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Manage your project in real time

AGENDA Viewpoint

The key to an IT system is using it effectively, writes David Oates

IN THE construction industry, where projects can involve hundreds of people and amount to millions of pounds, the need for effective project management has never been greater.Delays divert staff away from other projects, while cost-overruns - or worse, project failure - can prove financially devastating.

The key to good project management is gaining insight into real-time project status. Project managers need access to trustworthy data, and quickly.Our research has found that with most projects, failure or success can actually be predicted as early as the 20 per cent completion point, so it is critical that monitoring is in place from the start. However, too many firms simply do not have this capability and, by the time a problem is discovered, costs may have spiralled out of control.

A project manager in any reasonably sized construction firm is likely to oversee a large number of ongoing activities, spread over multiple sites.

As it is impossible to supervise each project in person, gaining visibility into the status of all activities can prove a significant challenge. Huge quantities of information, from financial data to materials delivered or weather conditions, must be compiled from a variety of disparate sources and all too often there will be no standard form of documentation from one site to another, with ad hoc reporting methodologies commonplace.

Under these circumstances, in which key information might be routinely stored on personal laptops, in emails or on notepads, it is impossible for managers to gain proper insight into real-time project status.

Software will go some way to remedying this. For example, the internet can allow IT tools to link different sites and store status records on a central server, accessed by everyone involved in a project.But to truly make a difference requires a change in workplace mentality - to have an effective IT system is one thing; to have people use it effectively is quite another.

A successful project management system implementation will rely as much on worker input and collaboration as it will on the software used.

Employees who want customised reports must clearly specify the information they will require, or face being fed a continual stream of data that bears no relation to their work. Equally important is that workers break with old habits - a central server is of no use if individuals are still routinely saving information onto their hard drives.

The project management system must be able to change according to the firm's needs and this requires feedback from all users.Add all this to the rigours of training the workforce to use the new system in the first place and it is easy to see why some firms have long resisted such a comprehensive process change.

But, in an industry that is always likely to be threatened by unforeseen circumstances, whether supply shortages, employee injury or the forces of nature, there is a strong argument that any steps to lower risk permanently must be taken, irrespective of short-term upheaval. Effective project management provides one such opportunity, while offering all the benefits of improved worker productivity.This will enable project managers to increase capacity and take on more projects, boosting revenues both through the ability to increase workload and the ability to deliver those projects on time and within budget.

David Oates is vice-president international sales, Primavera Systems

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