Posted by Brad Egeland
It’s no longer a given that today’s project manager is going to just default to Microsoft Project for all of their project management and scheduling needs. While it remains an industry mainstain, as a standalone tool it’s expensive and offers no collaboration features. Implementing MS Project Server can turn it into a valuable project collaboration tool, but that’s considerably more expensive and not straightforward at all to implement. And today’s PM world abounds with desktop and web-based alternatives that are capable of doing the job for much less.
First, however, let’s look at the big picture. Project management software alone does not make a person a good project manager nor can it ensure that the job is being done well. I believe there’s too much emphasis and too much reliance on project management software – in particular, scheduling software. Some who are relatively new to project management view scheduling software as the totality of project management. This is very dangerous. Although no one can deny the incredible computing power of scheduling software, an inordinate focus on it belies the breadth of the project management discipline. Project planning is so much more than just a schedule. And project management is so much more than manipulating a software tool.
Also, excessive reliance on the tool tends to discount the importance of the “art” part of the project management. Efficient and effective communication along with the ability to manage project resources effectively is the key to project success.
Choosing the right tool
People often the question: “What’s the best project management software?” The standard answer in project management is …it depends. The topic of software selection is no different. It depends upon a number of factors. Here are some of the factors you should consider, examine, and compare before selecting the “right” software for you.
Cost vs. Functionality. The costs and capabilities of project management software vary considerably. Systems can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. And some newer entries into the desktop and online PM software world can cost as little as a few dollars per user per month. Consider how much power you need with respect to the size of project the software can handle, the features you’re likely to need or benefit from. Make sure you keep an eye to the future: consider functionality not only in terms of what you need now, but for the near term as well.
Capability vs. Ease of Use. There’s a general relationship between the capability of project management software and its ease of use. I once knew a company whose need for computing power in their project management software was not really that great. However, the decision-makers felt that they wanted maximum horsepower in their software, “just in case.” Unfortunately, proper use of the software required sending people off to a week-long, intensive training program and to periodic refresher courses thereafter. The company had difficulty breaking people free to take the training. After two years of hacking their way through the use of the tool, they abandoned it and bought something simpler.
I’ve personally been a long time user of MS Project, but have recently enjoyed checking out other options. I’ve found that offerings such as Seavus’ Project Planner and Project Viewer are extremely easy to use and offer much of the same features of MS Project, but at a fraction of the cost. It also makes it much easier to recommend these types of solutions to smaller startups that I consult with when cost is always a big consideration.
Compatibility with Other Systems. Consider how your project management software will have to interface with other communication, accounting, or reporting systems already in use in your company. Also consider if it even needs to interface at all or if this would be overkill for what you need it for.
Documentation, Startup Support, and Ongoing Technical Support. How much support can you expect from the manufacturer and/or the company selling the software? Consider important issues, such as the documentation you’ll receive, the setup and startup support you can expect, and the long-term technical support you’ll get.
Consider using several sources of input, including the experiences of others and rating guides, before making your final selection of project management software.
Information for this article was derived, in part, from Gary Heerken’s book entitled, “Project Management.”
Tags: Communication, customer, project, project management, project manager, software, Technology, tool, Tools