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Project Management Software – Issues and Requirements
By Bruce McGraw

Though many businesses use project management software, a sentiment exists in some circles that successful project managers often achieve results in spite of their software tools, rather than because of them. The claim that project management tools provide an effective way to boost productivity is disputed by others, citing the large amount of money spent every year on software that quickly gathers dust on a forgotten shelf. There are even heated debates about, “what exactly is project management software?”

In my opinion, any tool—including project management software—must be used knowledgeably and correctly for its benefits to be realized. I find that some project management tools are vastly superior to others in productivity improvement, either because they are streamlined for a PM’s job tasks or simply because they support a greater range of processes and data collection possibilities. That having been said, I can also report that I have seen effective project management done with only Excel®. The point is to select tools tailored for your job and learn how to use them.

One important thing to remember in choosing project management software is that something like 80% of the PM’s job is communication. For this reason, the primary functionality a project manager should look for in his or her PM software is seamless integration of data that facilitates rapid understand and response. PMs need software that assures timely and accurate information that is sufficient to identify if a project is running as scheduled or an employee is keeping up with tasks.

A potential problem area created by some project management applications involves the software making unwarranted predictions or presenting myriad unnecessary options. Though these suggestions may be valid or the options may provide more flexibility, it can often result in the project manager becoming confused or completely sidetracked away from the original project requirements. Again, effective project management software provides tools for data collection, analysis and distribution. The software should not attempt to take over those tasks completely nor determine the best course of action. If the software was that good, we would not need to train project managers – right?

Another issue that arises in the use of project management software is the ambiguity of the information presented. For example, even if the software presents the seemingly simple prediction that a project will take 100 hours to complete, difficulties can arise in the interpretation of this information. A novice project manager might be unable to see other aspects of this task that affect hours-to-complete. For example, will these 100 hours be spread over days, weeks or even longer? How will the human element of the team affect this estimate? Every time an employee takes time off, calls in sick, falls behind in their assigned task or is pulled to work another project means the schedule needs to be adjusted. In my experience, good project management software is powerful enough to track these human elements and show remaining work or effort. Smart PM tools can greatly increase the effectiveness of a project manager’s resource and schedule management.

The lack of software integration is yet another difficulty that frustrates even the most skilled and efficient project manager. Regardless of the proficiency of PM software applications at completing a given task, failure to integrate with existing data from other organizational systems often means the project management program’s results cannot represent the current situation accurately. It is not enough for PM software to provide the option to integrate with other well-known programs. PM software should be designed to seamlessly integrate with other organizational software-based systems.

My conclusion: While software cannot replace effective management or make important decisions, PM software helps project managers spent time in an optimally efficient manner on those tasks requiring his or her expertise.

Bruce A. McGraw is COO/EVP for Cognitive Technologies, a WBE/DBE consulting firm delivering project /program management, collaborative processes, and organizational effectiveness to commercial and government clients (www.cognitive-technologies.com). Bruce has been a program manager for over 25 years and has experience across multiple industries. His ability to craft pragmatic solutions to meet project goals, coupled with experience in all aspects of project management, enables him to meet customer expectations with on-time, within-budget deliveries. Bruce is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and is an active member of the Project Management Institute. Bruce authors a project management blog at Fear No Project and can be contacted at (512) 380-1204 or Bruce.McGraw@cogtechinc.com.

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