One of the attendees was a little skeptical and could not understand the difference between this approach and what they do and have done at NASA or aerospace companies for years to manage large space programs. I responded briefly to him in that meeting, but let me expand here.
Executive project management is first and foremost about collaboration. Busy executives and managers collaborate every day with team members to understand the status of a project. Any executive project management solution has to facilitate this process. Traditional project management tools focused on Gantt charts and schedules provide a snapshot of where the project is, however they don't facilitate collaboration. In fact, sometimes the data has to be tracked down so that a report that shows the big picture, can be generated. We hear many complaints from companies about how much this lowers productivity.
Also, traditional project management systems like the ones used at NASA and aerospace companies are designed for engineers and technical users. Executives and managers outside of engineering typically have a tough learning curve to surmount before they can actually use and benefit from these tools. They often avoid them and opt for a simple solution they define in Excel and that they can comprehend.
Executive project management solutions have to integrate data management, workflow, role specific access control and standard project management capabilities. A solution that does not include all of these core components will likely again cause problems down the road since executives and managers need all these capabilities to be productive:
- Data management is needed to capture the project details, like who is the project manager, what are the relevant due dates, what are the specifications for each, what are the unique characteristics of the project and so on. Data management also includes document management. Document deliverables are core to each project and any solution that does not enable the attachment of documents to projects, tasks, milestones or any other process page would not be sufficient.
- Workflow is also key to executive project management. Workflow ensures that the right task is assigned to the appropriate person when it is due. This ensures that project status is always up to date, that managers are notified when projects will slip, and that every team member knows what to do and how the project is doing. Workflow also reduces the burden on management so that they don't have to track down the status of each person's activity manually, but pushes that part to the team members directly and enhances productivity tremendously.
- Access control is key to ensure security and efficiency. With access control, role specific dashboards, views, data fields, and business processes can be defined for use or view by each user and based on their role. So, for example, a project manager can see all projects they are responsible for, however a team member can only see their activities and cannot change project parameters.
- Finally, standard project management capabilities have to be integrated. These cover the Gantt chart reporting, resource allocation, scheduling and standard benefits like time tracking and critical path analysis. However, these capabilities should all be options the user can decide to utilize or not for their particular organization.
After responding to his concerns, I asked him if executives and managers at these organizations ever used Excel or other manual processes outside the project management system. He said yes. When I asked why they were doing this even though they had everything they needed from the project management system, his response was that they shouldn't have used those tools at all.
I wish I had a dime for everytime I heard that. That is precisely the point. They were using these tools because of the limitations, rigidity and complexity of the project management system. Business users will only respond to solutions built for them. Which is precisely the reason why we need Executive Project Management solutions.