A Portfolio, Programme or Project Office (P3O) is normally the group responsible for introducing and operating project management software in an organisation. The point of having tools is to ensure things are standardised, and to support the delivery of projects in a consistent and cohesive way across all the project teams and project activity. Tools support you in doing a task, for example, planning or budgeting. For that reason it’s great to have a suite of tools that you can draw on to make your project management life easier.
The P3O guidance from the OGC states that there are 3 types of project management tool. These are individual tools, collaborative tools and integrated tools. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
These tools are only used – as the name suggests – by individuals. That is typically the project manager. It could be a spreadsheet, or a single instance of a project planning software installed on their laptop.
Whatever the tool is, it may be installed across the organisation and in use by multiple people, but the installations are not connected. ‘Individual’ here relates to how it is used, and this is one piece of software for one project, used by one person.
Collaborative tools bring groups of people together to work on common files. There is one version of the truth: a single source of the project planning data, for example. But can be accessed, viewed and sometimes amended by other project team members.
Examples of this type of tool would be a wiki, plan viewing applications like Seavus Project Viewer or a team intranet site. Low tech tools could even include a shared folder on the network for storing project documentation – tools don’t have to be fancy to work.
Collaborative tools have something in common with individual tools: they only relate to one project. Multiple people can access the information, but it still only relates to one project. If you want a tool that links data from multiple projects, you need to look at integrated solutions.
At this level, project data from multiple initiatives are presented. That is, a single interface presents information from a number of projects and is accessed by a number of different project teams, who all want information about their own projects. Integrated tools often have the facility to round up information so that managers can see dashboard-style data at a high level, consolidating a number of projects into a single view.
These tools are generally installed on servers, so that you can control who has access to them. Users will need to log in to ensure they can only access data to which they have been granted permission. You wouldn’t want, for example, a project co-ordinator to necessarily see all the high level financial data relating to resources at enterprise level.
Information tends to be presented in hierarchical form with these tools. The best interfaces have the option to drill down into the detail, so an executive will see a dashboard and can then click into the data to discover more and more detail about a particular project. This is useful if you want to establish the causes of a project showing as in need of management attention.
Choosing the wrong tool for the job will make your life harder, not easier. Pick something that is appropriate for the level of maturity of your P3O and your project team. If you choose something that is too advanced, you’ll end up deploying software that people don’t understand and won’t use. Remember that tools are supposed to support you! They aren’t there to be a burden.