Before I was the CEO of a project management software company, I was a project manager. I do not write this article from a corporate perspective where I am answerable to shareholders and employees. Rather, I would like to address the subject of project management software from the viewpoint of a lifelong practitioner of hybrid project management.
Let’s start with a simple premise: online project management software is perhaps the most abused and misused technology term in the market. Sure, it's popular (77 percent of companies use project management software), but there is also a downside.
Consider the backstory
Contrary to popular perception, the project management discipline is fluid and evolves over time. In the last decade, there have been two seismic changes that have occurred.
First, the spread of Agile methodologies has accelerated innovation and created more flexibility in product development. This is significant because as product lifecycles become shorter, there is more pressure on releasing new features and products in order to keep pace in a highly global and competitive marketplace.
Second, the proliferation of online project management software has lowered the barriers for untrained project managers to take on project management responsibilities.
The result of these two trends is that there is more recognition by management on the importance of project management methodologies but a reduction in the quality of the project management discipline.
Why is online project management software culpable?
When Microsoft Project dominated the project management market, the typical user of the application was a project manager with knowledge of Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The release of off-the-shelf project management software has removed control from the hands of the project manager and given more power to the collaborative project team. Instead of the project manager owning all aspects of the project plan, individual team members became responsible for updating their own status reports.
Over time, project management software has become so easy to use, that there is now a widespread belief that you don’t need project managers to use project management software. Novice users get a false sense of knowing how to manage a project because it is relatively quick and easy to create a project plan and assign tasks in many online solutions.
It is possible that for small and simple projects, the project management disciple is not needed. However, when one introduces the issue of scale and complexity, many untrained project managers lack the ability to effectively manage and over-rely on tools. The area of risk mitigation is a basic precept of project management but rarely understood by outsiders.
To a large extent, many software vendors purposefully simplify functionalities so to make the application easier to use. Some vendors prioritize UI and collaboration at the expense of true project management capabilities. Basic requirements that trained project managers need such as dependencies, the ability to assign tasks to more than one team member and resource balancing are not included in many popular packages.
The unintended consequence is that project teams often pay the price. In some cases, they are forced to migrate to more advanced software in the middle of the project. Mostly, project teams muddle through using what they have but never get the benefit from advanced solutions.
Here are four ways organizations can maximize the benefit of technology so that it supports business goals.
- It is critical for experienced project managers be part of the selection process for a new solution.
- Do not assume that your employees can use technology intuitively. Assume that training is needed and incorporate business objectives in the training. For collaboration software, training should incorporate an explanation of corporate policies that relate to online behavior and limitations of social media usage by employees.
- With respect to project management technology, if the organization is committed to using Agile methodologies to speed up product development, then incorporate software in employee onboarding. Using software as a common platform helps define shared goals and communicates results to all relevant stakeholders. Any online project management software worth considering should include collaboration functionalities that enable this objective.
- Even if project management software is not expensive, it is important to select a solution that can scale and support the business. Project management functionality should take precedence over gimmicky collaboration features and an attractive UI. Today, transparent workflows are important so that everyone on a project team (and management), is aware of changes made by individuals. Project management software should promote accountability and include ways to keep the project team updated in real time without the need for endless communications, status reports, and email updates.
Project management technology is merely an enabler. It is the companies that tap into deep project management expertise that is likely to see the benefit in accelerated product development, risk mitigation, and on-time delivery. Finding the right tool to support these processes is important, but hiring the right people is critical.
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