All Projects at a Glance

Feature Article | March 12, 2008 by Fabian Fischbach, Dirk Petzoldt

The SAP ramp-up process for cProjects 4.5 began right on schedule in December 2007. The new release is now being implemented for selected customers, including MAHLE Filtersysteme GmbH und Mercedes-Benz Accessories GmbH. Their experiences will then be used to further enhance the software, because SAP ramp-up is just one aspect of the close cooperation that SAP entered into with users when designing the cProjects version. In the summer of 2006, SAP developers were already systematically recording suggestions from cProjects customers, and a series of improvements in the new release are thanks to these contributions.

cProjects is offering new features and enhancements in terms of functionality, integration, and operation. The new “Project Table view” for example provides greater user-friendliness. Employees can therefore perform a filter directly in the table view of a project and define their own views, in order to provide a rapid overview of critical tasks, for example. In cProjects 4.5, content can also be exported to a number of formats, including Microsoft Excel.

The Gantt chart has been given a visual overhaul and now success-critical tasks are now highlighted in different colors, so that the current status can be ascertained at a glance. Numerous planning activities can now also be completed directly in the Gantt chart, without additional navigation. In addition, users are able to save their layout settings.

Forecasts for accurate prices

When it comes to functionality, cProjects 4.5 is a winner in the areas of multi-project and resource management. For example, the new Multi-Project Monitor displays several projects, including their relationships, in graphical form and therefore portrays the business dependencies, for example between the main project and sub-projects.

As a result, enterprises can carry out forward-looking controlling for project relationships and leverage synergies more easily. The Monitor also offers various filter options, with which a project manager can access all the tasks for a particular employee and gain an overview of his or her workload.

The new features in resource management include task-based demand planning, which calculates the required resources for a specific period based on the deadline situation and scope of assigned activities. The function is particularly useful for project managers in the event of deadline postponements or rescheduling.

Demand, availabilities, staff assignments, or reservations can now also be graphically visualized in resource management. The graphics help employees to better estimate the stability of resource planning, which “matures” over the course of a project: While in the early phase, resource requirements are frequently based on estimates, they can later be determined on the basis of the tasks actually scheduled.

Another new feature is the period-specific calculation, which makes it possible to estimate personnel costs with current cost rates, according to the distributed demand planning. This results in more accurate cost forecasting, and in turn enables the prices for customer projects to be determined more effectively.

The new release also enables employees to search specifically for vacant project positions. Defined search criteria, such as qualifications or location, plus a qualification comparison, make it easy to find suitable posts.

Enhanced integration increases user-friendliness

The even tighter integration of cProjects 4.5 with solutions in SAP Business Suite also increases the user-friendliness of the software. This is true among other things for the recording of working time in CATS (Cross Application Time Sheet). Thanks to the enhanced integration of the new release with Enhancement Package 3 for SAP ERP 6.0, employees can now also enter information on the progress of work in the CATS interface, in addition to the number of hours worked.

The connection to SAP Resource and Portfolio Management (SAP RPM) has also been enhanced. This simplifies the synchronization of dates, for example. In the portfolio, users can also link different project phases with “decision points” and thus better align portfolio-relevant and project-relevant dates and progress. Selected portfolio data, such as planned and actual costs, can also be viewed at project level.

The tighter connection to strategic resource management in SAP RPM has created a closed cycle for the planning, execution, and controlling of resource requirements and staff assignments. Among other things, operational resources can be generated in the project from strategic resource planning, and staff assignments or candidates can be created from the portfolio.

As both operational planning and actual information can be loaded into the portfolio, forecast, planned, and actual comparisons are now possible here. For integration with Microsoft Project, SAP has improved the export and import of data, checklists, and date restrictions, among other things. As a result, the project plans are better aligned with each other in the two solutions.

With cProjects 4.5, Six Sigma improvement projects can also be mapped efficiently. For this, the solution offers the corresponding project roles and the option of flexibly defining project key figures and tracking these in reporting.

Users offer suggestions

Enterprises have applauded the fact that SAP involved users in the development of the solution. Back in the summer of 2006, during a customer test at SAP’s head office in Walldorf, they also inquired about the current situation regarding the planned enhancements. Dirk-Alexander Kogel, spokesman for the “cProjects und SAP RPM“ working group in the German-language SAP user group (DSAG), sums up the feedback gained at the event as follows: “This was the start of a very productive collaboration based on trust between the working group and SAP.“

In various workshops and at customer premises, SAP then recorded the concrete requirements that the working group had relating to the new release. A few months later, customers were provided with minor improvements in the form of service packs, including enhancements to the table view and the ability to extend the search for resources on a user-specific basis. Further requirements, such as the Multi-Project Monitor, will now be met with the new release.

Tested to the full

In September 2007, an acceptance test gave selected customers the opportunity to take a really close look at cProjects 4.5. SAP Development also used the feedback from this to further improve the quality of the software. The assessment of Manfred Haeusler, global project manager for IT at MAHLE Fitersysteme GmbH, is positive: “We were won over by the quality of cProjects 4.5. And the positive collaboration with SAP Sales and the ramp-up organization also means we are convinced implementation will be concluded successfully.“

Customers were also presented with a further option of thoroughly testing the new release as well as initial drafts of subsequent versions in November 2007 at the annual congress of DSAG, which set up cProjects 4.5 for testing in the Usability Test Center. Here again, SAP Development recorded the customer feedback.

Also in November, the automotive component supplier Mercedes-Benz Assecoirs GmbH (MBA) took the opportunity to validate the new release. On a system provided by SAP, project managers and employees from different MBA business divisions tested cProjects 4.5 with their own data and business transactions. Carsten Schmidt, head of the Competence Center and IT Management at MBA praised the partnership: “It was an extremely positive experience for us to test our requirements with our own data at SAP prior to the implementation of cProjects.”

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