February 1996 • Volume 23 • No. 1

Software Review

ManagePro Versions 3.0 and 3.1

Goal-setting "MBA Ware" ideal for busy project managers

By David McClure

About a year and an half ago, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times all ran articles on a new class of software. This software was deemed "MBA Ware,"and one of the products mentioned most frequently was ManagePro from Avantos Performance Systems, originally introduced in 1992.

ManagePro is based on the time-proven methods of Management by Objectives from the 1950s. It focuses on the two-way communication process of setting goals and tracking commitments bolstered by management feedback and coaching. ManagePro does not compete directly with existing project management products like Microsoft Project, as most of these products focus on scheduling the tasks necessary to accomplish a project, applying resources to these tasks, determining the critical path for earliest completion, and adjusting resources and rescheduling tasks to manage the project most effectively and efficiently as it progresses.

The focus of ManagePro is setting employee goals and subgoals based on company, business unit, department or project strategic goals, then managing and tracking the commitments required to realize those goals by their target dates. ManagePro is based on the belief that it is employees who make a business successful; and the goal setting, tracking and recognition process is the best way to develop and support good employees.

The multi-user version of ManagePro solves an organization's problems associated with maintaining multiple project, stakeholder and employee demands that the current spate of downsizing and re-engineering has made even worse. It organizes and manages goals based on a hierarchy of goals and objectives that clearly show the rationale behind and support required for the success of management objectives. The entire product is based on a graphical breakdown structure of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Related [to long range objectives] and Time bound) goals and objectives. It sets deadlines based on commitments from both employees and managers. It allows various managers across the organization to interact with a central database by synchronizing their database copies with the master copy. It also provides the ability to link individual users' databases over a network via MultiLink, and allows multiple concurrent users access to the central database over a LAN or WAN, in addition to updating and rolling up and down upper and lower level data regularly. A system of passwords and access levels maintains security in areas defined "for these eyes only" by the administrator. And synchronization allows laptop users to update the central database as well as their own with new information entered in both places while they are traveling.

The real power and value of ManagePro is its paradigm of goal hierarchies, commitments, deadlines and responsibilities, and the ability to track and manage the timelines and details necessary to complete these tasks whether for an individual manager, a dispersed workgroup or an entire organization. It is simple and direct in its application of management by objectives. And it keeps up with the hundreds of goals, commitments and deadlines which leave managers drowning in detail every day. It reminds the user when it is time to do a review (with the advance notice you have built into it) and when it is time to measure progress or give feedback. It will produce a schedule of events and shows the status of objectives in the terminology the user selects, warning the user through changing color lights and icons when some element of the project is late or critical.

First as a project manager, and most recently as a project management consultant, I have often recognized the limitations of traditional project management software in some project environments. Project management software packages are designed to plan and schedule a series of activities required to be accomplished in some relatively fixed order in relation to each other. They focus on determining the critical path and the shortest path through the project, which allows all of the activities to be completed. They are generally powerful, often necessary allies when confronted with a large project involving perhaps several hundreds or even thousands of activities which draw on a large number of often interrelated and limited pools of resources to accomplish the tasks. The class of software termed "project management software" is, in reality, project scheduling software which uses often complicated mathematical algorithms to redistribute resources and rearrange activities in order to make the most effective and efficient use of a limited set of resources to complete a project within a specified time and budget.

However, there are huge numbers of projects which fall into a different category. This category includes small, low budget or short-duration projects which are neither mission critical nor high risk. The majority of these projects do not have the budget, management resources or time to enter data into or use a full blown project management system. These projects may not involve interdependent activities or interrelated resources. They do, however, need management attention to stay on schedule and within budget while delivering the required scope and quality.

In fact, the majority of project environments are made up of relatively small projects involving fewer than 20 individual (usually human) resources. They typically have a duration of less than six months (one year at the most) and a total budget of $20,000 to $1 million each. They are not high risk, mission critical or in a key result area of the organization's strategic plan. These small projects are often discontinuous and involve several points in time where all work must cease while something is reviewed, money is raised or approved for release to the budget, or another entity develops some piece of the project required before the remainder of the work can continue. The environment which I will call "small project" is also normally one where many small projects are being done at the same time. Often, some of the projects are on hold, but they still require monitoring and management at some level.

This is an environment where ManagePro excels -- situations where management by objectives is simply the best choice. In addition, the goal setting, coaching and direct report management functions integrated into the product help team leaders focus on developing people and reducing unwanted turnover. The product functionality is supported by on-screen, context-sensitive advice from the Management Advisor, which helps new managers learn and apply management processes on the job, and provides specific diagnostic support for the experienced manager.

The basic methodology used in ManagePro can be summarized in four steps: 1.) Agree on clear, measurable goals with specific checkpoints and due dates.

2.) Monitor progress on each goal at a frequency determined by the capability of the people involved.

3.) Provide adequate feedback and coaching to help employees achieve their goals and develop their skills.

4.) Evaluate, recognize and reward people according to their contributions.
The Multi-user Network Edition, the most recent revision to ManagePro, adds the following workgroup functionality:
  • Enables organizations to achieve their business objectives through collaborative planning, delegation, and goal tracking.
  • Focuses on achieving organizational goals through clear goal setting, team alignment, progress monitoring, coaching, and performance recognition across the organization.
  • Enables teams to establish and communicate goals while sharing progress towards their objectives.
  • Integrates database, planning tools and expert advice in ways designed for scaleable, configurable usage.
  • Supports mobile computing through database extraction and synchronization (synchronization of multiple copies of the same database).

    Whether individual or multi-user edition, ManagePro operates through the use of three sets of integrated tools that act upon the same information in a centralized database:
  • Goal Management Tools help users plan and track specific business goals, such as "achieve 98 percent customer satisfaction" or "double sales in the fourth quarter," as well as broad objectives such as quality improvement.
  • People Management Tools help manage people and teams, building confidence for managers, team leaders, and individual contributors by facilitating communication across the organization, helping to set clear expectations, and track and document progress.
  • Action and Support Tools, including the Calendar, To Do List, Action List, Assistant and Reports, help users work with dates and information across goals and people.

    Information is simple to enter in ManagePro through spreadsheet-style planners, pull-down menus and pop-up data entry screens. It is also easy to view and manipulate at multiple levels of detail. Changes made in any tool at any level are reflected throughout the program. It is truly an integrated management tool.

    One particular volunteer effort I have been involved in illustrates the power this product has to organize and manage progress on multiple goals while keeping track of a diverse group of people who must all make a significant contribution for an effort to succeed. For the past year, I have been the project manager the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Internet Project. The project team was composed of a mixture of part-time PMI staffers (adding another function to their already overcrowded day), PMI member-volunteers who would work on this project at odd times of the day or night whenever they could squeeze in the time, and a paid consultant and contractor who would guide us through the process as well as providing support services. The project budget was about 40 percent of what a commercial endeavor of this nature would require, and the client was a collection of user groups ranging from PMI members to paid staff to vendors and consultants. We had committed publicly to produce a professional World Wide Web site showcasing PMI standards of excellence. The site was to include a conferencing section to allow members and non-members around the world to communicate and discuss issues of interest regarding project management. And from almost the moment it was approved, the project became one of the most visible in the organization, largely because of the general publicity surrounding the Internet and because of the great need we have for low cost, long distance communication to support an international, non-profit organization. This was not an easy project.

    But it was perfect for ManagePro. In fact, I don't believe it would have succeeded without it. Through the use of an appropriate management tool and the good work of all team members cooperating from a distance, the project was a huge success. We rolled it out at PMI's International Symposium connecting interactively with the site in a real-time, live session shown on a 40 foot screen before 3,000 members in the hotel ballroom. We had completed the project on time to the quality levels we had targeted and significantly under budget.

    Data entry into ManagePro was quick and easy, and individual hierarchies were expanded or compressed with one keystroke, making the organization clear and direct. Notes and external documents were attached to goals at various levels. For example, I was able to attach E-mail messages sent to the objectives from team members relating to each goal, and other documents like the newsletters I sent out periodically giving project status and plans regarding a specific goal or group of goals. Status tracking and management was simple and direct. For each objective we defined the basis for measuring progress, as well as five rating levels for measuring success from "Unsatisfactory" to "Far Exceeds." Other valuable tools included the ability to add checkpoints, commitments, to dos and progress notes, and status at any point in the program. This information was automatically crosslinked from screen to screen so that changing a view of the data did not limit the details available about any related element of the project.

    While ManagePro does not perform critical path scheduling or detailed resource allocation or leveling, it does allow for the start date, end date and duration to be entered regarding each objective in the hierarchy. Enter any two of these and the program calculates the third based on the calendar of available work days and holidays which you select for the project.

    In working with volunteers it must be realized that while they may have the best of intentions when making the initial commitment, the day-to-day demands of business and family can move volunteer activities to the bottom of their priority list without notice. Any effort which does not take this into account is likely to fail, with everyone ending up missing deliverables or dates and pointing fingers of blame at each other. So, making volunteer efforts go smoothly requires even more coordination than usual so that all parties know exactly what is expected of them, how they fit into the overall scheme, and to expect regular communications clearly listing their commitments. If I was going to succeed as the project manager, I had to keep up with the list of objectives, to dos, and commitments for the entire team, as well as keeping the team informed of their parts in these activities on a regular basis.

    Entering data took about one full day. It was logically arranged and organized to make it as easy as possible. Once I had the plan roughed out, I sent it to the other team members in one of the 30 standard graphical and text-oriented reports on goals, planning calendars, action items and people management reports.

    Realizing the particular need for communicating with the volunteers, I used the people management function to schedule reminders for each of the team members based on their commitments and responsibilities. ManagePro's flexibility allowed each person's list of reminders and "commitments to and from" to be set up individually based on the needs of the situation. Once these were established, ManagePro kept track of both the team's commitments to the project and to me and my commitments to them, so that all I needed to do was remember to start ManagePro every Monday and review the plan and commitments for that week. ManagePro lets the user comment on performance as a running history attached to each person in the team, permitting me to remember if there were particular problems in the past and anticipate or avoid them in the future.

    We used version 3.0 -- the individual version of the product. The latest upgrade to version 3.1, individual version, added little functionality, but it did seem to operate faster. However, version 3.1 introduces the multi-user version, which adds a great deal in workgroup options. The Multi-user Network Edition of version 3.1 allows multiple users (peers, supervisors, direct reports, skip-level reports, etc.) to link their databases over a network via MultiLink, enabling the communication of goals and progress towards their goals without restriction. ManagePro Multi-User Network Edition can also enable several users to update one database at the same time (simultaneous read/write access) and communicate via E-mail. Communication among workgroup members can be facilitated via any of these methods, all without having to exit the program.

    We have tested this functionality, and it is very workable. The functionality meant for mobile computing will also assist us in managing our volunteer efforts for the coming year. Using a shared ManagePro Multi-User Network Edition database, I can easily update the database while away from the office (on a laptop, for example) and then merge it with the group copy at the office when I return. ManagePro will detect and assist in synchronizing the databases and resolving conflicts by highlighting them and asking me how I wish to resolve them.

    For a busy project manager who has to manage an enormous amount of information to be successful, ManagePro may be the solution to your problems, especially for smaller projects involving relatively unrelated activities and few shared resources. If your project involves almost any number of mainly human resources, and if the success of your project depends on individuals acting alone or in dispersed workgroups, and if setting appropriate hierarchy goals and executing them effectively and on time defines success, then ManagePro will probably greatly simplify your life and improve your performance. Simply put, it helps you look and perform like a pro.

    This review was performed using ManagePro Version 3.0, and 3.1 Individual Edition (9 MB disk space, 20 MB recommended) and Version 3.1 Multi-user Network Edition (9 MB disk space, 20 MB recommended) run on IBM 486-DX2-66 clones with 8 and 16 MB RAM and on a Winbook laptop 486-100 with 16 MB RAM. No system problems occurred.

    David G. McClure is president of McClure Management Corp., a San Francisco-based company that provides management services, consulting and training for a range of clients.

    Product Information

    ManagePro Individual Edition - $199; ManagePro Multi-user Network Edition - $650 per seat, volume discounts available. ManagePro is available through Avantos Performance Systems, 5900 Hollis St., Emeryville, CA 94608; Phone: 510-654-4600; Fax: 510-654-1725; E-mail: avantos@aol.com

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