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...