The evolution of project, portfolio management

Primavera co-founder and CEO Joel Koppelman talks about evolving project management with a growing business

As project management and portfolio management disciplines have matured over the years, vendors that support these functional areas have had to evolve along with them -- or die trying. One vendor that has survived is Primavera Systems. With 22 consecutive years of revenue growth and profitability under its belt, the company has adapted well to changing market demands.

Computerworld's Thomas Hoffman caught up with Primavera co-founder and CEO Joel Koppelman at the company's 23rd annual user conference in San Diego Monday. Excerpt from then interview follow:

How's business? Where are you seeing particularly strong growth right now?

We're doing well across the board. We're doing particularly well in the public sector and in the technology space. In the public sector, some of this is being driven by government regulations which require federal agencies to report on project management in an accurate and consistent way.

What's new that you're hearing from customers at this year's conference?

As I think about the conversations I've had today, people are talking a lot about enterprise-wide project management, not about managing individual projects. And it's across industries. It's this view of 'I need to know everything at one time.'

Another customer was telling me that it's harder to keep smaller projects in scope if you don't manage them closely. If they get off (target), they go off by a lot. A few of Primavera's construction and engineering customers told me they're concerned that as the company has expanded its product development into other vertical industries, some of the focus appears to be shifting away from products they use. We've never cut back R&D spending in any of those verticals. But we're really making more noise in other verticals now like public sector and technology.

If you add functionality that helps people to collaborate, it doesn't matter what industry they're in.

What kinds of challenges are IT managers with several years' experience in using portfolio management tools and techniques, facing?

It's a topic near and dear to my heart: What kinds of requests are you getting and how are you getting them? By e-mail? Are they justified requests or things that business managers just want to do? That's the first problem.

The second problem is that the people (business managers) who want things done, like an SAP implementation, are making up ROI (return-on-investment) numbers. It's all guesswork. So if people are checking a year later (after the project has been approved and started) and want to know how it's going, there's no accountability. Unless you have good planning tools, you're going to get bad estimates.

I thought portfolio management software was supposed to help remove a lot of the guesswork around ROI and project prioritization.

They (customers) sift through the data they have, but it's not good data.

Let's shift gears for a moment. Does Primavera provide any kind of ASP services? Are customers asking for these?

Prime Contract is our ASP solution for the construction business. You have someone who manages construction contracts. Managing that process is a big deal. You have multiple subcontractors you're working with who each share information on specifications that go back and forth during the RFI (request for information) stage.

Prime Contract (an online marketplace) reduces the time to resolve things under the RFI process from two weeks to under a day. It's huge and it's worth a ton of money.

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