7 posts categorized "Categories"

08/13/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Wrap-up

We have completed our review of the various project management software categories in the market. If you missed any of the posts, you can go directly to them below:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction
Project Management Software Category #1: Simple / Stand Alone Tools
Project Management Software Category #2: Collaborative Tools
Project Management Software Category #3: Mid-Size Tools
Project Management Software Category #4: High-End Tools
Project Management Software Category #5: PPM Tools
Project Management Software Categories: Wrap-up



Let's wrap-up this discussion. First of all, why do it in the first place? Three reasons.

One, many people that are researching project management software do not know where to start because there are so many tools out there. Hopefully, this discussion will help them begin to understand what to look for and the type of project management software tool they need.

Two, other people are trying to fit the wrong tool into their organization. They hear or read about a tool, or know the company that developed the tool, and they go for it. It is important to understand the nature of these tools. An organization with 15-20 people is most likely going to be overwhelmed by a high-end tool.

Three, still other people are simply not aware of what is out there today. They are pre-disposed to use a "standard" project management software tool such as Microsoft Project, and are not aware of the breath of possibilities that can really have a significant impact on their organization.

Is this discussion meant to convince you that one tool or category is better than another? No! As I have stated in these posts, you need to evaluate the tool categories and characteristics and map those to the needs and makeup of your organization. That is probably the most important step that you can take to make this a successful effort for you.

So where do you go from here? In subsequent posts, I'll cover topics such as specific steps to take as you begin your search, how to prepare your organization for a project management software implementation, and other practical considerations.

If you have topics that you would like to see addressed, post a comment or send them to blog@teaminteractions.com.




08/08/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Category 5

There is a fifth category that needs to be addressed. First, if you missed our earlier posts, click below to access the previous posts in this series on project management software categories:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction
Project Management Software Category #1: Simple / Stand Alone Tools
Project Management Software Category #2: Collaborative Tools
Project Management Software Category #3: Mid-Size Tools
Project Management Software Category #4: High-End Tools
Project Management Software Category #5: PPM Tools

The fifth category has been getting a lot of press lately, and that is the Project Portfolio Management (or PPM) category. In some ways, I am reluctant to put this into a separate category. Why? Because it really moves beyond project management and gets into a concept called portfolio management. We may address that in a later post, but for now our focus is strictly on project management. However, I include this in its own category because when organizations are looking for project management software they may be specifically looking for these types of tools.

One more note on the categorization is that these tools are almost a hybrid in that some of them are mid-sized tools and some of them are high-end tools, with the characteristics and drawbacks that come with the associated category. It is my belief that a lot of these are turning into higher-end tools because there can be a lot of complexity that comes with the concept of portfolio management.

Because of all that, characteristics of tools in this project management software category are a little harder to define. They may include characteristics of tools in the mid-size category, or they may include characteristics of tools in the high-end category. You will have to look back on those posts to analyze where a particular tool fits.

The defining characteristic of this category is that these tools include a focus on portfolio management. A definition and discussion of portfolio management, especially from an IT perspective, can be found in many places, such as Wikipedia. In short, you can think about managing portfolios of projects as you would manage a portfolio of investments. Projects are systematically managed in "portfolios" for better governance. The tools in this category support that process.

The primary benefit of this category is that they support the process of portfolio management, which may be important to a company that is heading in that direction.

The drawbacks of this category are two-fold. First, there is an inherent complexity that is added because you are now going beyond project management, and that must be represented in the tool. Second, many organizations struggle with getting their basic project management straight, much less trying to handle portfolio management. These tools may not be a good fit in that case.

What that means is that you should consider tools in this category if your organization is mature enough for portfolio management, you already have well defined project processes and discipline, and portfolio management is a strategic initiative for your organization.

Next time we will wrap up our discussion of the project management software categories.




08/05/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Category 4

The fourth category is the high-end category. If you missed our earlier posts, click below to access the previous posts in this project management software series:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction
Project Management Software Category #1: Simple / Stand Alone Tools
Project Management Software Category #2: Collaborative Tools
Project Management Software Category #3: Mid-Size Tools

This category has been around for a longer period of time than the mid-size tools. In fact, prior to the emergence of the mid-size tools, an organization that needed a comprehensive system was pretty much limited to tools in this category.

Characteristics of tools in this category are that they are very powerful, highly customizable, loaded with lots of features, require lengthy implementation times, and tend to be much more complicated.

These tools are used to manage the project management functions of some very large organizations so they have to be powerful with lots of features to support the needs of organizations with thousands of users with complex requirements. Customization is important because the needs of large organizations vary, although customizations often times mean literally customizing code for an individual company.

These points make it inherent that the implementation of these tools tend to me much more time consuming and resource intensive than some of the other categories we have looked into, and these tools by nature are complex.

The benefits of this project management software category are fairly obvious: power, power, and more power. Organizations that need that level of power will want to look in this category. These tools are highly scalable and can support those large organizations. In addition, these tools tend to have more brand recognition because this category has been around longer.

The drawbacks are related to the complexity inherent in these tools. These are not the type of tools that you turn on and start using. There is a high learning curve and long implementation cycle. That means a much higher cost as well. Often times, outside integrators and consultants are needed to supplement in house expertise to implement these tools properly.

When should you consider tools in this category? As I have said before, there is no one best category, it depends on your organization and its needs. If you have a large organization, let's say more than 1,000 projects or 700 users, you should look at this category. Likewise, if you have some complicated requirements that may be somewhat outside of the norm, you also will want to look at this category.

Next we'll look at the final project management software category...




06/17/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Category 3

We now move on to a very interesting category, namely the mid-sized category. Click below to access the previous posts in this project management software series:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction
Project Management Software Category #1: Simple / Stand Alone Tools
Project Management Software Category #2: Collaborative Tools

This category has recently been adopted in the last 5 to 10 years with the advent of the Internet and the availability of web-based tools. In fact, a number of tools in this category are web-based. The term web-based refers to the fact that a web browser is used to access the system, which runs on a standard web server. This allows for a similar type of capability previously only seen in high-end systems, but with a simpler implementation mechanism and a familiar interface (the web browser).

Some characteristics of this category include the fact that information is located in a central database. That is usually a true, relational database such as Microsoft SQL Server. As already stated, another characteristic is that these systems are often web-based. Both of these factors mean that multiple people can access the system at the same time, and usually they can access the same project at the same time.

Finally, the setup and rollout of these systems are typically much easier than high-end systems. This is due to the fact that the setup means installing the software on a web server, and requires no installation of any kind on each user's computer (they already have a web browser). Many of these systems make it even easier by hosting the software for their customers, typically referred to as an ASP (application service provider) or Software as a Service model. This requires no installation at all. One simply signs up and logs in over the Internet. The downside of that approach is that the data is physically located at the vendor's site, which may be a problem for certain types of organizations.

The benefits of this project management software category are plentiful. Information is centralized. You can go to one place to find all the information about your projects. The systems tend to be easier to use than high-end systems, resulting in more usage. That is not always the case because as with any system, you have to have the right processes and direction for an organization to use it properly. But you get the idea.

Another benefit is that these tools tend to be more sophisticated than stand-alone tools. They offer more features, such as resource management, cross-project reporting, and others. And finally, they also include useful communication tools such as email notifications.

As with the other categories, there are drawbacks. We get to the point with this category, where some thought needs to be put in regarding the initial setup. While these tools do not require the level of effort of the higher-end tools, we do reach a certain sophistication that requires some upfront planning to use them effectively. Another drawback is that you may sacrifice some features when you compare these tools to high-end tools. Many organizations will be fine with this. Some larger or more complex organizations may find missing high-end features in these tools.

Finally, some training is usually required. This should not be extensive training, but it's not quite as simple as turning it on and starting to use it. Many times it's close, but not quite. There is enough here to warrant a little time for training.

Overall, this is a good balance between sophistication of the high-end tools and the simplicity of the lower-end tools.

You should consider this category if the tools you are currently using are simply not sophisticated enough for what you need. And...you are not ready, not big enough, or not complex enough to warrant the investment in time and money for a high-end system. Organizations with 10 to several hundred users tend to fit nicely in this category.

EnterPlicity is an example of a software tool in this category.

Next...we'll tackle the fourth project management software category.





05/08/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Category 2

We move on to the third in our series of posts on the common project management software categories. Click below to access the previous posts in this series:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction
Project Management Software Category #1: Simple / Stand Alone Tools

The second project management software category is the Collaborative category. This is a category that has emerged in the last 10 years or so with the advent of the Internet.

What primarily distinguishes this category from the simple / stand-alone category is that information is centralized. Other common characteristics are that these tools are often web-based, meaning you use a web browser to access them (often times over the Internet), multiple people can utilize the tools at the same time, and the setup and overall use is not as difficult as more complicated systems. These tools are typically focused on collaboration and thus do not have some features such as project scheduling, cost control, etc.

There are some clear benefits to this category. The fact that information is centralized is the primary benefit. The ability to view information in one place instead of in a lot of different project or spreadsheet files brings a whole new dimension to your decision-making capabilities (provided of course that the information in the system is accurate and timely). These tools tend to be fairly easy to use, in fact they are focused on really keeping things simple. That means that it usually is not difficult to begin using a tool in this category. Also, communication mechanisms are usually included with this type of tool, such as email notifications or discussion forums. This help to enhance communication.

There are some drawbacks to this category. First, you will sacrifice some features for simplicity. These tools are sometimes "too simple". For example, they often focus on simple task management without more advanced scheduling features. I have found that a lot of these tools don't have features such as a gantt view to enter dependencies and calculate schedules, or views to determine resource capacity. You manually enter tasks and give them due dates. Second, they lack sophistication for more "formal" project management. That just isn't what they are designed to be. We are talking simple, straightforward, basic management.

Do those drawbacks mean that this isn't the the category for you? Not necessarily. As I said in the introduction, you have to evaluate what is needed for your organization.

So when should you consider this category? If your organization does not rely on scheduling, this may be the category for you. If simple task management will suffice, this may suit you well. On the other hand, if you need to enter schedules with dependencies that rely on the tool to push schedules out without a lot of manual data entering, this is probably not the category for you. Also, if you have a technical or collaborative culture, you may want to consider this category. If your team members are used to being collaborative and using tools like this, then this type of tool may be a good fit with your culture.

An example of this category is Basecamp by 37Signals.

Next...we'll start to get into some more advanced tools with our third category.




04/15/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Category 1

This post was delayed due to a busy week again last week. I was on the road in Denver, Colorado for the PMI Mile High Chapter's annual project management symposium. James Lovell, the captain of the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight and Gene Kranz, the flight director were the keynote speakers. It was an interesting, well-attended event. I will give you more information on that in a future post, including my thoughts on how their experience relates to project management software.

For now, this is the second in a series of posts on project management software categories in today's market. Click the following link to proceed to the first in this series of posts:

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction

Let's get on to the first software category: Simple / Stand-Alone Tools.

This category, in my experience, is the most prevalent category in terms of usage. Most organizations either use tools in this category exclusively or use tools in this category in conjunction with other tools. The most common tools in this category are spreadsheets and Microsoft Project.

Common characteristics of this category include working with one project at a time. In other words, a person has to open up one project, then open up another project, etc. to view each project's data. Another characteristic is that only one person typically has access to a particular project at any given point in time. Two people generally cannot open up the same project and make changes at the same time. Yet another characteristic is that information is often dispersed throughout the organization. It is rarely centralized in this category. That means that files for one project are stored with one individual, files for another project are stored with a different individual, etc. Unless an organization is really on top of things, this information is all over the place. Finally, tools in this category tend to be overly simple or highly specialized. In other words, they are very simple tools without a lot of sophistication or they are specialized towards a specific function, such as scheduling or estimating. However, they are still in this category because information is not centralized.

Let's reiterate a point made in the introduction to this series of posts. Is this category bad? No. Just different. It makes sense for some organizations to utilize tools in this category, whereas it makes sense for other organizations to utilize tools in other categories. You have to do the analysis for your own organization as to whether this category fits your organization and its current status (we'll cover that a little more shortly).

Along those lines, what are the benefits of this category? First, these tools are generally simple to use and understand. This is dependent on the tool, of course. Some people will never find Microsoft Project simple to use and understand, but if you talk about spreadsheets or other tools in this category they will. Second, people are often familiar with these tools. People are used to using spreadsheets, or Microsoft Outlook, or similar tools. Third, there is a low training curve. Because of the first two benefits, the training is much lower to implement tools in this category. Fourth, it is fairly easy to change processes because there is not a lot of rigidity in the tools themselves.

Along with benefits, there are always drawbacks. The first drawback is that information is spread out with different people and different files. Trying to do any kind of consolidated analysis is often very difficult and time consuming. In many cases it may not even be possible. Second, it is difficult to maintain. Because it is so easy to store different types of data in different types of files in different locations with different formats / layouts, it is very difficult to have any type of standardization or to maintain it in a cohesive manner. Not impossible, just very difficult. The third drawback is that it is difficult to do any type of roll-up reporting. What is Susan working on this month? That is a difficult question to answer when the information is located in 20 different files.

When should you consider this category? There is no black and white rule for any of these...you need to determine yourself what makes sense for your organization. A general "gray" rule, however, is that this is a reasonable category is you have no more than 10-20 active projects and less than 10 people working on those projects. That type of environment will help to minimize the drawbacks listed above. Of course, you may want to look at one of the other categories to obtain some of the benefits, but you can make this category work. On the other hand, if you have more projects or people than that, you quickly get into a scenario where it is very difficult to keep track of the project information with simple / stand-alone tools.

Next we will discuss the second category...




04/05/2008

Project Management Software Categories: Introduction

In previous posts, I covered the typical problem scenarios in which organizations find themselves in terms of project management software. I want to start now in the direction of talking about what to do if you find yourself in one of those scenarios. First, we'll discuss the various project management software categories out there. Then we'll discuss topics such as how to properly implement project management software, how to get buy-in, and other related topics.

It is not at all uncommon for me to be attending a conference or some event where I am meeting and talking with people in the project management community. It almost never fails that I receive questions that demonstrate a lack of understanding of the options available in the project management software market. This is not at all surprising. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of available software tools geared towards project management. Many organizations know that they need some help in this area, but they do not know where to start.

I am going to attempt to clarify that picture by identifying the main project management software categories. This will not be a list of project management software packages, but of the categories out there. For each category, we will discuss its characteristics, advantages, disadvantages, and even a couple of examples. We will also discuss what types of organizations should consider that category for their project management software.

A point should be made here. Is a particular category bad or wrong? No, of course not. Each category is different and will fit different organizations. It depends on your organization, its needs, culture, goals, issues, and objectives. Can I tell you which category or which software tool is best for your organization? No, not without a lot of analysis and learning on my part. However, I can and will give you some guidelines so that you can determine which category (or categories) may be appropriate for your organization. After all, you know your organization much better than I do. Can anyone say that a particular project management software tool is "the best"? No. It again depends on an organization's needs and how a particular tool fits into those needs.

With all of that in mind, next time, we will start with the first category which is...you'll have to wait until next time!





 

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