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Master's Thesis Michael Rose

Last modified Oct 28, 2015

A Publish/Subscribe Model for Collaborative Project Management in a Decentralized Environment - Design and Prototypical Implementation

Abstract

Due to the increasing size and high complexity of projects, their management more and more becomes a great challenge. One of the major complexity drivers is the high number of different stakeholders which are required to reach a successful outcome. Therefore, project management can hardly be accomplished by a single person or a team of a single company — a collaboration across numerous companies is required. Especially long-term automotive development projects are affected by these circumstances since the car manufacturer as well as countless suppliers are involved in parallel. At the same time, software systems for project management must be installed explicitly inside the companies’ IT infrastructure in order to ensure appropriate security and confidentiality of information — cloud-based approaches do not pose an alternative. Thus, the goal of this thesis is to enable collaborative project management based on a unified and distributed software system in a decentralized environment with the need for collaboration. That way, responsibilities for selected artifacts of the management process can be delegated across company- and consequently system-borders. At the same time, important information concerning these artifacts is synchronized among all involved systems to guarantee an up-to-date and consistent state.

To reach our goal, we develop a publish/subscribe model for an existing project management software which fulfills the required functionality. First, industry-relevant standards and prevalent solutions are investigated to gather an overview of the current situation. Based on these findings and taking into account established best practices, a thorough concept with complementary architecture is created. Last, a prototype is implemented and integrated in an existing software solution.

By employing our publish/subscribe model, collaborative project management is possible even in decentralized environments and therefore it is possible to deal with the high complexity in projects with a lot of different stakeholders. The most important aspects are guaranteed by the developed model — information is managed by the one responsible for it and all systems share an up-to-date, consistent state.

Background

The main motivation originates from the automotive domain as basically illustrated below. An Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) starts a new vehicle development project which typically range from 5 to 7 years in time. The overall project is initially planned by the OEM. However, a lot of a vehicle's components are outsourced to external suppliers - this fact also shows in the distribution of created worth where the suppliers' share is as high as 70-75%.

As a consequence, the centralized planning from the beginning is transformed into a very decentralized project execution over time. Therefore, a very high amount of communication is required to coordinate and manage all activities and dependencies between the involved parties.

To better cope with the particular issues of collaboration in Project Management (PM), the idea of Collaborative Project Management (CPM) emerged. Its approach is contrary to a traditional "top-down" like variant of PM - it focuses on allowing self-management and self-responsibility at different organizational levels involved in the process. Of course, this is another important driver considering the amount of information to be exchanged.

Nevertheless, very high security requirements in the automotive industry force on-premise installations of Information Systems (IS). The protection of intellectual property (IP) is a major factor for OEMs to not use cloud-based solutions. As a result, it is also almost impossible to transfer information to external systems - especially the synchronization of data across company boundaries is hardly used in practice.

The focus of this thesis is to develop a concept and architecture to support a secure exchange of information in order to enable cross-company collaboration in the context of CPM in combination with long-term vehicle development projects.

Collaborative Actions

To enable CPM, two major collaborative actions must be available to users of the underlying IS. As outlined above, a lot of components are developed by external suppliers - but in a self-managed fashion. Thus, on the one hand, the initial timeframe given by the OEM has to be respected. On the other hand, the concrete execution is the sole responsibility of the supplier - only the current status needs to be visible to the OEM at all times. The action representing this use case is called delegation.

Artifacts like activities are first transferred from the OEM to the Supplier responsible for the shared artifacts. At the same time, the OEM hands off the ownership - he only retains a non-editable copy of the information but is not able to change it anymore. Once the Supplier confirms the delegation, a link between the two involved systems is established. Since the Supplier is now the owner of the artifact, he is able to edit every property - changes are then automatically synchronized back to the OEM. Consequently, the current status is always visible to the OEM despite having transferred the ownership.

Apart from that, there often is the need to provide a supplier with additional contextual information which is not directly in their scope of responsibility. To serve this need, the solution supports publication of artifacts outlined below.

While the OEM is still the initiator and publishes an artifact like a milestone, he retains the ownership. The Supplier receives a copy of the information - which is not editable in this use case. Full editability is only available at the OEM. Any changes made on his side are automatically synchronized over the established link to the Supplier.

With these two collaborative actions it is possible to enable CPM in cross-company environments matching the specific needs in the automotive context.

Architecture

The solution developed in this thesis relies on a three-layered architecture shown in the image below. The Configuration component contains models representing remote systems data is exchanged with, e.g. their endpoint URLs for data reception of Public Keys for encryption and security purposes.

On the top most Business Layerthe entities of the Project Management process are modeled based on the Hybrid Wiki Model. Furthermore, the aforementioned synchronization links with additional configuration options (e.g. to transfer all children of summary activities) are located here.

The Data Layer is reponsible for extracting the information out of the artifacts from the Business Layer into an exchangable object presentation as well as the other way round. It also comprises the core engine for producing, consuming, and processing messages exchanged between participating systems.

At the bottom, the Transport Layer handles the sending and receiving of messages to respectively from other systems. It is designed to support multiple protocols like mail or HTTP. The purpose of this layer is to abstract away exchange protocol details from the rest of the solution. Furthermore, by leveraging the security module and Public Key Encryption as suggested in the thesis, the initially presented security requirements can be fulfilled.

Files and Subpages

Name Type Size Last Modification Last Editor
150511_Rose_Kickoff.pptx 2,81 MB 20.10.2015
151019_Rose_Final.pptx 3,16 MB 20.10.2015
delegation.jpg 74 KB 20.10.2015
layers.jpg 23 KB 20.10.2015
motivation.jpg 160 KB 20.10.2015
publication.jpg 64 KB 20.10.2015