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Any project manager working today won’t have forgotten one of the most visible and disastrous IT project failures in Australian history. It started out as a simple software replacement for the Qld Health HR and Payroll system and ended in epic lessons learnt for project teams worldwide.
Disparate data, multiple owners, no clear control, no central point of reference and many other project control failures lead to a project that ran two years over schedule, a billion dollars over budget and ultimately a State level government inquiry.
Whilst the project had an overly ambitious timeframe for delivery, its chance of success could have been greatly improved had a holistic, enterprise-wide project control system been utilised from the beginning.
How is disconnected data impacting your project performance?
A recent study, titled 2019 Asia Pacific State of Project Controls Study, that surveyed over 200 PMI project professionals across the APAC region, found that almost all participating organisations were using multiple project control systems with over half of the organisations using Excel as their major tool for managing project control.
The study also revealed that only a small number of organisations (12%) were integrating their project data on a real time basis, with a third of respondents advising they have accessibility to project data anywhere and anytime.
Organisations that used limiting integration practices with project management tools and unstructured data indicated a poor success rate to achieve project deliverables.
There is a clear corresponding relationship between real-time data integration with performance, with 8 out of 10 organisations that used real-time data integration reporting to have delivered projects that met their performance objectives.
This stark difference in project objective success shows a direct relationship between accessibility of project data and projects meeting their performance objectives. Most organisations have scheduling and ERP tools to manage their projects, but it is the integration of these tools with other supporting data sources, such as contract management, document management, data warehouses, etc, that provides the real edge in reaching project performance objectives.
The Problems With Dis-integrated Data
It is not uncommon for enterprise organisations to manage data with multiple tools for portfolio management, business intelligence/analytics, ERP, cost control, contract management and scheduling software. Excel spreadsheets are also, inevitably, involved as a frequent band air patch for gaps and missing functionality across these systems or where these systems simply do not exist.
The main problem with having multiple systems, when they are not integrated, is that they inhibit project teams from working effectively or efficiently. Project teams rely on data from various systems to ensure resources are well managed, and projects are tracking progress based on their scopes and objectives. When critical data is sitting in siloes, not only does it make the project team ineffective, it can also lead projects down the wrong path due to inaccurate information and subsequently uninformed decision making.
A common example of this is scheduling systems which can often be too flexible and are not designed with suitable cost capture features like data entry controls and versioning. This creates additional project review and audit work which should be, and can be, easily avoided with the right tools upfront. ERP systems on the other hand are designed with strong financial control structures, but they can lack important project control features such as forecasting and change management options. This presents roadblocks to the efficiency and accuracy of project teams, and commonly forces them to work with inaccurate data and manual processes thus adversely impacting project success.
The secondary problem is cohesively managing them all without creating a time-consuming administration burden that ultimately creates no additional value to the project activities. It is not uncommon to hear of Cost Engineers spending time on low value tasks such as correcting labor codes, collating reports, downloading files and data entry yet dedicating only a small amount of time analysing budgets and forecasting.
For these systems to support project control, they need to be able to talk to each other with a project view and perspective.
Access to Real Time Data and Its Impact on Performance
The fundamental purpose of strong project controls systems is to maximise returns on projects in order to see continuous improvement over the life of the projects across the organisation.
Access to real-time data makes it easier to anticipate the needs of a project and plan around the tasks that will take longer. Resources can be balanced across the project to enhance progress and minimise scope creep. Automation eliminates time consuming and error prone manual processes that might otherwise cause delays. Forecasting ensures proactive insights and project gaps can be seen well in advance, ensuring controlled adjustments and change management. Adding in an audit feature to the project control mix ensures the rigor and compliance needed for project teams and management to sleep well at night.
Ultimately accurate, real-time and auditable data is the only combination that can provide the measures required for effective project controls.
Integrated Systems with a Project View
The clear winner to ensure project success is through integrating project control systems.
Data consistency and integrity is created through an integrated approach in project planning and execution by immediately creating visibility into all relevant project data. Holistic and comprehensive project data in a single system view provides information on resources availability, when new projects can be activated, as well as project failure/ success analysis easily and effectively.
By aligning the enterprise level strategy with the day to day execution, a project closed loop environment is created, improving not only the current project activities but also the organisation’s long term PMO strategic decisions.
The 2018 Asia Pacific State of Project Controls Study showed that 60% of organisations didn’t meet project objectives due to loosely integrated data and poor or limited project control systems, while 84% of those with access to real-time data is able to achieve desired project outcomes
Manual effort can lead to backward looking accounting instead of forward looking project management and forecasting which has a negative impact on many project areas. Budgeting and planning of future projects is enhanced with real-time data, as more realistic expectations are used for budgeting and future planning. Decision making becomes proactive instead of reactive ensuring projects stay on schedule and risks are not only identified early but successfully managed and mitigated.
If you are interested to find out the current maturity of your project practice and how it can be improved through the implementation of an integrated approach, take this Project Performance Maturity Assessment Tool based on PMI’s PMBok project management maturity model.