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Get in the Driver's Seat with Microsoft Project

By ExecutiveBrief | minute read

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Transform disorganised projects into effectively managed and understood programmes using the gold standard in project management software. Discover why industry leaders claim they are lost without this valuable organisational tool!

Since its beginning in 1990, Microsoft Project represents a common and powerful project scheduling tool to control project schedules and finances, eliminating surprise when it's too late to make changes to the process. This ultimately results in better corporate profitability and competitiveness. This proactive planning tool works like project management around the triple constraint of scope, time, and resources adding value to software development companies and their clients by enhancing customer satisfaction, using resources effectively, and providing a competitive advantage.

Effective Tool to Manage and Control Projects

Microsoft Project is one of many tools good project managers use in their tool box to accurately and efficiently manage projects, according to Rob Hirschmann, corporate vice president at Projility, a management/technology consulting firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. Microsoft Project essentially builds a work plan, determines the required tasks, and how they will be carried out at the lowest level of detail to keep projects within budget and on schedule.

Dino Bozzo, president of Konverge, a Toronto-based Microsoft Gold certified software development company, considers Microsoft Project as the industry standard. Its integration with the rest of the Office Suite is a big plus, he says. Bozzo's organisation works on a range of projects that are all unique in nature, with timelines from three weeks to three months to two years. Bozzo believes his firm would be completely lost without using Microsoft Project. To get the complete picture of where any project is going, Bozzo says organisations need the functionality of assignments, resources, and tracking, which Microsoft Project does.

Bozzo says the most difficult part in managing projects is managing and maintaining the original project plan. Most project requirements change along the way. As a result, schedules change and timelines change - either up or down. Microsoft Project automatically adjusts project timelines based on accurate time and resources available.

Unless you use a tool like Microsoft Project, you will not realise the impact of a week's delay in schedule, Bozzo remarked. It will not trickle down to every task dependent on that week, and that's what Project will do. Using Microsoft Project to stay on track saves the client time as well as money.

Increased Customer Confidence from Improved Project Results

Organisations using Microsoft Project often experience increased value to their business. Hirschmann says Microsoft Project has helped Projility increase business, be more competitive, and increase client faith in the organisation right from the beginning. When Projility builds client proposals, it provides a view into the Microsoft Project plan listing all the tasks that will be done in the project. This level of detail becomes a differentiator for Projility that the firm has thought through everything in advance.

Microsoft Project not only provides value to organisations but also to their clients. Konverge clients benefit, according to Bozzo, because it gives them a window into what is going on in the development cycle. They can see what people are working on, what's taking longer than expected, what's getting done quicker than expected, and when they will receive their milestone or deliverable. Bozzo says it especially helps them understand when changes are made and how this has impact on the rest of the development cycle.

Konverge's experience with Newsgroup, a North American magazine distributor, illustrates a Microsoft Project success story that is still going strong two years later on version four of the tool. Konverge built a custom application that takes into account the "science" behind higher sales when the magazine sits in one position on the newsstand versus another. The tool helps Newsgroup be able to reconfigure magazine display positions on the fly to drive the most revenue for the retailer. What started out as a three-month project ballooned into something much bigger as Newsgroup discovered opportunities resulting from the use of this tool.

At each segment where we had to make a change, we gave them the total impact of the change in a complete calendar scheduling view, Bozzo relates. They took this information back to their superiors confirming that if this change is made, this is the result in terms of dollars and time. This makes the whole process transparent, Bozzo says, and much easier to go back to management and say, This is what we're doing. Bozzo says his organisation likes to put some meat behind what they say, rather than a developer saying, It's going to cost this much more. Microsoft Project enables this type of business decision, increasing value by empowering companies to understand the impact of everyday decisions.

As a result of using Microsoft Project, Konverge won awards for its application for the magazine industry. Revenue increased 30 percent in some cases because they could adapt to what the customer wanted.

If you're dealing with a system that's an idea, an unknown, it's going to change a lot, Bozzo says. The more transparent the project management tool you use, it's going to help, especially with multiple levels of approvals, scope changes and budget changes. That's the power of using a project management tool - understanding the impact of decisions on your and your client's business.

Konverge clients also benefit using Project Server, a Web portal that allows all team members to be involved in managing a project. Users put their time against a particular task on a project.

Projility implements project management systems for clients and shows them how to get better results using Microsoft Project. Projility teaches basic project management process and good use of the tool, which helps clients achieve a successful project that pleases the customer and adds profitability, according to Hirschmann. Take the executive, for example, overseeing 30 software development projects. Using Microsoft Project consistently throughout the company, the executive can view the Web dashboard, see status on projects, and quickly determine which projects are on schedule and which projects may require additional resources. In this case, Microsoft Project can enable executives to take action earlier, making informed decisions quicker, which may have a positive impact on profitability and customer satisfaction.

We've done this for clients, and they can start to identify problems early on and work with project managers to address those and make sure the project is successful, Hirschmann relates.

The Need for Project Management Expertise

The biggest competitor to Project, says Hirschmann, is Excel, because a lot of project managers don't have the training and discipline required to use the tool. The greatest challenge with using Project, according to Hirschmann, is having people available who have the discipline and training required as project management experts.

Larry Lacombe, president of Michigan-based L2 Consulting and a certified project management professional, believes understanding how Microsoft Project is supposed to work goes a long way. He agrees that individuals using Project need training in project management processes, the fundamentals of project management, and how it works. One important term to learn is critical path method scheduling (CPM), which Lacombe calls the engine behind Microsoft Project.

Companies must also create consistency across the organisation, Lacombe says, on how to plan, maintain and report using Microsoft Project. Having more than two employees managing projects requires the need for a company process to ensure project consistency.

Microsoft Project provides a compelling and powerful scheduling tool for software development companies and their clients. The time/budget tracking and level of task details ensure projects remain on schedule to please the customer. This ultimately provides lasting value to the client providing greater competitiveness and improved corporate profitability.

ExecutiveBrief, the technology management resource for business leaders, offers articles loaded with proven tips, techniques, and action plans that companies can use to better manage people, processes and tools - the keys to improving their business performance. To learn more, please visit: SoftServe Blog

© ExecutiveBrief 2008

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