How many PMOs are there that receive status reports in Excel, Word or PowerPoint format for each individual project, then extract the data manually to create executive reports? …which are then distributed to management via email using those same disconnected file formats?
Pretty much every customer we work with wants to improve this process, for obvious reasons: countless days are being wasted, executive reports are of limited use and delivered with delay, decision making is compromised.
Project Online to the rescue
Typically, our solution will be to implement Microsoft PPM as a central database for all project information, and automate report and dashboard creation. The technologies will likely be cloud based, implementing Project Online and Power BI. Project managers now access Project Online and maintain project information such as progress narrative, RAG status, tasks and milestones, risks, issues etc. – and all the reporting is entirely automatic. The benefit is huge and this can often be achieved very quickly, with our pre-configured QuickStart model and reporting solutions (see here for our Global IT PMO case study published by Microsoft).
…but sometimes it’s not that simple
There a some PMOs where this approach doesn’t solve their problem entirely. Particularly those in central government organisations and commissioning bodies who work with numerous external parties and suppliers to deliver projects. It is not unheard of for a government department to receive monthly reports from 30 or 40 external bodies, for hundreds of projects – in Word format!
Put yourself in the shoes of such a PMO: You definitely want Project Online as your central PPM database, but you cannot just ask all these external bodies to be users on your PPM system and enter project progress – for a number of reasons:
- they each have their own control systems and processes
- they often need to sign off status reports internally before submitting them to you
- trying to make so many different parties change the way they work would be a huge adoption challenge
- there is a license cost issue.
Addressing the challenge
We have come up with a great solution, based on a simple idea: If everyone sends us Word documents with project status information, why not just use that very mechanism to collect the data for Project Online? Let’s provide them all with a standard, locked down template for a Project Status report in MS Word, ensure that report submission is simple and then automate the extraction of the data.
We have created a cloud service to do exactly that, called PMO Agent. And while the concept is simple, this service is quite sophisticated in what it delivers:
- A project manager can simply email their report to PMO Agent
- PMO Agent receives the document and sends a return email to confirm receipt
- It extracts the data and validates it
- Any errors are reported back to the sender via another email, or a success email is sent if all is fine
- PMO Agent then updates the project information in Project Online (covering all the different data sets mentioned above)
- It puts a copy of the report into a document library attached to the project
- It creates comprehensive transmission log information.
The PMO transformed
The benefit for your central PMO is huge:
- You save all that time wasted previously in manually dealing with these reports
- You can see instantly what reports are missing
- You get report submission statistics (great dashboards showing us SLA type information around timeliness of reports)
- Data from reports received ends up in executive dashboards without any manual intervention, much fresher data thus driving better decision making
- You have instant access to all historical reports, you can see trends etc.
Better still, the implementation of this solution is quick and affordable:
- It’s all in the cloud so we don’t need to provision infrastructure
- The change impact for users is minimal (filling in a Word document and emailing it is not hard!)
- Project managers won’t need a Project Online license.
We deliberately chose email as the most low-tech approach for report submission – this even obviates the need for user accounts and passwords (no “I’ve lost my password” support calls). But this is still secure – project managers and their emails are registered with PMO Agent and any unregistered senders are rejected.
Needless to say, all of this is highly configurable, so can be set up for different status report layouts and content, even allowing for multiple templates for different types of projects.
Rapid project status visibility wherever needed
We can see great uses for PMO Agent in other environments too: Imagine a global merger with a central PMO needing to quickly establish control of all the projects going on in the newly joined up organisation. Implementing a Word based reporting standard and using email surely is the easiest way to get everyone submitting project data consistently.
Find out more!
If you want to find out more, we have recently worked with Microsoft to publish a Webinar on this subject. If you have 20 minutes spare, why not check it out here and see clips of the full solution – Project Online as the enterprise PPM backbone, PMO Agent collecting updates and Power BI delivering fantastic executive dashboards.
Do get in touch for a personal demo or to discuss a trial of this solution for your PMO!