I have often been asked “What is the best project management software and how can I get trained on it?” My answer is always the same: “It doesn’t matter what software you use – it’s how you use it that matters!” Software tools are an essential element in the management of projects and can be extremely cost effective if used correctly, but they can also be a costly distraction.
Let me explain.
In all my years of managing projects and programmes and portfolios I have frequently found project managers who are experts in the use of a software tool rather than in the techniques of project management tend to have the weakest success rates in project delivery. They are often the ones who produce beautifully drafted schedules, charts and graphs, but fail to manage the project. A project manager should use the appropriate tools to lead and manage the project to success, but they need to be experts in using the outputs from the software for the benefit of their projects – not in its use.If you follow the traditional approach to project management you first need to establish and agree the purpose: i.e. the problem you are trying to overcome or opportunity you are hoping to exploit – NOT the proposed solution or schedule; those will come later!
You need an iterative chain of product, work and organisational breakdown structures, risk register, stakeholder analysis, dependency maps, effort, and durations, not forgetting your record of assumptions, constraints, issues and critical success factors. The software you use should allow all of these to be linked and developed before you put your plan into action. Although you may choose to illustrate your schedule with a Gantt chart and use this as one of your prime monitoring tools you also need the other facets of the plan to enable you to monitor, control and report progress on your project and your chosen software tool must support this.
Being able to have a clear view of all aspects of the plan is essential to the tool you have chosen, so ask yourself; does your software support you in:
- Tracking the requirements through the outline design, detailed design, unit build, unit test, system test and acceptance test phases?
- Mapping the acceptance criteria to each requirement?
- Identifying the milestones that will indicate true progress?
- Analysing the risks and issues and the actions planned to manage them?
- Establishing and reporting your status and prognosis in a clear, concise and appropriate manner at an appropriate level?
- Managing your scarce resources?
Whatever software you decide is best for you, it is essential to keep it as simple as possible. Use the software to give you the information you need to help you do your job. Make sure its outputs can be understood by those who receive and use them, and choose software that, wherever possible, is easy to operate and learn. You should always conduct an analysis of the cost involved in learning and using any new software verses the value gained from its use.
Software tools are exactly that – tools to help you perform your job effectively and efficiently. The most successful ones are the simplest, but above all, the most successful are those that provide you with the information you need to do your real job – managing your project!
Choose your software well. Pick the right tool for the right task and use it wisely!
Image courtesy Azimo @Flickr, re-used with permission