Get Smart

To build better IT projects, start by building a better project manager.

Shine a Little Light

TeamPlay lets users define “completion,” then apply that measure to all projects. That also helps managers catch troubled projects early — and, if necessary, shut them down. “History says that if a project is 20 percent off at 20 percent of its life cycle, it’s never going to catch up,” says Michael Shomberg, Primavera’s vice president of product marketing. “So we try to help customers catch it early.”

James Lester, CIO of American Family Life Assurance Co. (better known as AFLAC), in Columbus, Georgia, and a user of TeamPlay software, hasn’t canceled any projects yet, but after about six months of running the software, he says visibility on the company’s 60 ongoing IT projects has improved measurably.” I feel like I’m not flying in a fog anymore,” he says. “It’s great to be able to see what’s going on.”

Some enterprise project software can even change the way the IT group relates to the rest of the company. That’s the intention of Avery Cloud, CIO of Integris Health in Oklahoma City, a state-owned network of hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities. Using project software from Changepoint, Cloud hopes to institute a monthly charge-back for his group’s IT services.

While that hasn’t been adopted yet, he has managed to institute a per-PC service fee that other divisions of Integris must pay, as well as an IT infrastructure fee based on what’s called an “intensity use factor”: departments that operate 24/7 are charged the full fee, while groups that operate just 9-to-5 pay a fraction.

Getting business units to accept fees requires hard data, Cloud says, and that’s exactly what Changepoint software is designed to provide. At one point in the discussions, Cloud says, other senior executives at his company questioned whether his IT staff was busy enough. Cloud phoned his colleagues during the meeting, got them to pull figures from the Changepoint database and was able to show that five of the IT staff had worked 60-hour weeks for the past four months. “It knocked them out of their chairs,” says Cloud. “It also enhances my relationship with my CFO. No longer am I just saying, ‘Trust me.’ ”

That said, even vendors would admit that software is neither a panacea nor a replacement for hard thinking about IT projects. “Our CEO likes to say he’d rather have an adept project manager managing a project on the back of a napkin than a poor project manager with the best software in the world,” says Chuck Tatham, vice president of marketing and business development at Changepoint.

Certifiably Project-Worthy

While PMOs or teams of various sorts do stress savvy management over sexy technology, another way that companies can boost the intellectual horsepower behind IT projects is by investing in the project managers themselves.

Taking a cue from the construction and civil-engineering professions, where project managers are common, some in the IT community are pushing for more training and even official certification. Not surprisingly, many of those advocating this approach — standards groups, professional associations, consultants and trainers — stand to benefit from such a change.

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