shared with a larger number of people, possibly including stakeholders outside the organization.

With a project management portal, these challenges can be met. Project information that used to be scattered, with information in different formats in different locations, can now be visible to everyone from one central place.

With improved project visibility, everyone from executives, team members, and technicians, to customers, partners, and other stakeholders can use a portal to access the appropriate information for their needs. Because people are able to see up-to-date, user-specific information in a way that's easy to interpret, they can quickly grasp where their projects stand. They can then take or direct action. This whole process ensures greater accountability and improved efficiency.

Moving to a Portal

Project information surely does exist in your organization, but you may be engaged in the paper shuffle. The latest document is on one person's desktop, but it hasn't made it to the server. One chart needs to be printed out and carried over to the shop floor. Three copies of a spreadsheet should be e-mailed to several groups for review and comment. And, somehow, that high-level report never landed on the executive's desk.

Project planning is surely taking place, but sometimes not all information is distributed to all the team members who need it. Often, team members find it difficult to provide updates back to the project manager. Executives may not be getting the kind of summaries they need, and partners or other stakeholders are often out of the loop all together.

Many companies decide to implement a project management portal to improve the flow of timely information geared toward specific groups of people within and outside the organization.

A portal provides a single, secure access point to project information stored in multiple systems and provides a controlled means of delivering that information based upon the user's role. Digital dashboards and project health-style views can provide executives with up-to-date program metrics. Live schedule views can give project managers closer project control and allow timely updating of progress. Project managers can also share project information with other remote project participants in a controlled manner. Documents can be published, edited, and approved. Action items, risks, and issues can be managed, shared, and tracked. A cohesive team can share news and ideas and can collaborate for more efficient project implementation. Project management can delegate responsibilities down to the team member, yet still retain control of the project.

Organizations are moving to project management portals because they want their executives to have the latest, relevant information at their fingertips and all their project teams to be able to share information, stay informed of changes, and collaborate as needed. Sperry Marine, a business unit of the global aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman, recently implemented a project management portal to create virtual "war rooms" for collaborating on Requests for Proposals and resulting projects. The portal now gives project managers access to all proposal-specific data and helps streamline collaboration during the whole proposal process. It also provides a centralized, visible location for coordinated document storage, information, schedule tracking, and statusing.

In less than six months, Sperry teams worked on 40 proposals and ten projects through the portal, shaving significant time off previous collaboration and gaining ground on efficiency.

"Before using the portal, people had to e-mail back and forth or call to stay informed," says Thea Yancey, proposal manager with Sperry Marine. "The wrong version of a document could be passed to somebody and team members might miss information if they missed meetings. Now everyone gets general information from the portal's home pages, reviews an up-to-date notice board, checks documents in and out, accesses process and risk information, and views live schedule and milestone reports."

Increasing Efficiency and Productivity

Everyone wants to increase efficiency in project management and see results in improved enterprise-wide productivity. With a project management portal, Goodrich Aviation Technical Services has done just that.

Goodrich is using a portal, along with a project scheduling system, to manage the maintenance and repair of Boeing 737 aircraft. With these integrated tools, the company was able to decrease the overhaul turnaround time from 37 to about 27 days.

Goodrich maintenance teams on the shop floor improved efficiency because they received real-time work orders and assignments live through the portal. Sometimes, work that was not critical an hour earlier became critical because a part was missing, and because that information was communicated instantly, the teams were able to adjust very quickly. The mechanics performing the work were also able to enter progress updates on the shop floor, which meant managers had the most up-to-the-minute information and could re-plan faster. Decision-makers were also able to detect problems or delays early since the portal made schedule status immediately visible, and senior managers were kept continually up-to-date through high-level indicators of job status. Using the portal, even the customers could follow the maintenance progress.

"The customer can see the status of their aircraft from anywhere in the world in real time," says Chris LaFrance, maintenance supervisor at Goodrich. "This is a major benefit when scheduling an aircraft's return into service."

How the information is displayed through a portal is also important. Goodrich's project portal does not confuse the customer with critical path, float, early start, or other project management terms. Instead, customers can access pertinent information about timeliness and, if early or late, by how many days. Moreover, the portal is easy enough to use that customers do not need a training class to learn how to get the data they need. The portal provides Goodrich's customers with the up-to-date information they need in the way that makes sense for them whenever they want it. A powerful tool if you are an airline trying to schedule an aircraft's return to service. Out of the box, the portal did not satisfy all requirements, however, due to open architecture, it was very easily extended and customized.

Getting Everyone Involved

In addition to customers and other stakeholders outside of the organization, a project management portal can address the needs of executives, project managers, and team members.

The portal makes project status continually visible to executives through real-time reports and visual cues such as red-yellow-green traffic signals or digital dashboards. So instead of delving into great detail, an executive can get a high-level summary of project status and health at any time via their browser. Some portals also provide visual comparisons and metrics between projects within a program.

Project managers receive the level of detail they need through the portal to manage the schedule, as well as any issues that arise, so they can track progress and anticipate any problems early on. They can also disseminate the necessary information (documents, processes, notices, etc.) to all of their teams - however distributed - and solicit input and feedback in a controlled manner.

When team members see the big picture of the whole project through a portal, they have a greater appreciation of the impact of their part on the rest of the project. They often feel more involved in the project and want to add to its successful completion. Team members know that progress on their own tasks is visible, too, which also helps motivate productivity.

Each user is assigned a different role, and therefore has different security clearances for the portal. Users are directed to particular pages within the portal and can access specific information in predefined formats. Based on their expertise or position within the organization, different levels of data are visible to the user through the portal. Customers, for example, would not be able to access the same information as the project manager.

Choosing a Portal

When looking at project management portals for your organization, you should first determine your needs. Who will be using the portal? What do you want them to be able to do with the portal? What will you need down the road?

These additional questions will also help you evaluate possible project management portals:

  1. Will the portal be able to grow with you? Is it scalable and extendable with an open architecture?
  2. Is the portal easy to use? Will executives be able to get what they want at a glance? Will team members balk at entering time and progress data?
  3. Is the portal easily deployed?
  4. Does the portal provide real-time schedule data? Does it offer built-in integration with project scheduling tools?
  5. Does the portal make information available in different formats? Can an executive get a digital dashboard or a high-level summary?
  6. Is the portal secure? Is the information between the server and client encrypted? Can the portal offer easy access and still maintain security behind your organization's firewalls?
  7. Is the portal easily accessible? Can everyone get into it quickly with just a user name and password? Does the portal require additional components to the browser that decrease accessibility?
  8. Does the portal offer document management with full version control, so you can see who made what changes?
  9. Is the portable flexible? Can you customize aspects of data entry and reporting?
  10. Is the portal customizable? Can you include your corporate branding and desired look and feel? Can you customize and adapt the navigation to the specific projects and links you need?

Determining the Need for a Portal

More organizations are seeing the need for portals. Analysts have shown that more than 50% of companies across a range of industries have deployed portals in the past few years, with many others expected to come on board in the near future.

Project management portals are certainly part of this wave. Many organizations of all sizes are seeing their value in accessing and sharing real-time project information through a single point of access. As you look around your organization, can you see how a portal and improved project visibility would benefit you?

2003 © Dan Patterson

ImageDan Patterson is product manager of WelcomHome, Welcom's Web-based collaboration tool, and has more than nine years of project management experience.
His specific areas of expertise and interest include Web-based project management applications, construction planning and control, and the use of Artificial Intelligence for planning.

Welcom - Project and Cost Management Solutions  

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