Methodical Guide to Select Project Management Software
What is project management?
Project management is discipline of managing finite activities and initiatives for a stipulated duration. It is about having processes to bring predictability in project phases like planning, resource allocation/capacity planning, request & change management, project execution and project closure. We have to admit that automation and standardization of processes reduce risks and improves success rate of delivering projects.
What is a project management software?
There are articles and papers which suggest/conclude ‘how right project management tools and project management processes imply better chances of successful project delivery?’ A project management software helps organizations in planning/scheduling, resource management, project cost control, automating communication and providing visibility into project progress. In short, project management software makes it easier for companies in effective planning and management of projects.
What do you really require?
Today project management professionals have plenty options to select from project management software vendors. The real question before you can select project management tool, is to know what do you really need?
Some project management professionals have reasonable idea about following
Ø What are problem/pain areas in current project management process which my organization wants to address?
Ø What are limitation of the existing tools (or lack of having tool) that my organization currently uses?
Ø That translates into exactly what capabilities in the PM tool, does my organization need?
On the other hand few other project management professionals do not have definite answers to this question or even in many cases, users haven’t even thought about these questions. It is not uncommon to hear that project managers make a decision regarding project management tool by references.
Going be general experience - success rate, adoption and realized return on investment (RoI) of project management software are higher if customer has fair idea of what they are looking for, there is a match between maturity of organization & capabilities of tool. In the process of selecting project management software, professionals build a perception about a tool based on specific reference, be it feedback from colleague/vendor/competitor or marketing material, experience through a trial or demo, and cost considerations.
Since you have are reading this article and reading till this point, means you are working for a project-delivery based business. Here are few guidelines/tips to help you make right decision of selecting a project management software.
First few questions that you should asked yourself
If your answers to these questions is big YES or even largely Yes, you are certainly in a dire need of collaboration, project management platform. The platform which needs to be technology driven, that will save lot of trouble, productive time for you & your team, it will also day to day life simpler for you & your team. Thus you should scout for right project management software.
Given below are few but crucial aspects that you ought to consider as you will start searching for The Best project management software for your organization.
1. Readiness of your Organization
The answer to this question boils down to two aspects
a. Processes - maturity in terms of project management processes/practices
b. People – who is driving, managing and reviewing project management processes
To get deeper understanding of your organization’s readiness one can quickly check
a. Who are the project stakeholders – internal, external (government)?
c. What are expectations of stakeholders in terms of
o Auditory, legal, statutory compliance requirements?
o Expectation of specific project management methodology (agile, traditional, scrum, kanban, etc)
o Processes being followed e.g. change management, schedule baseline, critical path, resource capacity planning & allocation, requirement management, requirement traceability, risk management, incident management, etc.
As one will notice, if there are none-to-basic expectations of project management processes or non-existent demand for certified project management professionals, then company can settle with to-do list and basic collaboration tool. However if expectations of project management processes is greater, so is project management professionals, then organization cannot rely on manual mechanism to manage projects.
Greater the maturity level of an organization, project management professionals need comprehensive project management system to manage processes and delivery projects.
2. Addressing pain areas or problems which your organization is facing
It is really important to understand the pain areas or problems your organization is facing in terms of project planning and delivery e.g.
a. If project planning, communication and tracking progress is a concern for you, then you will have streamline process of project scheduling (tasks, milestones, WBS, dependency, resources assignment), automating project communication (project activities assignment, status change, change in project plan, etc.), means to track project progress (tracking project schedule – on track or behind, cost, billing, resource utilization, etc.).
b. If effective management of project resources is critical for your organization then one can emphasize on resource management capabilities (processes & tools to enable such) thereby managing resource rates, resource roles, resource allocation, resource utilization, resource estimation, resource load reports, resource billing rate, resource pool, etc..
Basically it is about knowing your most critical requirement manage project, streamline processes to deliver projects. And once you know such requirements or expected capabilities and desired support for project management processes, it will be lot helpful and easier to select right project management tool.
Essentially after addressing pain areas, users will be able to reap benefits like
Ø Invite customers to collaborate with project team, allow them to know real status of project and report any issue/ incidents with delivery, i.e. being transparent with clients
Ø Project managers can save considerable time, which otherwise they have to spend doing resource capacity planning, allocation, assignment, tracking project progress manually through meetings, phone calls. Also an additional headache to maintain spreadsheet to update project progress, share this status with senior managers every time by sending attachments emails
Ø Team members will always be on top of their things. They can focus on doing things rather than struggling in knowing what they should work on, when to do, and participate in meetings and phone call just to share update/issues with project manager
For this purpose, project management professionals/ company owners/ senior managers have prepare a list required capabilities of tool in following categories
1. Must Have: List of features must, in a PM tool, without which it will not work for company
2. Nice to have: List of features, not really required but if available, they will add value
3. Not required: Capabilities which are best avoided – either they are not useful or might increase complexity of the tool resulting lower usage/adoption of tool
The next step is to prioritize above categorized list of PM tool’s requirements, create a checklist of features and use this checklist to compare features of Project Management Software provided by shortlisted project management software providers.
3. Ensure Adoption of a Project Management Software (i.e. ensuring RoI of PM tool)
Now you have figured it out to shortlist project management software based on checklist of features/capabilities, the next thing you would like to ensure that the tool should provide desired return on investment. The pre-requisite that it should enable team members and project managers to effortlessly and seamlessly use the tool, thereby providing real visibility into project progress, and this is one of the basic proponents to ensure RoI of project management tool. So it does come down to the fact whether entire project team will embrace it, use it regularly.
Let’s say you are able to find a project management software that has all capabilities exactly as your organization desired. Yet there are two factors that will make or break success of any project management tool
Let’s put it this way, if the tool is not simple and intuitive, project team members are not going to use it. If they are not going to use PM tool, it will not give a right status of the project and if it is not going to give a right status, then on what basis will a project manager or senior management be able to assess outcome of a project. So if you do not want circle to complete in this (wrong) fashion, you as senior manager cannot push PM tool of their choice. The tool should work for team then only it will work for your organization.
Ø It should be quick to get started and easy to use
Ø It should not require external or extensive training to use it, the PM tool should do hand-holding for team members on its own
Ease of use and intuitiveness as not really capabilities of a PM tool but they are equally important aspect that project management professionals and senior management should bear in mind.
Note: In last few years, online project management software (also known as cloud based project management software) have evolved and these tools offer excellent opportunity for organizations to try-before-buy. Contrary to complex, legacy enterprise software, where vendors would evaluate customers whether they are worth of buying it, these new online project management software make validation easy thereby making buying decision simple, risk-free.
We would like to recommend you to take a free trial first, involve team of 8-10 active users during the trial and ask for personalized demo or recorded webinar, you also need to ensure that you are involving end user who will be using software day-in-and-out.
4. Checking Flexibility, Scalability and Support
Earlier era of IT management has changed. Earlier organizations used to invest heavily in IT infrastructure – hardware and software. This has been typically considered as a risky game. If your decision turned out to be correct, you could expect good RoI else, it will be considered as a sunk cost; organizations did not have any other choice but to include these cost as over-head cost without realizing any benefit (in short negative returns).
The other option you have is going agile. The latest set of online project management software provide you a flexibility to start small (more like pilot team, pilot projects), once you are sure that it really works for your organization, you can scale it to the level you desire. Even this scale up or scale down is really seamless, without any extra effort or cost.
Ideally, you should select a tool that would require minimum amount of support. Yet you need a vendor who is willing to support you for implementation of project management software – during trial, during smaller implementation and even when you are scaling your operations. One need to check what all mechanisms are
Ø Dedicated support portal
Ø Email based support
Ø Phone based support
Ø Step by step guide, easy on-boarding for new users
Ø Arranging demo/sessions to train/hand-hold users
5. Double Check Security and Reliability of software?
For any software and especially for online software, the most important factor to check is ‘Security’ of the software and security of our data. There is a check list to ensure how much a given software is secure
Ø Different User roles available
Ø Different access and permissions to these roles
Ø Well established processes to control infrastructure access and access to customer data.
One can rightly expect the software to be most reliable, but at the same time, you have to keep in mind that no software in the world is without any flow. The biggies of the IT world - Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, IBM and almost all market leading vendors keep broadcasting patches/bug-fixes for their decade old software. The crucial aspect in such cases is to check whether a given vendor is responsive and supportive or not.
Irrespective of whether you go for on-premise software or hosted (on cloud) software, the track record of the vendor in terms of
Ø Frequently with which vendor has been releasing newer versions, incremental updates to existing versions
Ø How lean and flexible vendor is to your feature requests – or do you have to wait for 6 months to one year for your feature request to get reflected.
Another aspect of ensuring data reliability and it is important in case of online system is to check how regularly and efficiently vendor is backing up your data; whether vendor is securely making redundant copies/back of customer data without affecting users’ current operations. Any project management system should be available to its user almost all time. So availability of project management tool is very crucial for your business operation. Typical online project management system provides availability of tool for 99.9% of the time.
Having a clear idea about what are your processes, your expectations from PM tool, how it is expected to address your problems formulates your ground work for selecting project management tool. Once your ground work is done to greater details, it becomes easier to sign-up for smaller set of PM tools /vendors. If you do not have clarity in first place (requirements), you will end up signing up for 20-30 tools, wasting your time to go through each tool, interactive with them all, and even worse – selecting a tool that does not actually work for your team. So have smaller set of vendors (tools) that meet your requirement to larger extent (80%), sign up for free trial, use the tool by yourself by involving your colleagues, ask for webinar/demo. Once you are comfortable with the tool and vendor you can decide to upgrade to first level (20-50 users) and taking a review of a tool in next 6 months you can decide to upgrade it further. Always keep in mind, vendors always find it easier to work with customers who have clear idea of their requirements, who are open for communication and providing feedback. They would like to reciprocate it in equally good faith.