Project Information Control
This is Launch Conditioning #3
Large projects generate a vast amount of information. Much of this, especially the formal project procedures, plans, and records, are usually organized within some form of centralized Project Management Information System (PMIS). Computer based PMIS not only store large amounts of data, but can intelligently handle, sort, back-up and report timely (sometimes predictive) information of immediate use to managers. Most importantly for high-tech mega-projects, modern packages will integrate complex data relationships between scheduling and network planning, resource management, budgeting, cost control and performance analysis, and risk burn. Clearly it makes sense to establish a PMIS of appropriate scale and capability early and enforce its use.
However, case investigations show that the discipline required to create, register and link all relevant project documentation within a controlled environment is rarely maintained outside of externally audited (usually industrial) projects. Observations during fieldwork show a mixed attitude to centralizing plans and data, with personal storage practices representing the highest risk.
Of at least equal significance to the successful project execution is the abundance of information exchanges that take place around the project, internally and externally, and often not recorded centrally. This information "traffic" flow includes face-to-face meetings and conferences, telephone and video meetings, emails and presentations, all sometimes involving arms-length groups.
As the project community grows through the conception stage through to execution, the risk of misalignment of working group effort, misunderstandings of priorities and changes, and misinformation to external parties grows accordingly. Moreover, exercising weak control over these "satellite" information channels leaves aspects of the project imperfectly recorded. This leads to inefficient external reviews and limiting the usefulness of central repositories as stores of lessons learned.
How should early phase project managers address this situation? Implementing a project management system based on an accepted professional guideline (e.g. PMBOK) may go some way to instilling the required practices. Implementing a certified (independently audited) management system (e.g. ISO 9001) will demand compliance with procedures designed to apply control of documents, records, and information flows.
However, the present study concludes that the most effective means of establishing an information-controlled environment is to introduce it early, drive it through management example, and dedicate resources to maintaining it. In its most mature form, this might involve a Project Information Office (PIO) as the repository of centralized information, documents and data; holding responsibility for arranging meetings, telecoms, etc., and managing their inputs and outputs. The PIO would hold authority for approval and recognition of any satellite group information needs, including the use of project templates, branding, intellectual property (IP), and single point management media interfaces.
Experience from the Dutch LOFAR project suggests that extensive formalization (PIO-style) early in the project was viewed unfavorably. However, the increasing drive for industrial class high-tech mega-projects (as opposed to academic institution models) is demanding greater rigor. LOFAR's Dr. de Vos suggests that a balance might be struck by providing a Wiki (or Sharepoint) type environment where early stage documents and concepts from scientists and engineers can be assimilated less formally.
This concludes Part 1 of this paper. Next month in Part 2, Dr. Philip Crosby will continue with Risk & Contingency (LC4), Project Environment (LC5) and Mission Assurance (LC6).
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