Impact of Project Portals on
Project Management Techniques and Culture
By Klaus Ullrich
Business Process and Project Management
University of Applied Sciences Vorarlberg
PMI Educational Foundation’s
2003 International Student Paper Awards
In today’s modern business world enterprises have to face the challenge of optimizing their IT
to ensure highest standards in project management. New technological developments demand
an improved work flow. Thus new software tools must counteract modern problems like
information overflow and communication barriers in global communication. With the
growing relation of the “classical” project management software to the portal concept, a new
workspace has emerged for project workers.
A project portal can be defined as a kind of virtual workspace for better communication and
information exchange. Within the scope of this paper functionalities and characteristics of a
project portal have been defined. On the basis of a questionnaire survey, this research has
proven the stimulating effects on project planning, collaboration and knowledge management.
Key Words: Requirements of modern Project Management, Project Management Tools,
Principles of a Project Portal, Project Collaboration, Team Communication, Knowledge
1. Requirements of modern project management
The computer brought a change to many enterprises. Nowadays, you can hardly imagine an
enterprise without computers and if so, inevitably the impression of their backwardness is
thrusted upon you. The electronic processing of the data became no longer simply an
alternative, but an essential pillar in the enterprise’s processes. But the crucial advantage of
the computer is the cross-linking of information.
New possibilities within the range of the information technology and telecommunications are
today considered generally as an "enabler" to the development of work distribution and new
organization forms1. Now enterprises have the possibility to react better to increased market
fluctuations and product complexities with an organizational strategy which is better adapted
to the new requirements. Frequently, the principles "IT-System follows Structure" and
"Structure follows Strategy" are replaced by "Strategy follows IT-System" due to the suction
effect of information and communication technology2. Therefore, the enterprises begin to
change their working methods. Due to the expansion to international production sites and due
to the utilisation of the possible cost comparisons and location advantages competition has
increased3. Corporate culture has gone along with the new technological possibilities to
overcome space and time.
Such strategies have the aspects of organizational decentralization in common4. The main
goal is making organisations more flexible and to improve the creation of value processes.
Here project-oriented organizations are the answer to dynamic markets and constantly
growing requirements. However, this necessitates a high communication level, in particular if
the team members co-operate on the same project in different locations5. Thus the design of
an organization is inevitably connected with the possibilities of communication and electronic
co-operation. Therefore, communication technology forms the basis for the realization of
modern organizations. They build a bridge over space and time and thereby smooth the way
to distributed co-operation6.
1 cp. Reichwald, 2000, p. 18
2 cp. Bullinger 2003, p. 706
3 cp. Bullinger 2003, p. 705
4 cp. Reichwald 2000, p.45
5 cp. Weder 2000, p.21f
6 cp. Reichwald 2000, p.21
The integration of computer networks presents an enormous potential, but despite the
availability of this technology it is not fully used in operational practice7. All organisations
must find solutions for a better usage and availability of their data, information and
knowledge sources for their staff. Therefore, these different data, information and knowledge
sources are to be integrated into a platform for individual personalized usage. In addition,
better communication must lead to a higher interchange of implicit knowledge of each
individual person within the enterprise. Every employee must know the field of activity of his
colleagues and be able to coordinate his work by himself. A tight communication network is
especially important with decentralized work and has great importance for a team’s success8.
Therefore, modern project management software must concentrate on the users and the
exchange of work and knowledge. It should be the answer to the new requirements of better
possibilities for coordination, collaboration and communication. Additionally, it must be able
to accommodate itself to the natural working process of each individual project worker. In
order to meet the requirements each enterprise’s needs a specific working environment which
is capable of integrating the new working process in a common platform is necessary. Hence
enterprises need a project portal.
Definition of a project portal:
A project portal is a network-based software application for the support of
project work. It integrates all the necessary functions for common project
planning, cross-office cooperation and knowledge transfer in a personalized
A project portal is characterized by its users and contents of either one or a group of projects.
It provides a virtual working place for the project. It supports project planning and promotes
cooperation by common information exchange. With its functionalities a project portal
integrates all necessary information, planning tools, means of communication and even the
knowledge of the project workers. Thereby the presentation of all data and information adapts
itself to the personal needs of the user.
In this way a project portal differs in theory in its function mode from "classical" project
management software: It is no longer used only by the project manager, but instead it
provides its functionalities to all project members. This policy of joint teamwork shapes the
7 Campana, C.; Bulkhead, E. 1998, p.196
8 cp. Katzenbach 1993, p.33
entire project portal concept. In the following six principles are set up, which differentiate a
project portal from "classical" project management software.
1.1 Principle of integration
A project portal serves as a “single point of access", as the only interface for the working
environment with all the necessary information. All functions and data for the
accomplishment of a project are integrated into the portal. Planning tools, documents, means
of communication and even the implicit knowledge are available through this one interface.
All data is presented in electronic form for convenient data interchange.
1.2 Principle of the redundancy-free data storage
Project data must be available not only to one, but to all working places. This principle meets
the demand of decentralized access to all data. This means the data may no longer be stored
on each working desk, but must be accessible to every authorised user by means of a project
portal. Thus the integrity of the data is guaranteed by the redundancy-free data storage.
1.3 Principle of subsidiary planning
If each team member has access to planning data and functionalities, then it is only logical
that the project planning process is also to be shared by several team members. Depending
upon the role and tasks in a project, every team member becomes flexible enough to carry out
the project planning according to his own responsibility and level of detail. Due to the central
data storage there exists not only one, but various detailed project plans.
1.4 Principle of content specific and user-friendly presentation
In most cases it is not necessary to present all the project data. Team members need only
information relevant to their work. Therefore, the presentation of the content needs can be
scalable. Thus a project portal tries to provide every user with his optimised personal amount
of information to reduce information overflow.
1.5 Principle of the common knowledge development/Principle of solidarity
Existing knowledge must be communicated, so that it can reach as many users as possible.
Communication is based upon three pillars: First - pull of information, meaning the possibility
to query knowledge from a knowledge pool; second - push of information, meaning the
possibility of targeted knowledge distribution; and finally feedback of information, which
evaluates the exchanged knowledge and thereby creates new knowledge. Within a project
portal the flow of knowledge distribution no longer needs a central coordinator, but adds a
plenary structure of knowledge exchange (Figure 1).
Flow of C
of C mm
Fig. 1: Radial and plenary ways of communication (Heppner 1997, p.303)
1.6 Principle of cross project resource spanning administration
A project portal supports the project work over any distance. Therefore, a project portal is not
limited to local conditions, but covers all resources and possibilities within or beyond the
project or organisational frame.
2. Possibilities for a project portal
Necessary functionalities of a project portal arise from the historical development of the
merger between the planning-supporting functions in project management software with the
idea of information distribution in the portal concept. Definitions for functionalities of project
portals are so far inconsistent in literature9. Following the structure of Bach, the subsequent
functionality groups have been defined below10:
9 cp. Bach 2000, p.127; Foecker 2000, p.2f; Gareis 2002; Bartsch Beuerlein 2001, p. 56-60;
Kroeber 2002, p.2f; SAPPress 2001, p.131-152; Weder 2000, p.11-22
10 cp. Bach 2000, p.127
Principals of a Project Portal
Data Handling System
Fig. 2: 3 Pillars of a Project Portal (own representation following Bach 2000, p.127)
The principles form the common roof for project portal functionalities and determine their
characteristics. Functionalities are then divided into three columns of a planning and reporting
system, a collaboration system and a document storage system. The planning and a reporting
system supports planning, pursuit and control of resources, costs, schedules, quality and risks
within a project. It takes charge of the "classical" functions of a project management tool. The
collaboration system provides functionalities for communication support and enables project
members to meet different requirements with options for different media. It serves the
development and the exchange of knowledge. The central document system stores files and
retrieves all possible project information. And finally as a foundation a data security system
guarantees the security and integrity of the information and data of a project. It contains
access protection both from the outside and within the project on individual documents and
2.1 Planning and reporting system
The planning and reporting system contains the subtasks of project planning, resource
planning, risk planning and project controlling. The project planning system differs from
“classical” project planning by the principle of subsidiary planning. In this way a personal
calendar is at the disposal for each team member, which supports all project workers
individually in their planning and scheduling tasks. A project portal achieves its full value in
project planning, if it is able to indicate the exact project status, to predict the accurate
resource needs and is able to integrate the whole project planning of an enterprise.
Resource planning can cover a resource pool for persons, premises and devices. Its aim is an
automatic cost planning and calculation of used resources. In addition, an exact analysis of
working load and resource utilization ratio is made possible. Risk planning can evaluate
possible risks in regard to their probability of occurrence and their possible impact (like
delays, cost increase and quality loss). In order to support the risk management, risks may be
estimated and qualified for planned work duration, extend of resources and costs. Project
controlling can calculate project cost and supports the early identification of resource
2.2 Collaboration System
One crucial requirement for project management is the facility of communication. In an
entirely local project a project portal does not need to substitute personal communication.
Merely communication supporting functionalities are needed. However, if a project portal is
to support a spatially distributed project team, large demands are made at its functionalities, in
order to ensure effective communication within the team.
In theory, collaboration tools support individuals and groups in the development and
exchange of knowledge. Thereby the spectrum of applications reaches from simple
communication systems such as e-mail or forums up to the document sharing and group
decision support systems11. Thus collaboration tools support the codifying strategy that is the
electronic input, editing and allocation of knowledge.
Typical synchronous collaboration media in a project portal are for example chat, audio and
video conferencing, shared whiteboards, document sharing and decision support systems.
Typical asynchronous media are e-mail, forums, homepages and electronic polls. Also
electronic memos, which can be placed in different spots within a project portal, like work
packages, risks or stored documents become meaningful.
11 Bullinger 2003, p. 694
Of course communication media in a project portal does not attempt to replace personal
contact, but tries to enhance, broaden, simplify and speed up team communication12. Project
portals should offer new media for particular communication situations, but should not limit a
team to electronic project communication.
2.3 Document Storage System
To put it in a nutshell, common document storage can be considered as an electronic project
folder. Every team member can store, manage and allocate work results and information, like
letters e-mails and presentations13. Some usual functionalities are the assignment of access
authorizations, versioning and search functions. Thereby, the documents are storable in
listings with their usual tree structure. As an alternative it is sensible to offer context-referred
hyperlinks in documents as an additional form of information retrieval.
The concept of a project portal implies an increase in responsibility of each team member.
However, responsibility can only be taken over for the provided information. The aim of such
information liberalisation is to give each team member the possibility of self-contained
planning and thereby increase the dynamism of the project portal. On the other hand,
information liberalisation is limited in providing certain amount of privacy for the users.
Aside from the multiple information, which comes about during project work, its users gain
personal knowledge and experience. In order to be able to use this knowledge, knowledge
management is vital. To enable a project portal to support knowledge management, it
possesses functionalities which allows for better usage and exchange of knowledge. It
contains the basic functions of search, filter, evaluation, filing, distribution and maintenance
of knowledge14. The integration of knowledge into a project portal is of high importance for
the users: multi media technology prevents media discontinuity and makes available all forms
of documented knowledge. Cross-linking makes knowledge available all over the world in
A further use of a common document file lies in the setup of a project guide. It can be used as
a handbook for specific project methods. Since a project portal is based on subsidiary
12 cp. Osterloh 2000, p.128
13 Bullinger 2003, p. 696
14 cp. Bruecher, p. 48
15 Bach 2000, p.23
planning, it requires from all team members the ability to use the planning standards of
project management. In case these requirements are not met by a team member the project
portal must provide a simple instrument for references.
2.4 Data Security System
In order to ensure protection and integrity to project data a project portal needs a data security
system. Its task is the protection from unauthorized access, change or unavailability of
information. It is in the position to detect and prevent unauthorised access and protect the
system against malicious codes like worms or viruses and create backup data for worst case
In addition, a data security system should offer the functionality of data interchange, i.e. it is
fundamental to provide interfaces for an enterprise’s accounting system. Import and export of
data as well as synchronisation with mobile devices like organiser or smart phones seem
practical functionalities, but they imply the danger of violating data integrity. Delayed
synchronisation does not comply with the principle of redundancy-free data storage and is
only of limited use in a project portal. Therefore, the integration of mobile devices must
guarantee permanent cross-linking for instance by means of wireless LAN technology.
Summing up, a project portal offers a wide range of functionalities, which are placed in a
well-maintained working platform. Depending upon the specific demands, the emphasis on
functionality usage will vary. These always orientate themselves towards the needs of a
project. The extent of functionalities mentioned here does not necessarily correspond to the
current market applications. Especially the combination of these functionalities in one
application is not available on the market and thus represents a requirement for future