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Some bad and ugly things about Project Server (EPM) - for more bad and ugly things, click on Bad #2 - #6 above

The people who are using Microsoft Project have to be "product experts" in order to provide the value you are likely looking for in an EPM deployment. We should qualify that statement a bit, if you just want your project managers to save their schedules to a database, they do not have to be experts with Microsoft Project. In fact, anyone should be able to sit down and figure out how to get a schedule or time line into MS Project and save it to a database or MS Project Server. If they can't figure that one out on their own your HR department needs to beef up the hiring standards a bit.

However, if you want your project managers to manage resources, build project teams from the enterprise, assign those resources to tasks, publish those assignments to Project Server, and then process updates from their teams - then your PMs will have to be experts with Microsoft Project.

No exceptions, no workarounds, no short-cuts, no excuses.

Avoid taking Microsoft Project training from low-end technical training companiesExperience: This is what we believe from having worked with thousands of project managers in North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. If you expect a project manager to use Microsoft Project for resource management and they haven't been using the software, then it is going to take someone with good software skills about 250 hours of time to become an expert with this system. Maybe more time if they have taken any Microsoft Project training from low-end technical training companies and picked up a lot of bad ideas. Now, we have methods of shortening this learning curve but the reality is you can't take a funnel and stick it in someone's ear and pour in the content and skill. They have to sit down and learn, and, it takes all of us a while for some of these concepts in the system to jell.

In addition, if you want to do capacity management for the enterprise all of your Microsoft Project users not only need to be experts but they must be "committed" to building and staffing well designed plans. The entire group of PMs - every single one without exception. (Including Doug, that pretty good PM down the hall that has dug in his heels and refuses to use MS Project.) Otherwise your enterprise project data will have no meaning or at best have limited value.

This is the issue: for a project manager to do resource management in any meaningful way they have to know 80 to 90 percent of Microsoft Project otherwise they are not likely to do it well. They do not need to know all of the "features" but they do need to know the core project management functionality of the tool, or what we call the Eight Conceptual Areas of MS Project. It has always been this way with project management software and this not something unique to Microsoft Project, although our perspective is that Microsoft has not enforced a moratorium on "switches." The software keeps giving us more options but the interaction effect of all of those switches has made it far more complicated than it really needs to be.

This argument is a hard one for people to understand because they might use all kinds of products like Excel, Photoshop, and Visio and get great results even though they would admit they are not experts with the products. They might wish they knew more, but the tools work for what they need.

Tag: Project management software is really not like most other types of software. Maybe it is close to being like accounting software. Let's say you use QuickBooks software for your finances and you aren't a slouch by any strength of the imagination. You have a considerable portfolio you are managing plus a home based business that your spouse operates. Even though it is run out of your house, your spouse is pulling down more than you annually from your management position at your Fortune 1000 company. These days, you would also be using financial software throughout the year to handle all of your basic transactions, automate the exchange of funds, provide data for decision making, end each day with financial scorecard, and make life easier on a daily basis. Plus, there is no hassle at the end of the year because everything is real-time. Tax preparation is maybe a couple of hours because you have been using an automated system completely integrated with your investments and business.

Now, even though you work with this software almost daily, you are still going to go to an accountant at the end of the year and you are going to expect three things from this accountant: 1) They know what they are doing and have a firm grounding in accountant, business, and investment theory, 2) That they are in alignment with your business and financial objectives, and 3) That they are experts with the same software. If fact, you are going to either provide them with your database file or give them online access to your account. With their software expertise all data is at their finger tips. They will finalized their analysis in short-order and sit down with you to make decisions on how exactly to wrap-up the year.

Project Managers also need to know the tracking method selected in Project Server and how to process updates from team members and clearly understand the impact of those updates on their plans.

Plus, they have to be motivated to take the time to apply their knowledge during planning and tracking or execution. 

The entire success of your Project Server deployment rests entirely on the shoulders of the collective skill of your project managers and we are not talking about the type of skill gained from passing a performance-based certification exam, or being handed a professional certification or "belt" that is more a function of paying for and sitting through a course or series of courses than obtaining actual knowledge, experience, and skill.

Look, we offer courses. We think they provide value if presented the right way, but we never tell our customers that they will learn Microsoft Project well enough to do resource management in the enterprise by spending a few days in class. That wouldn't be realistic or honest.

People become experts with Microsoft Project by applying a learning method designed specifically for the tool and then sitting down, rolling up their selves and making it happen. With this system, there are better methods than others to learn how to master the tool but the "work" still has to be done.

So here is one of the real problem with this EPM system, no one is telling the decision makers what it really takes from a skill and educational perspective to stand up EPM for resource management and capacity planning. Organizations are well into their first year of Project Server deployment before they realize it isn't working as intended.

A major part of one of the early phases in Project Server deployment should be geared to doing whatever it takes to get the PMs up to speed, and putting in place an educational program designed to maintain the necessary collective skill - if you ever mange to get there in the first place. Otherwise you are going to pour a lot of time and money right down a hole and not get the expect value of resource management.

How many service companies have you heard of that are telling people what is really going to be expected from project managers? One that we know of and that company is in the UK. Everyone else is afraid to, or don't have enough experience to know better. The reason some firms are afraid is because they know that message will drop more sales than published service rates three times market. One of the reasons some firms do not have the experience is because Microsoft has an aggressive partner program that encourages technical firms put out an EPM shingle. You know, they implement Windows SharePoint Services, how hard can EPM be?  

Tom Peters has said that the next revolution in American business is going to be in part an outcome of resource management. We think Project Server is huge step toward resource management,  but it doesn't mean the solution is turn-key, easy, or intuitive.

Genuine skill is required from all of your project managers all of the time. There is no short-cut, no can do the obsessing about Project Server so that you don't have to. It all yours and you are going to have to figure it out.

 

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