Project Management Software helps, but doesn’t make you smarter
Since project management has become the preferred way of working for many companies, an entire support system was developed to this purpose: practices, methods, guidelines, models, job roles, even company strategy. That is because in these times of fast-pacing changes, dynamic environments and uncertainty prone markets, adaptability is the key desirable feature. And working within a project management frame will allow a company to keep afloat and thrive even when faced with inside or outside changes.
Now, like all other good practices, people want to automatize them, to put them into a model, which, if interpreted by a machine, would then be able to produce the same positive results over and over again. The solution was project management software – software that would be able to assist a project manager in successfully leading a project. Such applications vary in complexity, in terms of costs, level of applicability, complexity, ease of use.
Some of their features include: ability to plan (in terms of activity scheduling, resource allocation, team responsibilities, risk identification, cost estimation), to then track the evolution (activity performance, resource usage, risk materialization, budget status), make readjustments as needed, ensure configuration management (document repository), allow for team communication (integrated communication systems via phone, email, chat).
Applications usually have default rules that apply to various project facets: for example, all activities are by default linked by finish-to-start dependencies, meaning that activity B cannot start until activity A has finished. This is true for most situations, however there are exceptions: let’s say activity A is “develop module” and B is “test module” – “test module” cannot finish before “develop module” finishes, therefore this is a finish-to-finish type dependency.
PM software usually allows for different type of dependencies to be set between activities, but it’s up the the project manager to determine what is the logical inter-conditioning. Another important feature of PM software is related to tracking project evolution in terms of costs, schedule, deliverables. Many applications include facilities to signal any deviation from the plan, whether it’s cost overruns, deadlines surpassed, resource unavailability.
Again, the issue lies with setting the appropriate rules that will correctly identify slippage – this falls into the project manager’s responsibilities. An important part of project management is related to risk – identifying, evaluating, rating, planning for a course of action should the risk become fact. PM software does little for the project manager: it usually offers a way to list risks, rate their probability and impact, prioritize them, associate contingency plans. It is then up to the project manager to keep track of changes and how they reflect on the risks identified.
PM software does its best work on storing and reporting: having project related data stored for future use proves extremely valuable for the lessons learned part of a project implementation; moreover extracting data in various forms as required gives a correct perspective on project (or a part of the project) status, providing different views on the same set of data depending on the audience of that particular report (customer, sponsor, project team).
Like any tool, project management software has the ability to help – when it is used properly – or to complicate or even downright hinder successful project completion. The toughest part of project management, ensuring effective communication with all parties involved and decision making, are left to the person responsible for project failure or success: the project manager.