I’ve been buried under Project 2010 for a couple of weeks, only surfacing to get dragged back to Central Ohio for a wintry vacation and a series of random minor but annoying illnesses.  Figured it was about time to get back into the blogging saddle (cue the flinch and sudden flashback to Central Asian saddles from my Peace Corps days).

For my first topic in the New Year, I’d like to ease into things with a couple of recommendations for items to iron out before shopping around for EPM solutions.  Here are a couple of things to consider before putting out the RFI/RFP that will assist in getting a quality response from vendors, and in helping you assess multiple competing enterprise products.  In the end, identifying these issues early on will reduce the cost and length of an eventual EPM tool implementation.

1) Identify your project update methodology – Everyone wants great data and good reports, but how willing are your resources to provide that data?  Identify to what extent you expect your resources to submit updates, and how frequently they should do so.

2) Identify your goals in tracking projects – Yeah, we all went to PMP school and learned we need to track projects, but why?  Tracking for the sake of tracking doesn’t do anything.  Tracking to mitigate risk or to ensure our executives don’t go to jail for flubbing federal regulations, now that’s a different story.  This will then drive your reporting requirements.  Different tools will address different goals in a myriad of ways.

3) Identify your reporting goals – Executive reporting requirements drive EPM implementations.  Arguably, going to an enterprise solution from a desktop solution doesn’t help the project manager all that much, but it does make their work all the more visible.  If you have no executive reporting requirements, can you honestly answer the question of why you’re doing this?  Sure tools have all sorts of reporting bells and whistles, but how do you know what’s needed and what’s fluff?

4) Develop WBS templates for your project – What’s the point of implementing a great scheduling engine when there’s no foundation to build the schedules on?

5) Develop schedule templates – The scheduling engine won’t do all that much until we have good schedules to work from.  Not to be tool-specific, but Microsoft Project is the most utilized desktop scheduling engine out there.  Most EPM tools will import Microsoft Project files easily.  So work with what you have, and identify what works internally.  This will provide great insight when it comes time to pick an EPM tool….  Heck, with 2010, Microsoft Project Professional will publish directly to SharePoint lists without the requirement for Project Server.  This may meet quite a lot of organizational needs.

6) Identify your business drivers for project selection – Portfolio management is great in Project Portfolio Server 2007, and even easier to use in Project Server 2010, but have you really done all you can already using simple spreadsheets, pairwise analysis, and weighted business drivers?  If you can’t cobble together a simple decision engine in Excel, how will investing in expensive server based technology address the issue?

As a sop to any EPM sales reps who read this blog, I point out that I am not arguing against purchasing EPM packages, or even arguing against engaging a consulting shop early in your PM maturity development.  What I am saying is that many of these items can be worked out internally, or with a qualified facilitator/consultant prior to even considering an enterprise wide implementation……and that will only increase the success of your eventual implementation.

Some EPM tool implementers can help you work through these issues before or during an EPM implementation – although as I stated above, this almost always extends the duration of an EPM implementations.  Some EPM implementers would rather you work through all of this on your own before inviting them in to implement the tool.  Make sure you have this discussion up front with any potential vendor to ensure that overall schedule expectations are set appropriately.

…and if that’s not an exhaustive enough list of homework assignments, take a look at my discussion of EPM Implementations as an Exercise in Metaplanning.

Phew….feeling much better now that I’ve got that off my chest…..now back to Project Server 2010 BI fun….