In my last post, I talked about learning from the aviation field and how they use automation technology effectively to fulfill their objectives. We are taking that and applying that to how we could use automation technology in project management (aka project management software tools) effectively.
You can read the first post here.
Let's turn to some practical lessons that we can apply:
Provide Training to Your Team, Managers, and Stakeholders
Can you imagine a pilot flying a new airplane without being thoroughly trained on the automation technology in that airplane? The consequences would be serious. Yet we provide tools of a sort to our project teams, managers, and stakeholders without the training for them to use the tools effectively. As I mentioned in the last post, people have to build a trust in the system. Training plays a big role in building this trust. Training should also be process-driven. In other words, most people do not need to know all the ins and outs of every feature in the system. They just need to know how to perform their job in the tool. That means that you do not need to send everyone through two weeks of formal training. But you can and should hold some informal sessions (such as brown bag lunch sessions) and produce some organization-specific documentation on how they should use the system.
Document and Understand Your Processes
Technology without a clear purpose just frustrates people. Technology should support your key processes, make them easier to follow, and provide insight into the execution of those processes. That means that you need to know what your processes are. And you need to communicate those to your organization. You cannot assume that everyone knows through some type of "tribal knowledge." You need to have a set of documents that details out the key processes that you expect people to follow, such as how to initiate a new project, how to assign staff to that project, how to submit status, how to obtain a client's approval, and so forth.
After that, you can look at your technology and how to implement those processes in the technology tools that you have. In fact, within your documented processes you could include steps on how to fulfill those processes using the tool. You end up with a set of "standard operating procedures" that everyone understands. Do you see the difference? This is far more effective then simply getting a tool because we are "having a problem with schedules slipping." After doing this, you may determine that you need to use the tools differently, that you need different tools, or that you need to simply train people on the proper way to use the existing tools.
Automation technology should not be complex. If there are a lot of steps that a person needs to follow to perform something in a tool, then it is too complex. Automation technology should do just that: automate key functions that would take a lot of time otherwise. This could include generating a report, collecting status, identifying resource overloads, and others. Your tool should make these key items in your process easier. Part of this means that you should not overreach and make your tools overly complex. Keep them as simple as possible. Said another way, set them up so that you can run your processes and get the information out of them that you need, but no more. Don't do things just because you can in the tool or because it is "cool."
Provide an Expert
Someone in your organization should be an expert in the tool. They should understand how to implement your processes in the tool, what the tool is doing, and how to extract information out of the tool (although everyone should understand this). They should be a resource for others that are perhaps new to the tool. If you have a larger organization, create a network of these people that can provide assistance to team members, and ensure the tool is being utilized properly. In other words, don't leave people to fend for themselves. And do not always rely on the vendor for understanding how to use the tool. This is going to be a key part of your processes so make the investment to have someone inside with in depth knowledge.
Technology in project management can be a valuable, game changing piece when implemented well. Try these lessons in your own organization regardless of the particular tool(s) that you may be using.