If we look at the business at high level what we will see it is people trying to help their customers. Customer comes in, with a need and then our business must coordinate its resources to deliver a solution, which meets customer expectation and hopefully exceed them.
This is not an easy task because this delivery will take several steps with many obstacles along the way. Managers are trying to coordinate effort of many employees. Each step may cause issues for other parts of the business. There may be risks and opportunities that may cause problems for managers. This requires specialized tools that can communicate with each other. Communication should be equally easy for staff running day to day activities. This part should include good collaboration tools.
There seems to be plethora of articles listing project management software. There is lots of them. I will try to find out first what good software should have to solve as many problems for business as possible. If majority of vendors offer similar functionality is there really a need to evaluate all of them or just a few. How do we know if the decision that management makes is correct and can easily be reversed?
What is project management
According to Project Management Institute a project is temporary endeavor undertaken to create product or service. It has start and end date and predefined scope and resources. It is a set of activities planned to deliver a specific goal. That sounds simple isn’t it ? Well in reality simple project are easy but what if are a multinational company that serves customers in many countries and has to deliver project worth millions. Then it becomes extremely complex to manage this temporary endeavor that spans two years and requires effort of 200 people.
In this case we would slightly modify the PMI definition to make it sound more complex. I personally always try to think of the worst case scenario and prepare for the most complex solution. So to be able design perfect system I need different definition which may sound like:
Project management is coordination of multiple actions done by multiple people which requires collaboration of multiple networks. That way I am slightly changing perspective to help me in finding the perfect PM systems.
Many projects can be grouped into portfolio which is amalgamation of projects according to some predefined rules. These rules may include grouping specific resources to business market or specialized business units. Portfolio is a collection of projects that have some common objectives. This feature improves strategic alignment and monitoring of common resources.
Project management stages
I am trying to modify the main parts to give bit more meaning and provide view on what functionality our dream system should poses,
Initiation = Design
When we start our project there is a need for tendering faze to start discussions about project feasibility. We need to answer questions if we can deliver what customer wants? Do we have enough resources? Can we deliver and meet the budget?
Very important part will be financial analysis and detailed understanding of costs involved. At this stage Business must discuss and decide the actual goal of the project. Decision must be on the scope how support will be provided. Management must perform due diligence underpinning most important details. Work breakdown structure and resource breakdown structure should be provided. This will help with planning what will be delivered and by whom.
All details should be stored somewhere which requires good documentation with all plans.
Planning = Scheduling = Workflow of risks and opportunities
This stage must have clearly defined milestones with deadlines. Initial project schedule what and when will be delivered. Project team should be selected and RBS linked to WBS. This stage will define what activities are required to deliver project. This will help in planning what stages will be delivered by when. Time should be spend on decision as to what costs will be involved in which part. We need to think about cost breakdown structure and linking this to our accounting system.
At this stage business management should put extra effort on managing project risks and associated opportunities. Detailed costs analysis must be done against each risk or opportunity. Another important part is planning how quality will be managed, this will include what process will be used to measure quality.
Executing = Collaboration
This includes actual work, now we have the plan and we know who is doing what and when. Now we just have to follow plan from previous step and everything will go smoothly. This part involves clear collaboration between team members. Project manager needs updates from each team member about progress on each task.
This stage requires system to get information from other systems like HR or financial systems.
Having most up to date data is essential in correct process management.
Any changes and updates to plan must be kept in documentation. Every team member must be responsible in keeping documentation up to date. System should have mechanism that communicates these updates to all team members.
Monitoring = Reporting
Measuring each activity during process execution is essential. Monitoring feature should provide up to date view about execution status. Project manager must be updated if there is anything that needs attention and when project is not going according to plan. That is why Gantt charts have been invented. To provide overview about stages of the process and displaying when next parts should be delivered. With this part business intelligence tools can come handy. They will provide consolidated view of project data. They will enable analysis and highlight trends and patterns that will improve decision making process. Intelligence will help in identifying corrective actions and associated tasks that can mitigate risks.
What capabilities software should have
Each stage of a project requires specific functionality from the system. Users should be able to provide data about actions and its progress. System should support several roles like Project Manage, Project Controller, Project Member and Resource Manager.
Principles driving such systems should be as follows:
- Vendor should design system with strong User Experience principles making system simple and intuitive to use.
- Ability to track project timeline.
- Capaability to create work breakdown structure.
- Means of creating cost breakdown structure.
- Ability to create resources breakdown structure.
- It must allow to create schedule for complete project cycle.
- Reporting functionality should allow for easy monitoring of projects, user must have ability to create data views in a customizable way.
- Workflow management for risks and project changes.
- Document storage or at least ability to link projects with documentation management system.
- Ability to collaborate with team members.
- Ability to manage project budget.
- Notifications system should allow user to be notified about outstanding tasks or triggered by some predefined rules.
Think about people
At the end of the day work is done by people and software tool should help us managing work. There is many applications out there and majority of them offer similar functionality so what distinguishes each of them. Since majority of them works similarly the main different will be in implementation in design of user interface. It is not just about the feature but how we design interface for humans to interact with. It is all about the actions that each user role must perform. These actions must be clearly visible to team member and manager. This is the most important consideration if we should select one or the other product. The key is the UX which stands for user experience. If system is well design with robust architecture people will find this easy to use.
Even the best PM system will not be able to work on its own and deliver outstanding business value. It must be able to communicate with other systems like HR, accounting or finance. This in most cases will be via web API. As a user consult with your IT if the feature is making business standards in terms of security and readability. Communication is a key even for information systems.
In every business money play key part and budgets are generally are like brick walls – they don’t move easily. Which means that when have to do initial filtering of vendors we can do so by evaluating costs. If offering is too expensive we reject it. 🙂
Additional filtering selection based on money would be our vendor income. If company is on the market for a short period of time and is not making any money that would suggest their product is poor. We want to make sure that when we sign contract there will be support provided for the future.
Well this seems like the obvious selection criteria, our project management software should provide business value to our firm. If the design of application is well done and matches our needs. It will be helping people in project management. When evaluating systems and their features it will be beneficial to take into account how much value it offers.
To be able to measure our expectations from the system we must have clearly defined acceptance criteria. List of features and their functionality that meet our needs. The more detailed this definition the less ambiguity in evaluation process. We may want to score them on 1-10 scale. This will be a bit judgmental but this is unfortunately unavoidable. If we keep the rating consistent based on predefined rules this will improve process quality.
|Time Management||8||Acme Ltd|
When searching for a good PM system it is worth spending extra time to ensure that it’s design like we want. It must have core features included so there will be no need to search for other systems just to provide extension. Think and test like a user, check if it can manage actions in a friendly way. Do plenty of user testing with real life data. This should help in evaluating the right solution.