With increasing complexities in the project structures and processes, an apparent need arose to develop systems to assist in efficiently and effectively manage project information. A variety of softwares, Microsoft Project (MsP), Wrike, Quickbase and Basecamp among others were developed.
'The software help Project Managers (PMgr.) in planning, organizing, directing and controlling an organization/individual resources for a specified time in order to accomplish a specific objective established to complete goals and objectives set', Reyes F (2011).
Over time other softwares have been developed not necessarily to compete but complement each other. Choice of which software to use depends on the organisation and nature of project in question. While the software is very essential, it's the input-outputs into it that determines its usefulness to the project and/or organisation.
This paper engages in a critical comparative analysis of MsP and Wrike under the following functional sub-headings:
1.1 Adding Tasks and Milestones to a Project File
MsP uses task and duration fields for each task. Once time is entered; a milestone is plotted on Gantt chart. MsP uses any time frame, minutes/days/months etc; which is phenomenon depending on the complexity and size of the project. PMgr or PMO office therefore has ability to alter times to suit the schedules, since some projects take days/months or several years. Wrike uses folders under which each task/activity is captured. Task list immediately shows the overview of each task under each employee. The below structure gives an easy & immediate chronological view of the project folders, task list, activities, reports, making it easy to navigate into the project components.
Fig 1.1: Project Structure set-up in Wrike, adopted from www.wrike.com, (n.d)
1.2 Logical Task Organisation
Gantt charts in MsP group tasks by creating 'summary' and 'sub-tasks' where completion of a summary task is determined by completion of the individual sub-tasks. This creates hierarchy and logically orders related tasks/activities together, in sync with the A-o-N technique on work breakdown structure (WBS). Arranging tasks in this way allows easy management of earliest start time (EST) and latest start time (LST) for each WBS task and subsequently the overall project. MsP can manage several WBS at a go in different locations of a single project if properly set-up and coordinated. This allows integration of the whole project in one control centre, e.g. the PMO office. Such a single focal point, allows review of project status by assessing each individual WB unit against time, cost and quality.
Wrike, Fig 1.1, the tasks and activities are already arranged logically and one can switch between task list, activity stream, Gantt charts, and even sort tasks accordingly. This structure also conforms to the A-o-N principle but offers easier control to the project.
1.3 Creating Relationships between Tasks
A project is basically a network of inter-linked activities. MsP uses 'predecessor field' to identify and link-up which activities/tasks must be completed first before the next starts, i.e. 'finish'to-start' task- dependency relationships. For more flexibility, tasks can be linked in series or parallel, thus cutting off 'waiting' delays, implying that though activities are dependent, they don't necessarily wait for each other to finish first. MsP also accommodates multiple dependencies of activities, which is the basis of the critical path analysis (CPA) in any project.
By using the principle of forward and/or backward schedule in project planning, it's easy to load the activities of the entire project. Once the start date and duration of the task is entered, MsP calculates timelines and the 'float' for each task/activity.
Wrike is like a 'one-stop-shop'; once a project folder is chosen from the main menu; it's possible to filter all details on it to obtain progress status, timelines and resources assigned to it. Wrike uses this order from the menu; folder>new task>task-list>task details >task description >task updates & discussion. Filtering allows the PMgr to view order of priority/importance of each task, hence can re-direct efforts and resources towards one lagging behind.
1.4 Assigning Resources to Tasks
MsP uses 'resource sheet' to create an inventory of the people, equipment, and material resources that make up your team and carry out the project tasks, Hurtado, (n.d). Resource allocation in this manner mandates a team with responsibility on their resources. PMgr can then assess team performance against resources allocated to them. This instills cost control/containment by the team on each task.
Fig 1.2: Resource Allocation in MsP, adopted from Hurtado, (n.d)
The presentation of the Wrike Gantt chart is more illustrative than MsP, Fig 1.3. The mega organogram shows action required, order of execution (hierarchy), timelines and resource allocated to it. This assigns accountability to tasks and makes it easy for PMgr to follow-upon. Using the 'work load view' enables PMgrs to view individual employees' schedules, i.e. control.
Fig 1.3: Resource Allocation, adopted from www.wrike.com, (n.d), A Quick Guide to Wrike for Managers
1.5 Flexibility of Editing
Both applications use specialized spreadsheets with tabs and dropdowns. Mostly double clicking on a tab brings forth actions to edit the dataset; subsequently the Gantt chart is updated automatically. Every dataset is editable in real time, but some organizations issue user rights to some individuals to access only certain data; a control practice.
Fig 1.4: Wrike Task Editing and Management, adopted from http://www.wrike.com/wiki/download
1.6 Finding Critical Path
MsP easily & automatically calculates all aspects of critical path (CP), i.e. EST, EF, LST and/or LF once the start & end dates have been entered. Wrike creates CP by using start time and duration of the task/activity. In each case, the CP is plotted graphically using the Gantt chart, Detailed Gantt chart or Network diagrams, in which case only critical tasks are displayed.
1.7 Closing the Project
The format of saving in MsP, (save with baseline) offers users flexibility to editing project profile and view changes at same time. Users therefore have ability to review progress on each task vis-a vi the schedule, time and costs on the master plan. Wrike uses real time 'activity stream function' to store data and can easily generates reports at any point. As in Fig 1.5, Wrike has the compatibility & ability to integrate with other applications for easy of project data storage, processing, exchange and manipulation.
Fig 1.5: Wrike integration Niche, adopted from http://www.wrike.com/, (n.d)
Table 1.1: Other comparative points
Microsoft Project (MsP) Wrike
Doesn't allow many users to create similar project files at the same time and work in partnership Wrike provides management of more than 50 projects in one single work space giving the PMgr centrality of control.
High initial installations costs, upgrades, maintenance and is unstable Affordable a product compared to MsP, which previously enjoyed monopoly.
'Has compatibility difficulties with latest operating systems like Windows7, Vista and UNIX Operating Systems', Reyes, (2011) High compatibility with various applications,
It does not support collaboration ['has the ability to support collaboration. The application use patent-pending Intelligent Email Engine to allow team members to share work through email. Wrike enables managers to see the work as it is done by team members thus enabling managers to control every single detail of project progress], Reyes (2011).
Has an online discussion forum, like one available in this MScPM program; quite handy in information sharing.
Finding the most effective and affordable project management software solution can be a very hard task. 'The major things to consider when looking for a project management software solution are; the cost of the product, compatibility with the other products running in the present system, ease of use and vendor support, security and experience needed to use the product', Reyes, (2011). It seems Wrike is fast outpacing MsP, but is not as publicized as MsP.
Kerzner (2009:141), 'Successful project management, regardless of the organizational structure, is only as good as the individuals and leaders who are managing the key functions'. Every project requires a resource base and the human resource is pivotal in the whole resource base. Every project has various levels of human resource base from sponsor through project manager (PMgr) to the workforce, forming the project team. The interrelationships between the various people in the project define the project governance, Maylor (2010:87). While some of the elements of the project team are common, (e.g. the PMgr) throughout the lifecycle of the project, team work is more significant at D3 (execution stage). Rarely are projects delivered by individuals, but by teams. Success of most projects depends on the arrangement and inter-to intra-relationships of teams; thus listing the human resource as the most significant asset in project management (PM).
Project teams are increasingly being formed not just from within one organisation but from multiple organisations (such as in joint ventures) and often geographically separate locations, forming virtual teams, (Maylor, 2010:243).
While most projects take the structure as illustrated in the below diagram, variations exist due to type of organisation and/or complexity of the project. This work seeks to expand on the relationships/functionalities of this org structure, Fig 2.1.
2.0 Project Management Teams and Teamwork
Fig 2.1: Basic Project governance structure, adopted from Maylor (2010:62)
2.1 Project Board/Sponsor (PB)
Is the owner of the business/financier and carries the vision and mission that defines the business case. Commonly the project board employs a SWOT analysis in their motivation for a project to be undertaken. PB also decides if it is a performance or conformance objective at planning stage. PB undertakes several PM evaluation techniques such as initial planning, time planning, cost & benefit planning, risk & opportunity management to determine project viability before authorizing it.
2.1.1 Senior User/Senior Responsible Owner
Is the head and overseer of the project beneficiary group/end-user. They work hand-in glove with project delivery team/contractor but representing the interests of the sponsor. Synergises with the senior supplier on costs, quality & adherence to project time lines. Actively participates in all control systems throughout the project cycle, D1 to D4.
2.1.2 Senior Supplier
Is the representative of the project delivery team/contractor. Collaborates with the senior user and the PMgr on procurement and supply chain concerns especially material sourcing, quality assurance, availability, warehousing, cost control, & reports to the PB and accountable to technical and quality assurance teams.
2.1.3 Technical Advisory Group (TAG)
TAG, usually added in technically complex projects e.g. projects that need scientific research and laboratory work. They provide advice to project board on status of the project, viability, potential risks and their mitigation through technical reports that are cascaded down to project executors.
2.1.4 Project Assurance (PA)
Involved in assurance processes, e.g. security, safety, technical designs and provide a two-way feedback between PMgr and PB.
2.2 Project Manager (PMgr)
PMgr is the link between company executives and the project front, PMO and the teams. Responsible for the project, straddles all four stages of the project lifecycle, (D1 to D4). PMgr is responsible for planning, organizing, controlling, directing and motivating teams to deliver set project goals, usually works through the PMO, Fig 1.
PMgr needs a diverse team that brings in knowledge diversity in the project. Belbin, RM, (1993), quoted in Maylor, (2010:256), outlines the nine team roles, which in fact define the nine attributes/skillsets ideal for a health team during project execution. Though difficult to build such a team, the PMgr uses CVs, qualifications, previous experience, personal interest/characteristics, availability, proficiency/competencies to determine the 'personality profile' of each 'to-be' team member during recruitment, (PMI, PMBOK, 2000:115). Belbin, RM, (1993) summarised the team roles, Fig 2, and argues that these attributes are critical for the team to have a balanced portfolio of characteristics relative to the task being undertaken, which I totally agree to. I also submit that while it might be impossible to have all of the attributes in the team, these are critical to successful delivery of any project.
Having a team with ideal attributes isn't enough for maximum outputs. The PMgr must also use techniques like training, rewarding and recognition, general management skills or team building activities to enhance skills inherent in team members to improve productivity.
To coordinate teams, the PMgr can use such systems as round-table meetings, video conferencing, telegraphic transmission of project information, (using a chosen software) to disseminate or obtain feedback on project progress.
For effective team control, the PMgr can employ a matrix organisation principle which Maylor, (2010:251) says,
A matrix organisation can be defined as:
matrix structure + matrix systems + matrix culture + matrix behaviour
Matrix systems include the activities of management in planning, organizing, directing, controlling and motivating within the structure. The culture requires acceptance of the system by the people who have to work within it, and the behaviour required is the ability to understand and work with overlapping boundaries.
Thus the team must 'buy-into' the project vision for this matrix to yield maximum outputs.
Fig 2.2: The nine team roles/attributes, adopted from Maylor (2010:62), designed by Belbin, RM (1993).
PMgr can use other techniques like SMART (for management of set team/project goals), process mapping and theory of constraints (TOC) to identify bottlenecks in the critical path thereby mitigating against project delays. Taylorism, i.e. marrying individual team member to the task is a fundamental scientific management tool that yields high productivity. Other motivational techniques usable by PMgr include content, process or reinforcement to draw maximum output from teams. I also believe that the use of 'cooperation' or 'positive reinforcement' as a management style by PMgr would yield better productivity in a team than 'coercion'. Sadly coercion is common practice in many organisations, even my workplace.
2.2.1 Project Management Office (PMO)
PMO consists of key staff e.g. planners, accountants and engineers to ensure project success. Reporting to the PMgr, PMO uses softwares, support and training to provide checks, process controls, management of critical project path and warning signs from past experiences to avoid 'hedgehog syndrome'
Fig 2.3: The relationship between the project process and PMO, adopted from Maylor (2010:63)
One company that has effectively set-up the PMO office is Debswana, a diamond mining company in Botswana. Due to this strategy, their projects record above 80% success rate, from personal experience.
2.2.2 Teams and their Roles
These are the executors of the project. PM literature applauds the positive transition in functionality of teams from functional specialists/silos, through cross-functional activities, hierarchical pyramids to a more de-layered project based organisation, Maylor, (2010:244). An optimum structure yields maximum functionality and eases project stress.
Increased PM knowledge acknowledges importance of dotted-line responsibility as part of team integration, thereby increasing team effectiveness, avoids empire building or silos.
The structure of the team and its composition are broken down into three basic categories ' creative, tactical and problem-solving. The use of each can be related to the appropriate or most likely phase in the project lifecycle, Maylor, (2010:249).
Table 2.1: Requirements of team structure, adopted from Maylor (2010:249),
According to Maylor, (2010:248-249), an effective team possesses the following attributes; a clear elevating goal, competent team membership, results driven structure, unified commitment, foster a collaborative climate, standards of excellence, external support and recognition and principled leadership. Furthermore, for teams to be more effective, they must be broken down into smaller teams in line with the work breakdown structure (WBS). WBS disintegrates the project into smaller work units for easy control. Thus the overall project success = cumulative successes of individual work breakdown units.
Effective team-work is also illustrated by the integrated side of the below org structure. On this diagram, I would add the PMgr and his 'tools' in the middle to steer the team away from disintegration towards integration for optimal results.
Fig 2.4: Spectrum of team/group performance, adopted from Maylor (2010:250)
The PMgr and teams must adhere to the framework of time, cost and quality (Iron Triangle) and as outlined in the PID, failure of which may lead to project stress and collapse.
While PM acknowledges that team functionality is critical in project delivery, it's inevitable that each team has a lifecycle. At the end of each project most teams are disbanded leading to discontinuity, skills loss, break-up and all this occurs at project closure, irrespective of the causes of project closure. It is the responsibility of the PMgr to notify teams and functional managers of the pending project closure and the preparations thereof. Project Closure involves handing over the deliverables to your customer, passing the documentation to the business, cancelling supplier contracts, releasing staff and equipment, and informing stakeholders of the closure of the project, Copus, R. (n.d),
Success of most projects depends on the arrangement and inter-to intra-relationships of teams, with the human resource being pivotal to the structure. Management of such inter- to intra-relationships is critical to avoid delays, cost escalation, counter-productivity, risk and poor project quality, en-route to an acceptable project delivery. Success of any project therefore hinges on proper organisation, coordination and utilization of the appropriate resources prior to & during the lifecycle of the project.