There is a natural evolution a project manager will go through as they start down the path of managing projects. Early on in their career (which may not start out as project management), they find they have an affinity toward organizing tasks and people. They don’t like to waste time. They look for areas where efficiency and predictability can be introduced to whatever they are working on. They are not big fans of surprises and put simple systems and processes in place to prevent these from happening.
Early Project Software – The “To-Do” List
The “To-Do” list is their best friend. This list is by their side all day long. It is reviewed, refreshed, and reprioritized constantly. Tasks are crossed off while new ones are added. Pages are torn out while new lists are started. There is the exhilarating sense of accomplishment and progress that an ever-changing “to-do” list brings to a nascent project manager.
But, this fledgling project manager soon outgrows the “To-Do” list. It becomes apparent that priorities, people, and tasks change too frequently. The sheet of paper is not large enough to hold all the activity and the changes cause the paper to fill up with a cryptic scribbled down mess.
Precursor to Project Software – The Spreadsheet
The next stage in this evolutionary process is the utilitarian spreadsheet. It seems like it was designed with a project manager in mind. The grids, the boxes, the ability to sort and resort and the flexibility to add whatever you need to seem like the perfect home for the “To-Do” list. This tool allows a new project manager to keep all of their activity in one place, put together basic reports, update status, keep track of issues, and even color code and prioritize those tasks that are most important.
But the almighty spreadsheet also hits a brick wall and also discovered to be deficient for a project manager. It is quickly found that one change in one place does not affect all places where the change should be made. More people need to work on projects together and the single desktop nature of the spreadsheet limits collaboration. Plus, the real-time reporting needs that management wants on projects are hard to keep up with using pivot tables and pre-defined charts and graphs.
Project Software – But Which One?
What’s next? Enter Project Software. But, where do you start? There are so many different variations of project software on the market that it’s confusing to know where to even begin. Rather than get bogged down in brand or type, focus on functionality first. Ask yourself the question “what does this project software need to do?” and start putting a list together of what you know to be true in your organization and circumstance.
Consider the following 10 features as a starting point for your decision-making process:
#1. Robust Dashboard
One of the limitations of using a spreadsheet as pseudo-project management software is the level of effort necessary to provide an overview of one or many projects. Project software needs to have the flexibility to provide dashboard reports that can be presented to an executive for a high-level overview of project status to the more granular view that a project manager or team lead would need.
#2. Ability to Track Costs
Every project should be viewed as having its own Profit and Loss statement. In order for this to occur, you need the ability to enter expenses and costs against the project that will either be billed for or absorbed in the bottom line.
#3. Reporting that is Agile
People are used to getting information exactly the way they want it. It’s no different when reporting on projects. The project software you choose needs to give you the flexibility to create and customize your own reports knowing that one group of stakeholders want the information one way and the next wants it another way.
#4. Easy to Adjust Plans
A plan is just that…a plan. You will need to be able to easily modify and adjust the plan depending upon the changing project environment.
#5. Issue and Risk Management
It is the rare project that will make it from Point A to Point B without some bumps along the way. That’s to be expected and perfectly acceptable. What is not acceptable is to allow those bumps to turn into mountains that obstruct progress. The project software you choose needs to have the ability to identify and monitor risk (potential Issue) and Issues (realized Risk).
#6. Ability to Track Time
This is important for any company to know what their employees are working on, but is imperative for companies that bill their customers either fixed fee or time and materials. The project software needs to have the ability for employees to enter their time so billable hours are captured and future estimates become more accurate.
#7. Control Changes
Scope Creep is the nemesis of any project. It’s not a matter of “if” it will happen, but “when” it will happen. If handled and tracked properly, these changes can be either an additional source of revenue for your company, or at the very least, keep a project on track. The project software you choose must have the ability to manage change effortlessly.
#8. Ability to Store Documentation
Documentation is the life blood of any project and e-mailing project documents can only get you so far. You are never sure if everyone is working off the right version, has received the latest plan, or has the most recent business requirements. Project software should allow for the ability to have documents stored not only at a project level, but at a task level as well. This removes any doubt that everyone is literally working from the same page.
#9. Must be Web-Based
With everything, and everyone, moving to “the cloud”, there are few, if any reasons why a project software solution would not be web-based. If not web-based, it must at least be accessible remotely as the nature of projects and teams is rapidly changing from one centralized location to many decentralized locations. An extension of being web-based is the knowledge that the application is secure. You must feel confident that confidential and proprietary information is not something that is readily available for others to see. Security roles and the ability to turn features on and off for particular users are a must.
#10. Encourages Collaboration
With the advent of Blogs, Twitter, IM and other rapid-fire media, it is no longer enough to just have a web-based application and say that it is collaborative. Verify that the project software solution you are reviewing allows users to truly collaborate (share documents, calendars, discussions, comments, etc.) to facilitate any ambiguity being removed from your projects.
It may seem like a tall order to find project software that has all of the features listed above, but they do exist. The Top 10 list above should help with your due diligence and research now that you have moved beyond the “To-Do” List and Spreadsheet as your project management tools of choice.