In order to accomplish a unified and consistent approach to managing projects, organisations will normally do one or a combination of the following;

  • Spend a small fortune on formally training all of their project managers on a recognised methodology.
  • Create their own, overly complicated, project management processes only to discover that trying to get everyone to adhere to a consistent approach to managing projects is like herding cats

If that sounds familiar, don’t worry, we assure you that you are definitely not alone!

Findings from a survey titled “Project Management: the State of the Industry” highlighted that “inconsistent approaches to managing projects” was the number one pain point experience by organisations running projects!  It’s not just published research that states this, it’s also something that’s cited as one of the biggest drivers for change by our new clients.

Training people and surrounding them with disjointed templates for documentation and reporting doesn’t actually result in a long term consistent approach, why?  Well as Michael Jackson once sang “that is human nature”, which refers to our individual distinguishing characteristics!  This of course is what makes us all unique so of course human nature is, well can be great!  But when it comes to managing projects, organisations want to ensure they are managed in a pragmatic, efficient and consistent manner which dramatically improves the chances of project success i.e. delivering on time, to scope & cost.

In order to achieve consistency we need to tick the following boxes:

  1. A standardised methodology
  2. Trained PM’s who well versed with the methodology
  3. Microsoft Project Online or Project Server (you knew where this was heading)

Of course there’re a bit more to it, but at a high level, the three points I’ve outlined above give us a framework to work with.

So in this, the first in a 4 part series of articles looking at how Microsoft PPM can help you overcome the biggest PM pains organisations face we are going to explore the features available to help your organisation achieve a consistent approach to managing projects.

Within Project Web App (the interface for Microsoft Project Online & Project Server) projects are typically started as Enterprise Project Type (EPTs):

enterprise project type 1

EPTs are unique to each organisation and developed as part of an implementation, so it’s not a case of adapting your way of working to a predefined set of templates, it’s the opposite!
Microsoft Enterprise Project Types

An EPT is essentially a template you make available within Microsoft PPM for your project managers to use when creating new work or project requests. It’s a wrapper that binds together a template schedule for that particular type of project as well as phases, stages and Project Detail Pages (PDPs) through workflow which can be configured using SharePoint Designer.

The workflows, as well as guiding the project manager through the lifecycle of project, can also enable governance processes to be seamlessly integrated making items such as stage gate reviews more efficient so that submissions can be reviewed and approved or rejected L centrally, which then automatically progresses the project onto the next phase or stage.

When a project is under way, the PM has complete visibility of the project lifecycle through the project summary page where they are also informed of which items need to be submitted.

Below you see a graphical representation of a project lifecycle that shows we’re in phase 1 ‘Create’, stage 1.3 ‘Approval’, we also see that after ‘Approval’ there is a decision point, meaning an approver will review the information that is submitted before the project progresses on to the next phase. Note that you don’t have to enable manual approvals, if you trust your PM’s you could set up auto approval or even set up specific rules to determine whether or not something requires approval! On the same view you also see “Sections to be completed for the stage” which lists out the PDP’s that need to be completed.

Microsoft Project Online Workflow Summary

Further down on the same page you also see a table which lists out in detail the required phases, stages and PDP’s for that particular project, along with the current state and other supplementary information.

all workflow stages

To reiterate, EPTs are bespoke and the screenshots I’ve used are just an example of how they could be setup. We recently worked with a Police Force who had adopted a methodology based on PRINCE2 and their opening phase was “Project Startup”, within which they had a corresponding stage that included a PDP titled “Project Startup Checklist”, on the PDP the PM had to respond to questions such as “Has the project brief been produced” with a “Yes, No, or NA” answer, once the PDP was completed it would be submitted for approval to progress.

Improve your Project Management

In this brief article I’ve provided a brief outline of how Microsoft Project Online & Project Server can help you achieve consistency, a lack of which can be quite stressful and on that note… for a healthier lifestyle most would only recommend exercise and diet, we’d go a step further and include Microsoft PPM as one of your five a day. Don’t quote us on that, but it does most often result in less project related stress!

Next month I’ll be continuing with the series and next month the topic will be Resource Management, and how you can improve it using Microsoft PPM, obviously!