Complexity in Project Management Systems

When managing construction projects, one size does not fit all.

Each project is unique and each requires a custom set of controls, with built-in flexibility and scalability. Collaboration, both internally and with vendors, promotes economy and efficiency. While the project manager directs the project, the client remains in control.

In short, implementing a project management system is a project in itself.

Time spent in planning and ensuring accuracy at the beginning will pay dividends throughout the life of the project management system and maximize the value of the data captured. To be effective, a system must have common, inflexible data architecture, with a set of flexible processes for data input and project status built on top.

Collaboration, both internally and with vendors, promotes economy and efficiency. While the project manager directs the project, the client remains in control.

Determining Project Needs

While project management systems were traditionally kept 'simple' with a number of interlinked spreadsheets tracking costs or status, any scalable, flexible, modern project management system needs to have a database at the back end. The architecture of what needs to be captured should be based on the actual project/program/PMO requirements for the system, rather than a generic solution.

A common problem is often the conflict between construction professionals and finance professionals. Each has differing requirements to capture project costs, but project management systems are not, and should not be, accounting systems. The work/cost breakdown structure should reflect the requirements of the construction professional, and then finance professionals can access data through back end integration between systems. This allows costs incurred, budget limits and forecasts to be passed between the project and accounting systems, but only managed from one place.

A common problem is often the conflict between construction professionals and finance professionals. Each has differing requirements to capture project costs, but project management systems are not, and should not be, accounting systems.

A Well-Designed System for all Project Sizes

Once the underlying architecture of the system is established, the processes to capture data and move costs and documents through the system begin. While there are many industry standards and approaches to project management such as PMI, or Prince2, there is no all-purpose approach, and each organization has their own project controls processes. By avoiding an all-purpose, off the shelf-type system, each organization can implement project processes unique to their needs. This flexibility also allows those processes to be adapted during the life of a project, based on lessons learned or changes in the way an organization wants to control projects.

This same flexibility should also permit different processes to be used for projects of different scales within the same project management system. For example, the level of project controls on a $500-million, multi-year construction project will be significantly more complex than a $20,000, minor works contract of short duration. Or, for a major project, three or four people may need to approve the payment or send it back for review, while on a minor project, only two people may need to approve. In both cases, while the data captured in the database would be the same, the complexity to capture that data would differ significantly. A well-designed system will work for one project, multiple projects, large projects or multiple small projects.

Scalability and Flexibility Empowers Owners

This consistency in the data captured regardless of the complexity of process used allows reports and trends to be provided easily, without the data being manipulated to take into account the different ways in which it was captured. This consistency in the underlying architecture supports benchmarking of cost data across multiple projects and evaluation of cost trends at the portfolio level.

 ...a good project management system needs to be built on a database that allows scalability and flexibility in its operation.

In summary, a good project management system needs to be built on a database that allows scalability and flexibility in its operation. This type of system enables and empowers clients to implement their chosen project controls, rather than adapting to a vendor’s “one size fits all” requirements.

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