The 3D manager

Has the IT industry spent thirty five years setting itself up to constantly fail? It is an uncomfortable question, but one that has some validity, judging from the spate of publicly documented project collapses and overruns that emerged in 2004.

Despite the establishment of a whole sub-industry devoted to project methodologies and with the shelves of IT departments around the world groaning with manuals on how to bring projects in on time, within budget and to specification, IT has consistently failed to deliver to these aims (see box, ‘The state of things’).

Maybe it is over-optimism on the part of project leaders; maybe it is because parts of the software development process are more art than science; perhaps it is because the processes of a business are too dynamic to be hard-coded in software.


The state of things

There have been numerous studies highlighting the weak track record held by IT departments in delivering projects on time, within budget and to specification. But recent work by financial services industry research house, Finalta, indicates just how much that track record varies from organisation to organisation.

In a detailed survey of 20 major banks and insurance companies across Europe, Finalta found that 21% of projects went over budget, 31% over time and 40% were delivered under specification. However, the level of budget overrun ranged from 3% of projects to 50%; one financial services company admitted that two-thirds of projects were late, compared to the best performer where fewer than 5% were late; and, in terms of missing the specification, the spread was from 65% to 15%.

That wide variation is not due to nationality, size or line of business, says Finalta director Doug Wilson, but to management practice. "Different institutions place very different importance on meeting their project objectives." Most organsations focus on meeting budgets – even if that means projects are delayed or reduced in scope.



Whatever the reason, IT management in recent years has realised their portfolio of on-going projects has simply become too complex to be delivered using historical approaches. And, many would admit, those historical processes have been sorely lacking.

Moreover, the task has become complex as IT development has become a matrix of activity. While traditional development tasks might all have been handled (and therefore controlled and resourced) internally, that is becoming less common.

Just like manufacturers before them, IT organisations, under pressure to deliver high quality products at lower cost, are looking to distribute the task over a mix of internal and external resources. A typical scenario might be that the business requirement and IT’s role in meeting that will be specified by the organisation’s own IT management in conjunction with the business. The development could, however, involve a team from an IT services partner working on-site, defining requirements capture or managing user training, with another team coding the software off-site, and yet a further group at a near-shore or offshore facility testing the software.

Distributed change

That multidimensional effort is difficult enough to manage if the project is static. But one of the key reasons for the failure of projects is that IT often struggles to deal with the dynamic requirements of the business. And accepting that such changes need to ripple through a tier of three or four groups is a new kind of challenge.

“In a multi-sourced environment, organisations need to create virtual teams,” says Christopher Lochhead, chief marketing officer at governance and applications delivery software vendor Mercury Interactive. “The future role of the IT director is really one of managing centres of excellence distributed across the IT department and outsourcers.”

What is also clear is that current practices and tools are not up to that job. Many organisations with hundreds of programmers and scores of projects underway at any one time are managing them with little more than the help of Excel spreadsheets, Gantt charts, white boards and a project leader’s mental map of skills and availability.

“Businesses are running blind,” says Eugene Blaine, CEO of project and business performance software vendor Atlantic Global. “Companies are using electronic Gantt charts, but these aren’t designed for IT project management, they’re designed for building bridges. Moreover, everyone struggles to keep them up to date and therefore no one trusts them.” “Businesses are also using project management tools that have no resource management capability and no definition of milestones – just a list of deadlines,” he adds.

The sense that IT needs to do something about that is undeniable, says Scott Phares, senior vice president of solutions management at project portfolio management software company Business Engine. “A year ago, it was clear that customers weren’t ready for a really sophisticated product. But they now all see the need for a mechanism that prioritises projects and matches resources to the delivery of those.”

IT for IT

IT’s own requirements definition is pretty clear. It encompasses a broad set of applications, including:

  • demand management (for prioritising projects and eliminating any duplication of effort within the projects);
  • resource management (for optimally allocating from the skills pool);
  • budget management;
  • timesheet and expense tracking;
  • risk management (for assessing the impact of missing deadlines or scaling back the scope of the project);
  • contractor management.

Sitting above these, there needs to be a mechanism to create real-time visibility into the underlying variables that can demonstrate how well they are meeting a group of clearly defined milestones, with different views and different milestones for the different participants.

As such, project management tools should not be for project managers alone.


In practice: LogicaCMG

The task of tracking and calculating the cost of each and every mobile phone call, across different networks and countries, has been a daunting challenge ever since the inception of mobile networks. This has created a market for specialist software products that can deal with the high levels of complexity involved and yet can be tailored to the payment models of many different operators.

LogicaCMG took a leading position in that sector in 1998 when it bought Aethos Communications, and the division the deal spawned, LogicaCMG Mobile Payments, now supplies 45 telecos with a mix of packaged and bespoke software.

Like all organisations, LogicaCMG Mobile Payments is under pressure to offer better value for money and greater flexibility to customers, and in late 2003 it shifted its development and testing to an offshore team of 230 in Bangalore which works in tandem with around 20 project and programme managers in the Bristol.

As one of Europe's largest IT services groups, LogicaCMG is familiar with the issues that make some projects succeed and others struggle, but it decided a new approach was needed to deal with the demands that Mobile Payments faced in dealing with the intercontinental management of its project portfolio.

Historically, the unit had planned and managed projects using common office tools – Gantt charts for planning, a large, single-user, colour-coded spreadsheet for the resource allocation of its developers and testers, and a timesheet recording system which was struggling to provide management with useful reports.

"It was better than nothing," says Jim Robinson, VP of products and solutions at LogicaCMG's Mobile Payments division. "It gave us an idea of what was going on, but the time sheet information was not correlated with the spreadsheet, and it was difficult to keep it up to date."

Aware that it needed a more dynamic method of controlling project and related business information, the company chose to implement Corporate Vision from IT project and performance software specialist Atlantic Global. Initially, says Robinson, the tool was used to improve resource planning and time sheet management, "to clearly identify what people were working on, where the effort was being spent, whether we had the right people in the right areas."

But one of the most important aspects of Corporate Vision has been its support for LogicaCMG's distributed development and the portrayal of that performance in terms of meeting milestones. "Rather than have project plans squirreled away in folders, you can see all the key milestones," says Robinson. "It is always live and anyone can look into it and see what they are working towards."

In terms of change management, any changes made to the milestones are tracked. "That helps us get visibility into project trends, showing us where and why milestones have slipped and the risk involved," says Robinson.

One powerful aspect of the tools that Robinson highlights is the ability to run ‘what-if' scenarios that map out how changes to project numbers and requirements can impact the matrix of resources.

The Mobile Payments unit has not been using the software long enough to fully quantify the benefits, but the tool has provided savings simply by enabling it to judge the priority of team-members' assignment. "Within weeks of implementation, we were able to identify and re-classify up to 30% of seemingly unallocated effort to purchase order-related work," says Robinson.



“The biggest consumers of project management should not necessarily be project leaders,” says Mike Shomberg, vice president of marketing at project management software vendor Primavera. “CIOs, CFOs and others want easy-to-interpret, graphical, high-level views of what’s going on.” That should extend right down to those executing the project, the programmers and testers, he says, so that they can see how their project is progressing, which areas need more focus, and what jobs and projects are coming up that fit their skills or aspirations.

As that suggests, project management needs to be tightly integrated with several related areas of business software.


There is a clear overlap with human resources (HR) software, with the HR department playing a key role in tracking skills availability, skills development, employee performance and career development.

Crucially, there is also a need to bring elements of change management software into the mix, so that one of the biggest contributors to project failure – an inability to absorb the naturally shifting requirements of business – are factored into the project.

“IT has to stop complaining about the goal posts moving and factor that in to project management,” says Ayman Gabarin, vice president of IT governance at Compuware.

Given the breadth of the requirement, it is not surprising to see software vendors from many different disciplines attacking the problem, often from different angles.

There are traditional project management companies such as Primavera, Business Engine and SystemCorp (recently acquired by IBM) which have evolved to become broad project portfolio management software vendors; companies such as Niku that initially developed tools for professional services groups but which have since re-oriented their focus around IT project issues; vendors with a pedigree in software quality and performance, such as Mercury Interactive and Compuware which view good ‘IT governance’ resulting from all aspects of application delivery, from definition and coding to management; and, lastly, relative newcomers such as Atlantic Global, which are evolving to provide performance visibility capabilities on top of standard project management applications.

And alongside all those is Microsoft with MS Project and Project Server. While not wanting to dismiss the Microsoft product line, many of these vendors argue that its limitations in dealing with multiple projects still leave plenty of space for others to deliver to what has become a yawning gap in the project management market.


The lack of a common approach to building project management software potentially creates problems for the users. If organisations are to apply technology to the distributed delivery of projects, then they will need some level of standardisation.

For example, a CIO with a major project underway across both in-house and outsourced resources will want to be able to look into a project dashboard and see how the total effort is doing.

If external partners are using a different project portfolio management package (as is likely) then the only way that the dashboard is going to be populated with valid data is if it is extracted from one project management tool and fed into another. And that will require standards.

In terms of providing that ability for different project management tools to talk to each other, the sector is “very, very early in the discussions,” says Chris Lochhead of Mercury. “There is not much there yet.”

There is perhaps still time for that to happen. Most IT organisations are only just starting to apply IT in a sophisticated way to the management of projects — typically, as pressure is piled on them from other parts of the business to ensure better governance, to reduce risk, to deliver more consistently and to manage budgets more tightly.

At one time, that might have been possible without the application of project portfolio management, but in today’s distributed development environment, the spreadsheets and wall charts are simply perpetuating a culture of failure and blame.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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