36 posts categorized "Selecting"


Five Things Project Management Software Can't Do

IStock_000000418676Small_2Do I think that project management software is valuable?  Yes, when implemented with a good process.  Implementing project management software will not solve all of your problems.  It can do a nice job of supporting your solutions, processes, and objectives.  But let's be sure we understand some things that it cannot do.  Here is my top five list:

1.  Project management software cannot enter data.  Your people still need to enter in actual data.  You have to make sure the data input is clear and relevant, and hold people accountable for entering in correct data.

2.  Project management software cannot make decisions.  You have to make decisions.  But project management software can provide you with the information to make informed decisions.

3.  Project management software cannot automate your entire operation.  Unless you have a very large budget for a very large, complicated system, you will still need to do some manual activities in the system.  It can automate some routine, mundane tasks (i.e. sending out notifications and producing reports), but it will not take the place of someone directing the operation.

4.  Project management software cannot eliminate the crazy report requests your boss makes.  But it can make it easier to pull the information needed for those crazy report requests.

5.  Project management software does not mean you don't need anyone to track your schedules.  Schedules do not magically appear in good format so that informed decisions can be made.  Someone needs to make sure they are being entered correctly, reports are setup correctly, etc.  Project management software can make this much, much easier so that you don't need to spend as much time chasing down and dissemanating information, but you cannot eliminate the need altogether.



3 Tips to Evaluate a Configurable Project Management Software System

IStock_000005289430_web A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post on the characteristics of a highly configurable project management software system.  You can read that post here.  Now let's answer the question, how can you know if a system is truly configurable?  Here are three tips that you can use to evaluate a system.

1.  Test a Key Process

First you need to choose a key process that your organization executes.  Don't have one?  Stop!  You need to work on your processes first before getting a tool to support a non-existent process.  You'll never be able to do a proper evaluation otherwise, much less get real value from implementation.  Now, let's assume you have a process and it is documented.  Perhaps it is the process for creating and launching a new project.  Take that documented process and implement it in the tool.  See how the tool can mold itself and be configured to implement your process.  You may need to add some database fields to capture key data elements, you may need to create a template, or you may need to generate a notification to key individuals.

After you have done that to your satisfaction, change the process.  Pretend that you are a year down the road and your process is changing.  Make up something.  Now see how easy it is to change the process in the tool.  That will reveal a lot about how configurable the tool really is.

2.  Extend the Tool

Create some custom fields.  Change a screen or a form.  See how easy it is to change the information that is shown and collected on the screen.  This will be important as you grow and mature in your processes.

3.  Create a Reporting Factory

Reports are king.  You have to be able to analyze your data.  Don't be satisfied with the canned reports in the system.  Dream up other reports that you can run, lots of them.  Create them in the system.  How easy is it to create them?  Can you create them?  If you don't know what reports you need, you probably should step back and think that through.  Then try and create them.  This should include reports that are centered around projects, tasks, and resources at a minimum.  It may also be reports around time or costs.  Even if you do not think you will need that information, you may in the future and this will help you evaluate how you can adapt to your changing needs.



4 Questions to Answer Before Presenting Project Management Software

IStock_000000077653_L2_smal We have covered a lot of ground in this blog about how to implement software, best practices, even how to select it.  One thing that we have not covered much is how to get buy-in from other people to implement project management software tools.  This can be hard to do for several reasons:

  1. People do not like to change.
  2. No one wants to take on another effort.
  3. People are too busy fighting fires, much less trying to address the root causes of the fires.
  4. People think what they are doing is just fine.

Just this morning I read a blog post by Ted Hardy at the Better Projects blog.  In his post, Ted walked through how he brought an idea to his team and achieved their quick buy-in.  I want to expand on Ted's post and give you four questions that you need to answer before presenting project management software to your organization.

What's the problem?

If you are going to implement project management software because it sounds like a good idea, don't bother.  It has to be tied to a problem.  What problem will it solve?  How will it provide value?  Ted's value proposition was that his idea would provide data that they didn't have today in order to solve quality problems. The problem should be your focus and will drive how you present it as well as how it is implemented.  Perhaps you have projects that are continuously late and no one knows why.  Perhaps you are making promises to your customers that cannot be kept, because no one has the data to say when something will actually get done.  Perhaps you know you have resource bottlenecks but have no data to prove it or to show where, how, and why the bottle-necks are occurring.  Perhaps you have documents or other information strung all over the place in spreadsheets, whiteboards, files, and post-it notes so no one can find key information when they need it most.  These would be examples of real, definable problems on which you can focus your "pitch".  If you have a solution that can solve a real problem, that is a real value-add.  And that is much easier to present than a vague benefit.

What's the process?

Do not focus on the project management software tool itself and its "cool features".  Focus on your process.  The software is simply a tool to implement, run, analyze, and improve your process.  When you present this, you don't even need to focus on "implementing a project management software tool".  You can focus on implementing a process (and using a tool to help you do that).  The software can and should take a backstage approach.  If there is too much focus on the software tool itself, than there is not enough focus on the process and the underlying problem.  So what is the process that can be implemented (or changed) to fix problem x (defined above)?

What's in it for them?

Why should people do this?  What will they personally get out of it?  Perhaps it is some key reporting to save them from doing hours of manual data manipulation.  Perhaps it is to remove a headache that plagues them day in and day out.  Put yourself in their shoes and be sure you understand and can articulate how they will specifically benefit.  You could mock up some sample reports to show people (be sure they will realistically be available), and even quietly get feedback on them before even expressing your idea ("do you think it would be helpful if you could get information like this?").  Go to lunch with people and explore what problems they have and what would be a real benefit to them.

How will you implement?

Do you know what steps you will take?  Will you phase it in or try and do everything at once (phasing it in is highly recommended)?  Will you have a pilot group?  Who will be in that group?  What processes will you implement at first?  What will they look like?  What problem will they solve immediately?  What will people be able to get out of the tool right away that will help them?  How long will it take?  How much time will it take from people's day?  These are all questions that you need to answer before making your presentation.

The bottom line?  Be prepared.  In Ted's post, he had an idea for something that would really help the team and the organization.  He did his homework and explored the idea and what it would take.  But even then he didn't present it.  He let it ruminate for a while which gave him time to think it through and thoroughly understand his approach before presenting it to the team.  It worked and unless you are dealing with a dire situation that requires an immediate solution, it's a good approach.




Characteristics of a Highly Configurable Project Management Software System

IStock_000006331752_web I read with interest last month an article on what makes software configurable.  Interestingly, the article was focused on insurance software applications.  You can read the article here (you need to get into page 2 and 3 before getting into the meat of what configurable means).  Certainly parts of this article would not apply to many of us.  For example, we do not need an engine to define rules for insurance products.  However, there were several good insights here that I have taken and expanded to come up with my own list for what makes a project management software product configurable.

1.  Web Client

As stated in the article, a configurable solution should have a web client (even if it is not exclusively a web client).  This makes it easy to deploy and access.

2.  Rules and Processing Options

My own experience has shown that organizations are very different in how they do things and how they have defined their own processes.  This holds true even for organizations that are in the same industry or market.  Configurable software will allow for this by providing flexibility in how things are done.  For example, it may provide an option in the scheduling of projects to allow for the automated update of schedules vs. the manual update of schedules.  Or it may employ a notification scheme that provides flexibility in how reminders and notifications of events are sent to project personnel.

3.  Ability to Extend What You See

One of the big areas of differences in organizations is the amount and types of pure data that they track.  Let's take a simple project.  One organization may simply want to track the Project Manager, start date, due date, percent complete, and some notes.  Another organization may have a list of 30-40 information fields specific to their process that they need to collect, track, and report on.  These may be things like who the customer is, the contract specifics, billing scenarios, project type or classification, current project status, etc.  A configurable project management software tool will make it easy to extend what you see to accommodate this.  This means that screens, reports, fields, and similar vehicles can be changed without programming actual code.

4.  Integration

Project management software no longer sits by itself.  It needs to integrate with the systems around it in the organization.  This means that the software needs to have a mechanism to integrate with other systems technically.  It also means that it needs to be flexible to mold that integration in different ways.  For example, an organization may want to integrate it with a separate time keeping system, or another organization may want to integrate it with an accounting system.

5.  Reporting

Reporting is a huge part of being configurable.  Static reports are no longer enough.  A configurable system will enable the creation of ad-hoc reports.  You would be amazed at all of the different reporting desires I have heard over the years.  Just when I think I have seen it all, someone will throw out another reporting need.  If your project management software system does not have the ability to create reports with different filters, groupings, criteria, sorting, etc., it is not configurable.

I am sure that we could go on with a long list.  What other characteristics do you believe should be in a configurable system?


How to Make Automation (or Project Management Software Tools) Work: Part 2

IStock_000010045800_web 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.

Reduce Complexity

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.




How to Make Automation (or Project Management Software Tools) Work

IStock_000010045800_web In the midst of doing some research for a post on the Flying Into Project Management blog on team interactions, I came across some relevant lessons to this blog on project tools.  Specifically, I was looking at how the aviation field makes automation technology work in today's airline cockpits.  There were some interesting insights, parallels, and lessons to how organizations can make project management software tools work for project teams.

First of all, what is automation?  I am simply referring to technology that automates certain tasks.  That could be a number of things such as finding out the current status, identifying problems, generating alerts, seeing where you have been, visualizing the upcoming plan / path, etc., etc.

Automation should have two goals:

  1. Improve situational awareness (the awareness that one has about the true, real state of the project or portfolio of projects).
  2. Decrease the workload required to maintain situational awareness.

In other words, our automation tools should always enable us to know what the real state of our projects are, and they should reduce the work that is required for us to know that state.

There are some common responses that people have to automation technology:

  • They look at it as helpful (this is a real plus and saves me time).
  • They look at it as confusing (what is it doing now?).
  • They look at it as unneeded (why do we need this, we've always done it this other way).

That means that automation technology needs to:

  • Fulfill a real need.
  • Fit seamlessly into a person's / organization's process.
  • Be easy enough to earn a person's trust.

In a follow-up post, I will discuss some practical lessons as to how to make automation technology work in light of these insights.  Please note that much of this insight came from the source www.crewresourcemanagement.net.


Whitepaper: Understanding the 5 Purposes of Technology in Project Management

I just completed a new whitepaper on understanding the 5 purposes of technology in project management.  The idea behind the whitepaper is to provide a broader perspective on the role that technology (especially project management software) should play so that organizations can achieve much greater value from it.  Often times today, I find that organizations severely limit themselves with their perspective for technology.  For example, they look for a project management software tool that can "do Gantt charts" or a "task list."  There is nothing wrong with that except that it limits what you can do with even the most basic technology.

This whitepaper was derived from a series of posts on the Flying Into Project Management blog.

This whitepaper will be published shortly.  You are the first to see it.  I encourage you to download and read it and provide me with your feedback to blog@teaminteractions.com.  I would love to hear it.

Download Whitepaper


Project Management and Cloud Computing

This must be the week to share with you insight from other's blog posts because I have another one for you.  Cloud computing is another one of those "hot terms."  It simply refers to delivering hosted services over the Internet.  From a project management software tools perspective, cloud computing has certainly caught on as a way to scale project management software tools within an organization easily.  But how do project management and cloud computing really interact?  What are the benefits of cloud computing for project management?

Enter a blog post that I read on allPM.com by AndrĂ©s Cuevas Ortega.  Andres talks about this very subject, including the benefits of cloud computing from project management perspective.  From my perspective, cloud computing is simply another tool that can work well when integrated with proper project management discipline, as Andres also states.

Read the blog post here.  I believe we will all learn something.



3 Pitfalls of Project Management Online

IStock_000000548970Small_2 Last time, we looked at online project management and some of its obvious benefits.  If you missed it, you can read it here.  I am a big fan of project management online because of the many benefits and how easy it is to implement today (plus in full disclosure we develop an online project management tool).  But nothing is ever perfect, plus what works well for one organization may simply not fit with another organization.  So it is important to also look at the pitfalls of project management online, which is what we are going to do now.

Here are three pitfalls of online project management software:

1.  You cannot take it with you.

This means that typically you have to be connected to your online site in order to do online project management and use those software tools.  If you are someplace without Internet access or for some reason your Internet access is not currently working, you are out of luck.  You cannot use it.  Now, with the advent of smartphones, this is lessened more and more via the use of such phones to use your online project management tool.  However, it should still be noted as a pitfall.  Unless it is outfitted appropriately, your cabin in the wilderness may leave you stranded.

2.  Security

Security is less and less of an issue with online project management software and tools, but it should never be left out of the equation.  What I mean is that the technology and tools exist to make your site secure today.  If security is important to you, you need to be sure you are using the right tool that provides security and make sure that you have the right processes in place (a tool may be very secure but not if you don't set it up to be secure).

Obviously the only way to absolutely lock something down is to not grant anyone access to it.  That sort of defeats the whole purpose however.

The point is that online project management tools can be secure, but you need to take the steps to ensure that it is so and have a security policy in place.

3.  Performance

Performance of online project management software tools should always be considered.  You always need to consider the bandwidth that you have between the tool itself and the people that are using the tool.  Online project management software systems should be built with technologies such as caching, AJAX, and other technical "terms" to make normal operation fast.  However, there are some things that you cannot get around.  For example, take documents.  If you need to transfer large documents to and from your tool, you need to do some evaluation.  It doesn't matter how good the tool is, you still need to transfer those large documents back and forth between your computer and the online project management tool.  You need to be sure that you have enough bandwidth to make this easy to do.

As with any project tool, you need to evaluate the benefits and pitfalls, and determine what matches best with your organization's goals, culture, needs, and objectives.


5 Obvious Benefits of Online Project Management

IStock_000000418676Small_2 Online project management is in vogue today.  Actually, online everythingis in vogue today.  Our investments are online, our news is online, even our friends are online.  Why should business and project management be any different?

However, our project management processes should not go online simply because that is the current fad.  There needs to be a reason that helps us meet our key objectives.  Here are five obvious benefits of online project management.  I say "obvious" because you have probably heard these before, but I find that sometimes what is right in front of us is not always obvious - especially if we have not done it before.  In other words, what might be obvious to me, might not be obvious to you or someone you work for.  You will need to decide whether or not those are benefits that will help you meet your particular key objectives.

First, what do I mean by online project management?  In my context, I am referring to the act of taking your project management processes and information and using an online tool to manage them.  An online tool could be a website, a blog site, online project management software, a wiki, a discussion forum, a document repository, etc.  The key similarity is that it is online, accessible in some way by everyone.  Note that this does not necessarily mean that you outsource to a vendor on the Internet.  It could mean you setup your own online repository on your own server(s) and make that accessible via the Internet.  It also does not necessarily mean it is online over the Internet - it could be online across your organization.  However, much of the value and benefits are greatly increased when it is accessible via the Internet.

#1: Everyone Can Access the Information

I realize that this is obvious, but it still needs to be stated.  Sometimes folks do not understand the value in everyone having access to the same information at the same time.  Put another way, sometimes we do not understand the drain due to the time it takes to track down the right information at the time when we desperately need it.

#2: The Information is Accessible from Anywhere

By nature of the fact that all information is online, the information can be accessed from anywhere.  This means that you can access the information from the in-flight WiFi, hotel room, Starbucks, or client site.  With the advent of Smart phones, it also means that you can access the information from your smart phone while walking around.

#3: Information is in One Place

Information is important, we use it all the time.  We need information on the latest status of a project, information on a document, information on how we are using our resources, or information on issues that have arisen.  We cannot get this information easily if it is de-centralized, such as what happens when information is sitting on everyone's individual computers or individual network drives.  The very fact that the information is online means that it should be centralized which means that we can (by definition) easily access it.

#4: Security Can Be Improved

Sometimes information needs to be controlled.  Either it is important that certain information is not displayed to everyone for security reasons, or it is important that we know where the information is, or it is important that only certain people access any of the information - period.  It is very difficult to do this without the information being centralized and many online project management tools provide for this level of security.  In other words, if it is in one place we know where it is and it is easier to secure.  I should say that there is a feeling that if the information is not online it is secure.  I would conclude that information that is scattered in spreadsheets and documents all around the organization with no control whatsoever can never be secure.

I realize that this somewhat depends on the tools that you use - if there is no security built into the tool you cannot make it secure - however I am assuming that you will implement a tool with security if security is one of your requirements.

#5: Lower Cost

Online project management tools do not have to be expensive.  Yes, there are high-end tools that will cost you a bundle.  But there are also mid-range tools and simple tools that can be brought online for much lower cost.  If you need to experience the benefits listed here, it is far more costly to bring online a fancy client/server based tool in-house such as a traditional ERP system or high-end database.

Next time we will flip this and look at some of the pitfalls or hurdles to cross in online project management.



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