For many, the KISS acronym can be a less offensive “keep it simple and straightforward” for which it is the principle that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided.
In a recent survey that we have done on “What Tool Do You Use to Manage Project Information?” it was proposed by an experienced project management consultant to adopt the KISS principle by using MS Excel, MS Word, and MS PowerPoint to manage everyday project information. This was also supported by those who responded to the survey where MS Excel dominated the response as being the tool that continued to be used by many in the managing project information.
Although no one can argue the importance of keeping it simple when it comes to managing everyday project information, nevertheless, everyone should have an interest in how also to make it smart. Being smart is not only how capturing project information can be done better and faster and providing the insight for better-informed decisions but also how to take advantage to transform this information into a knowledge asset. In other words, the acronym should become KISSS or KIS3 for “keep it simple, straightforward, and smart”. If we assume that keeping systems simple has a value of “100”, then making them also straightforward will increase the value to “10,000” but making them also smart will bring the value to “1,000,000”.
Managing capital projects’ information has many challenges as they require implementing many project-management processes to capture this information during the project life cycle stages. These include processes for managing the project’s schedules, cost estimate, budgets, and budget adjustments, funding, cashflow, earned value, design and engineering deliverables, value engineering proposals quality assurance and quality control, the many types of project communications and notices, labor and non-labor resources usage, risks and issues, bidders prequalification, bidding process, contracts award, potential, and actual changes, progress invoices, and actual payments, HSE safety incidents, permits and passes, contractors’ performance appraisals, lessons learned, claims among many others.
To detail who will be involved in managing those processes, the project management team will develop what is known as the responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) which will identify the processes to be managed during each project life stage and the stakeholders who will be involved in managing each process. For each process, the project management team will identify the entity responsible for submitting or initiating the process (S), and the entity or entities who are responsible for reviewing and providing their comments on the submitted process (R). Sometimes, the review process could require the assigned reviewers to do the review at the same time or might assign a sequence for the review process (R1, R2, R3, etc.). The project management team will also identify what entities need to be kept informed of the review process (K). Finally, the project management team needs to identify the entity that has the authority to provide the final approval on the process (A). It is highly recommended to detail the RAM to show the specific individuals who will be involved in managing those processes to avoid ambiguity and lost accountability.
As explained earlier, many organizations continue to use MS Excel as the application to manage and capture the information for the project management processes. It is estimated that on a single project there could between 50 to 200 MS Excel files used to capture the information of the project management processes. Each MS Excel file will include columns that will represent the data fields that are specific to a process. For example, the RFI log will include as a minimum the fields for RFI #, RFI criticality, date received, due date, subject, responsible party, response completed and date response returned to the contractor. Some of those fields would have a predefined list of values to select from.
The rows for each log represent the different transactions for each project management process. For example, for the RFI log, each row will represent the RFI that was issued by the contractor and the response by the engineering consultant. The transaction details are extracted from the process form, that is the RFI, and the dates are associated with the actual submit and response dates of that specific RFI. Although the form for each transaction could differ from one project to another depending on the specific project requirements, nevertheless most of the log fields would continue to be the same for each form. The transaction field values will be usually manually added by the document administrator into the MS Excel log.
Using MS Excel as the platform to capture everyday project information comes with many issues that will drastically reduce the value of what has been captured. In addition to the main issue of having isolated data silos for each MS Excel file like the RFI log, there is also the issue that the information fields used in the MS Excel file will be limited to only some of the fields in the form and will not cover all the fields otherwise it will become a time-consuming process with high chances for wrong data entry specifically in the text fields. The third issue is that the MS Excel log does not show the documents such as drawings, specifications or bills of quantities, pictures, or other project records and emails that could be related to the submitted transaction, e.g. the RFI. While the fourth issue is that the log does not show all the dates nor the comments made during the different review steps and whether the transaction was returned and resubmitted. The fifth issue is that the information in each project management process log is not real-time and depends on when the document controller has updated and shared the file.
Those issues among many others make it necessary for those involved in delivering capital projects to consider implementing Project Management Information Systems (PMIS) like PMWeb to manage their everyday information for their complete projects’ portfolio. A project management information system (PMIS) provides those organizations with a single integrated platform to manage their complete project management processes and associated information and documents.
A PMIS uses a single database to capture the information for the different project management process that needs to be managed during the project life cycle stages. This eliminates the issue of having isolated data silos within the same project itself as well as across the complete organization’s projects portfolio. For example, PMWeb PMIS has many ready-to-use modules that cover safety incidents, RFI, submittals, contract documents, meeting minutes, punch list transmittals, budget, budget adjustments, commitments, potential change orders, change orders, progress invoices, payments, risk register among many others. In addition, PMWeb has a custom form builder that allows the organization to design any needed forms to manage its project management processes.
The ready-to-use forms and the customs forms that need to be created will automatically populate the log report without the need to re-add the data to any other register. This means that different logs can be created to show what fields to be displayed and to report on using the same data source. Access to the fields within each form can be restricted to the authorized project team member thus reducing the burden on the document controller to add information as well as ensuring accountability and promptness for provided information. In addition, this allows having additional fields to capture more information that was not possible when those forms were done manually. For example, the RFI form includes by default a field where the user can select the activity from the current project schedule that could be impacted by this RFI.
For the issue of not showing the documents, project records, and emails that could be related to the submitted transaction, all PMWeb forms have an attachment tab where documents that are either uploaded to the PMWeb document management repository or not can be attached to the form. In addition, it allows linking other relevant PMWeb records as well as imported emails to the forms. This will ensure that all supportive documents and relevant PMWeb records and emails are available to be reviewed and shared among those reviewing each project management process transaction.
As for the issue where the transactions logs do not show all the dates nor the comments made during the different review steps and whether the transaction was returned and resubmitted, all PMWeb forms allow assigning a visual workflow that will capture the dates and comments made by each project team member who is assigned to review or approve the submitted transaction. All those details are available to be reported in the desired form and format.
For the last issue of having non-real-time information for each managed process, PMWeb provides real-time web-enabled restricted access to all those involved in managing each project management process. This means that the information available for each process is real-time based on the latest information provided by each project team member. PMWeb also comes ready with an audit trail that captures the details of all users who have accessed the PMWeb platform and detail the actions performed by each.
The information for each project management process can be reported on and shared in any desired form or format to meet the organization’s reporting needs and requirements. The reported information can be tabular, graphical, or a combination of both depending on what is needed to present and the purpose of the communication.
The same KISSS or KIS3 principle followed in capturing the information for the Request for Information (RFI) process will apply to the many other project management processes that are needed to manage the project. This information will become the basis for providing the organization with a real-time single version of the truth visibility on the performance of every single project as well as the complete project portfolio. Yes, it is important to keep the management, monitoring, and evaluation of projects’ performance simple but this does not mean that it should not be done smartly. The KISSS or KIS3 principle will not only ensure that organizations can at least double the amount of information captured using MS Excel, which has been always wasted, but also ensures that capturing project information can be done better and faster, providing the insight for better-informed decisions as well as ensure that this information is transformed into a knowledge asset.
About the Author
Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM is a Senior Project Management Consultant with more than 35-year service record providing project management and control services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, and Telecommunication and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in complete project management including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.
Bassam is a frequent speaker on topics relating to Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for more than 6 years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), and Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE) and Green Project Management (GPM).
Bassam holds a Masters in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – Kuwait University, Kuwait and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA and London Business School, London, UK.