Managing Project Explosions

EPM helps spinoff tame whirlwind of new work

Life used to be so simple.

Back when the telecommunications company now known as NeuStar Inc. was a business unit of Lockheed Martin Corp., it had a limited roster of responsibilities, including assigning area codes, central office codes and other numbering resources in the United States and its territories. Everything else, from payroll to handling the electric bill, was handled by its parent company.

That changed drastically when it was spun off in December 1999. NeuStar was suddenly faced with transforming itself from a coddled business division into an independent company capable of managing many new projects at once.

The hard truth? NeuStars project management processes were just barely keeping up prespinoff—and they certainly werent up to the onslaught that future projects would bring. "[Before the divestiture,] we ... took on projects as they came and just managed to meet the demands," said Dianne Black, director of project management and support at the Washington company.

"They had no way to manage the level of complexity coming at them like a freight train down the track," agreed David Foote, managing partner of Foote Partners LLC, of New Canaan, Conn., a consultancy that NeuStar brought in to help manage the transition. Luckily, Foote Partners tipped NeuStar off to a form of project management, dubbed EPM (enterprise project management), that would keep it from being flattened by that freight train.

EPM differs from traditional project management in a number of ways. First, it entails enterprisewide evaluation of resources to determine if a project can and should be done. Second, it requires scrupulous documentation to keep enterprises from reinventing the wheel. Finally, it empowers the project office as never before, enabling it to determine which business units projects will affect and to enlist the contributions of any staffer from any of those business units.

The upshot? NeuStar is handling more projects that have more complexity than ever. Plus, its growing like a bean sprout.

NeuStars not alone. Businesses are increasingly becoming more project-driven, said Matt Light, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. As a result, company success is getting more dependent on adopting, if not full-scale EPM, then at least some elements of EPM, Light said.

EPM is meant to address the most frequent complaints heard from chief financial officers: that IT projects are often not completed and that "when they are completed, costs are overrun, and the quality is not there," said Raj Kapur, vice president and general manager of the Center for Project Management, in San Ramon, Calif.

The main problem, Kapur said, is that many projects should never get the green light in the first place, because resources—be they technology, available talent and/or money—were never there to begin with, he said.

EPM pre-empts that problem by subjecting new projects to analysis that determines whether the project is in line with company objectives. This reliance on frequent documentation is typical of EPM, where all project stages are open for viewing by both project managers and top-level executives at any time. Because EPM is a method, rather than a particular technology, this merely entails granting viewing privileges, of, for example, NeuStars Microsoft Corp. Project Office 2000 files. This documentation creates a visible link between all projects occurring in the company.

According to NeuStars Black, EPMs rigorous planning and documentation process ensures that NeuStar can easily and quickly respond to requests or needs from customers, since the enterprises divisions have instant access to proven procedures and lessons learned. Without a process like EPM, companies often have a difficult time even recalling how much labor and money went into a particular project "without having to spend a lot of time digging around," especially across departments, Gartner Groups Light said.

NeuStars EPM team includes a core of eight project managers and the project support office. Along with maintaining NeuStars EPM handbook—a comprehensive tome that outlines the life cycle phase of any project that must operate cross-functionally across departments—the EPM support group ensures that project managers are trained, coached and mentored into becoming enterprise project managers.

Since implementing EPM, NeuStar has scored several more important contracts. The biggest came in November, when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers selected NeuLevel LLC, based in Melbourne, Australia—a joint venture of NeuStar and Melbourne IT Ltd.—to act as the registry for the first business-centric top-level domain name, .biz, on the Net.

That win indicates the ballooning complexity of NeuStars new roster of projects. And not only are projects growing in number and scope, so, too, is the company growing, from 90 employees at the end of 1999 to its current staff of 250.

With that kind of expansion, no wonder NeuStar needed all the project management streamlining it could get—and no wonder it had to have every business unit across the enterprise ready to help.