Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Making Enterprise Project Management Solutions Work for your Business

By Sophia Zhou         
Growing businesses need access to project management tools to improve organizational efficiency. Thus, enterprise project management (EPM) software has become an indispensable resource for many businesses.  However, a glut of EPM software in today’s marketplace is coupled by a dearth of knowledge on its effective deployment.   How can we, as business owners, managers, and executives, optimally utilize this powerful, game-changing software?
The productivity gains made possible by robust EPM software are undeniable and quickly becoming the standard for modern business operations.  Microsoft’s Project Server and SharePoint are the industry standard in a marketplace awash in project, process and collaboration management tools.  Yet these tools are highly sophisticated and simple installation is only a small step in a multi-faceted process toward achieving productivity enhancing deployment.   
All too often we see these potent tools underutilized.  Low adoption rates and inadequately configured deployments remain intractable obstacles to their effective use.   To explain this phenomenon, I compare it to building a house.  The software itself provides you with all the materials and tools needed. But, as in building a home, you require more than tools and materials.  You need planning, skill and expertise.   When it comes to enterprise software solutions, few businesses have the expertise in-house to build an effective project management capacity.

Hosted or on-site solutions
Making use of enterprise tools, such as Microsoft Project Server and SharePoint, involves strategic planning and well thought-out governance structure and processes. First, companies need to determine whether to use a hosted solution or an on-site deployment.  In my experience, companies seek a hosted solution for improved performance, easier maintenance and up front savings of time and money.

Deploy from scratch or deploy from templates
Whether your tool is deployed behind your firewall or hosted at a datacenter, configuring the tool for easier adoption is essential.  For example, my company has developed best practice-based configurations informed by the over 500 Project Server deployments we have implemented. We call this EPM FasTrack.  When we deploy for new customers, we tailor these pre-configured solutions to their specific needs. This is not to say complete customized deployment does not have its rightful place in circumstances when a customer has very unique needs.
A key component of customization must entail executive dashboards and reports – such as Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Performance Point BI - to deliver improved decision-making by leveraging data from your enterprise in real time.  For example, my company has tailored dashboards for Project Server and SharePoint  based on a user’s role (CIO, portfolio manager, project manager, resource manager), which allow users to make decisions and take action based on relevant and up-to-date business intelligence.  

Training

Last but certainly not least is the training required to make effective use of these world-class project management solutions.  Extensive experience has taught us that the single greatest obstacle to successful absorption of powerful EPM solution comes down to the capacity of the stakeholders.  Microsoft Project Server and SharePoint are potent tools, but they are complex. Most personnel lack the training and knowledge to make them work effectively. Skimping on training for cost saving will actually undermine the potential savings, efficiencies and, ultimately, the ROI of your deployment.     
Accordingly, my company has made comprehensive, on-going training and support to be a central feature of our services and we have innovated specific training products.  Our unique on-demand training system replicates live classes and includes the components that make our Project Server training the most reputable in the country. This on-demand format now makes it possible to provide company-wide training without breaking the bank.

In summary, the potential productivity gains of a well-deployed project management and collaborative solution is undeniable and should be seriously contemplated by today’s progressive-minded businesses.  But for such an investment to improve your overall business performance, know that finding the right partner is essential.  Implementation of a robust enterprise project management solution will be far more likely to succeed if your design and implementation partner understands the tool, the processes and the people aspects of a successful EPM deployment.

Sophia Zhou is CEO of EPM Solutions (www.epmsolutions.com), a Microsoft-based Project Portfolio Management and Collaboration solution software and service company, serving customers including Cisco, Boeing and US Navy. EPM Solution is an ISO 2009:2008 certified and one of INC 500|5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America in 2011. 

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