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What is Critical in a Project Management System?

[fa icon="calendar"] May 30, 2017 9:36:34 AM / by John R. Manning, PE, CCM, LEED

This is the fourth post in our year-long series about the best ways to work with your Owner's Representative.  You can view all of the series posts here.

One of the key areas that require management on projects is the management of data. The larger the project the more data there is to manage. Projects have failed due to the lack of management of data.

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Over the past two decades the industry has moved from the era of hard copies in filing cabinets to electronic processes. One reason for this shift was to aid in the management of the large amounts of data required on a project. In the 1980s and 1990s I worked on several multi-billion-dollar theme park projects. The management of data was primarily done with large areas of filing cabinets, plan rooms and libraries of information. There was so much data in hard copy form that, at times, information was forgotten and/or lost. This type of situation drove the development of computerized Project Management Systems. The focus for Project Management Systems was becoming the repository for information on a project that would allow an individual to easily search and find key data.

One of the initial Project Management Systems developed in the 1990s for the industry was Expedition (later known as Contract Manager) from Primavera. This software system became the basis for which other Project Management Systems refined and upgraded their offerings.

Now in 2017, for Project Management Systems, we have multiple software systems to choose from. So how do we choose the right system? We believe one of the key components in the current state of the industry are systems that are cloud based and can be easily accessed via multiple devices. The system should allow access to critical information in the field as easily as in the office.

double exposure of new modern laptop computer with businessman hand working and business strategy as concept.jpegAccess should be not only via our computers but by our smart devices (iPhone, iPad, etc.). Second, and equally important, the system should be set up such that someone familiar with Project Management Systems can intuitively migrate through the software. In other words, it should be in a format that is similar too other programs in the industry so a user feels somewhat familiar with the processes. Third, training must be provided such that it can be rolled out to the Project Team in a systematic approach that allows for proper applications.

All good Project Management Systems have two primary segments.

First, Document Management and second, Financial Management. Under Document Management the system should provide segments with work flows for handling Field Reports, RFIs (Request for Information), Submittals, Correspondence and Schedules. The system should allow information on any of those segments to be found easily and linked to cost or schedule issues to allow the Project Management Team to quickly address items and manage a project in a timely manner.

The second key segment is Financial Management. After you manage the documentation on a project you want to easily understand where the project stands financially. This starts with the management of change on a project. There has never been a project, since before the building of the tower of Babel, where change did not have to be managed. A good Project Management System should have some sort of work flow going through the phases of a change issue on a project. This should start from inception and continue through until resolution. The system should track the potential costs of those changes at inception through to the actual costs at resolution. At any moment in time the Project Management System should allow the team to track the status of costs associated with the change issue.

These costs should be pulled into the overall reporting of the costs on a project. As an Owners’ Representative, we track changes in what we call a Cost Worksheet (a snap shot of where a project stands versus the budget). The segments of that worksheet are maintained within the Project Management System. We typically breakdown the costs on a project by some type of cost coding process so the particular segments can be understood.


Business people looking at budget forecast.jpegThe first key segment in the Cost Worksheet is the Budget segment. We typically break this segment down into Base Budget, Budget Adjustments and Revised Budget. The second key segment on the Cost Worksheet is the Commitment segment. This is the segment where we track all of the Contracts, Change Orders, Pending Changes and Additional Forecast Items per cost code line item for all of the items committed, or soon to be committed, to compare against the budget. The third key segment of the Cost Worksheet is the Cost Forecast segment. This segment really compares the Budget segment versus the Commitment segment and lets us quickly understand where our project stands against the budget. The fourth and final segment is the Payment segment. In this segment the system pulls what has been requested to be paid per line item up against each cost code line item to allow us to quickly understand where we are on payments against a commitment.

The key concerns in any Project Management System that we as Owners’ Representatives have are reliability, security, accessibility and training. On reliability, we need the system to be available almost 100% of the time. While some software updates can happen, it is critical that the system downtime does not impact use. The second key concern we have is to ensure that there are levels of security on the Project Management System which allows us to manage who can see what information. A strong Project Management System can be the centralized data source for the entire project team (owners, designers, contractors) but if that is the case we want to limit access in certain areas (cost, etc.) to ensure that the information is secure. In today’s world data is king and having access to data anywhere is critical to success. Modern cloud based systems allow this access to occur easier than previous systems. We find that having access to data anytime we need it on a project is important. Finally, training is critical to rolling out a system to your team properly so having good training is a major concern we have with any system.


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How is it best to roll out the Project Management System?

We have always found that a phased rollout is best. We roll out a system to our teams in segments and to only a portion of the team (like Project Managers) first and we might only roll out a portion of the system (like Change Management). We put together a detailed plan of rollout and then implement it. However, we don’t implement a segment until after that portion of the team has been trained on that system.

Project Management Systems can be a great tool and foundation for a successful project if implemented properly. Putting one into place for your team or your project all starts with asking the right questions and then proper planning. 

Topics: Owner's Representative, Trouble Project Turnaround, Construction, Project Management