Project Management in Practice

Beyond the alphabet soup of PRINCE2, MSP, MoP, PMBOK, ITIL, Agile

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Have Project Management tools kept pace with time?


I have recently been looking at optimising the way we manage projects. One thing this has led me to think is whether some of the project management tools have kept pace with the way people work today. I am not looking to re-invent the wheel. Neither am I wanting to be lazy. I am after a way to effectively manage delivery by utilising all my resources to the best of their capability.

Projects have been undertaken since humans first realised they could organise themselves into a unit to achieve mighty things. Even before the discipline of project management was a recognised one, we managed to build the pyramids, the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal to name a few. Does that mean it is a profession that exists for no purpose? That is not true. Many of these projects were run by autocratic rulers who had no regard for human life. All three of the projects I mentioned cost the lives of thousands of workers. Fear for life was a successful motivator even as recently as a few decades ago in the communist Soviet Union.

As we have realised fear alone cannot achieve good outcomes, we have put in effort into devising methods to manage projects in a predictable manner. We have many methodologies – most of them very mature. But it seems applications have not matured to the same extent that methodologies have. It still amazes me how many organisations still manage projects by using Microsoft Excel. The next most widely used application I have seen is Microsoft Project. That however has seen no useful upgrade between the mid 1990s, when it first came out and 2010.

Microsoft has realised the folly of that approach and has been concentrating on their enterprise offering of Project Server. I have previously posted about using Project Server and utilising it to identify resource gaps. Having used it for a few years, I have come to the conclusion that it takes considerable effort to keep updated. Unless you have a PMO with enough resources to stay on it, it is nearly impossible to use effectively. Interestingly, LiquidPlanner has taken a different tack to managing projects by accommodating uncertainty through a high and low effort estimate. That is a very useful method if one is using it to manage product development. However, I was unable to find a way to use any sort of baseline that would allow me to track how the overall project is going compared to the original plan.

I have been trying to think what would make a project management tool stand out from the rest. I want to get away from managing in a hierarchical manner Project Managers have traditionally operated in. I want to ensure that the people working in projects I manage have the ability to raise risks and issues with a minimum of administration effort. I want to know the status of projects as close to real time as possible, but not have to chase up for updates continuously. That only serves to annoy technical people, and is a complete waste of my time.

This is the age of social media. People are used to collaborating in all aspects of their life. Being connected is not a bad thing. The project management discipline can benefit from this constant connectivity. If done well, it can provide early visibility of risks and issues, provide a platform to share ideas, sharing knowledge and lessons learned. Having a mobile presence is a must to achieve this. Some of the Agile product management tools have done well in this respect. Another complicated factor is the need to integrate the output from this with billing or ERP systems used by the organisation – in our case SAP Business One.

My search is yielding mixed success. I have been looking closely at two products – WorkFlowMax and AtTask. Both seem to fulfill most of what I am after. I am keen to hear from you if you have tried something similar. What has your experience been? Have you found any products to be good in the areas I am looking for?

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