Project Management – The PARC Difference

The PARC Difference – Real Time Project Monitoring

Consulting engagements that fail or experience delays and budgetary issues typically follow the same fact pattern. Soon after the project starts, challenges and issues begin to creep in. Issues can arise for several reasons – a misunderstanding about the scope, improper allocation of responsibilities, poor collaboration/cooperation among the team, etc. In our experience, 90% of all issues stem from a miscommunication, i.e., something that was misstated, misinterpreted, or something that should have been said that remained unvoiced.

The initial problems are normally small and inconsequential. However, they inevitably begin to accumulate, and deadlines start to be missed. At some point, the client reaches out to the consulting firms leadership to voice displeasure at the slipping schedule and inflated cost. In response, the consulting firm attempts to right the ship and deliver the project to the client’s satisfaction. The project is delivered after some long hours, possibly blown budget and a little stress. The majority of this could have likely been avoided if “someone pointed out the iceberg.”

This leads to the PARC difference – how we use project planning, real-time streaming data, and real-time alerting to ensure that those within our organization with the experience and knowledge to overcome these hurdles are given the information to assess the issues and develop a proactive response to mitigate.

The Project Plan and Project Management Tool

The first piece of this ecosystem is the project management tool. Not all project management tools are created equally. However, the usefulness of this tool is correlated to how effectively it is utilized. Regardless of what project management tool is used, the difficult task is the human one (isn’t it always?) – i.e., getting the members of the project team to actually use the tool. To do this, your organization must cultivate the habit of managing your tasks and project status within the tool. There are many theories about how to best establish organizational and personal habits. I have found Ray Dalio’s “Principles” and James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” to be interesting reads on the subject.

At PARC, we have taken the approach of tying the habit of “project tracking” to a habit that consultants have already developed – tracking their time. By linking time tracking to our project management tool, we accomplished a few things: (1) we have made our consultants lives easier by giving them a single system for project tracking and time entry, (2) we have ensured the habit of project tracking by tying it to an existing habit and (3) we have developed a source of accurate data about the status of ongoing projects

In order to highlight potential issues with a project, we have also included an “issue” flag within each project plan. As soon as a consultant notices a potential issue, they highlight the issue and the impact it
may have on the project. (More on how we utilize this flag below.)

Real-Time Project Data Extraction

With the project management tool gathering data about the issues, tasks, and milestones of ongoing projects, we can extract that data and utilize it for dashboarding, reporting, and analysis.

To do this, we must first set up the extraction. The extraction method will depend on the project management tool you use. Some tools may provide webhook functionality for you to build a real-time project management data engine. If your tool does not provide webhook functionality, you may be able to utilize an out-of-the-box integration using a tool like Zapier. Depending on the tool, an integration may already exist to extract data from your project management tool and send it to your target (which in our case is a data warehouse).

However, often out-of-the-box integrations will not include access to all of the data you would like. For instance, the pre-built integration may not include triggers for certain events. Accordingly, you may have to resort to coding some fairly simple API routines to extract the data from your project management tool Because PARC is fortunate to employ some talented programmers, and because we want a seamless solution, this is typically the route we have chosen. However, web hooks will likely be the method of choice in the not-too-distant future.

Streaming Data

In the implementation scenario where webhooks are utilized, you may want to consider routing the real-time project updates through a streaming data platform, such as Kafka. Though the volume of data is not substantial, if your organization is utilizing a real-time streaming platform, it would make sense to create a “Project Management” topic and send the data received by the web hook. Using a technology like Kafka, a platform can be created with the appropriate Sinks or consumers to load the data to the appropriate destination.

Alerting

With the extraction in place, we can now set up triggers, filters, and events. The first trigger we have set up is to “look” for changes to the issue flag (referenced above). As soon as an issue is flagged during an ongoing project, it is routed to senior management. This provides an “all-hands-on-deck” approach when issues arise at their onset. This proactive approach is the best way to avoid the project pitfalls discussed in the opening paragraph. Either the issue is resolved by putting our collective heads together, or the plan can be adjusted so that all milestones are still met.

Dashboard, Reporting, and Analytics

With the complete project management information stored in a cloud data warehouse, we can now point our dashboard and analytical tools to this data warehouse tool to perform some interesting project analysis.

This allows us to:

  • Track overall project status and deliverables in an automated fashion which lessens the amount of time our consultants “waste” on project overhead
  • Track issues, their resolution, and their impact on the overall project plan
  • Track budget and forecasts
  • Analyze our delivery performance
  • Provide real-time transparency to our clients

Most project management tools come with some reporting capabilities but often the tools are limited to canned reports. Now we can analyze our data in any way we see fit. Additionally, this data can be joined with our billing and receivables data to provides even more insight into the profitability of the projects.

The cliché “Democracy dies in the dark” is often used to express the idea that shining a light on issues is what cures them. We believe this principle applies to completing successful projects as well and we have designed a system that allows us to discover and resolve issues before their negative impacts can be felt.

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