What do PMs Want from Software in 2011?

With the rise of social media, the last few years has produced a glut of project management tools and software. I’ve been paying close attention to what’s out there and have written about it before. Largely lumped under the moniker “PM2.0”, these tools boast improved collaborative capability, improved tracking mechanisms, and improved reporting.

But how does the PM community at large feel? I wrote four of the industry’s top bloggers and asked them their opinion. The question was:

What do we need more / less of from PM software in 2011?
What aren’t they getting right yet?

Here are their responses. Thanks to all of them for their thoughtful contributions!

 

Michiko Diby, Preventing Project Failure

Author of Preventing Project Failure, Michiko DibyWe should start thinking of types of projects linked to types of software.

Big IMS type projects are stuck with Project. Problem there is that Project doesn’t integrate easily with accounting/time management systems needed to track EVM.

Agile projects need super light, super easy apps like Basecamp.

Corporations, don’t let in-between projects purchase in-between products as SaaS like Liquid Planner – they try to fit all their employees into one procured solution.

Michiko is a no nonsense, get it done PM, seasoned and able to lead effectively. Michiko writes about “things that get ya into trouble, and ways to get out“. Follow Michiko on Twitter @projectrecovery.

 

Elizabeth Harrin, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

Author of Project Management For Girls, Elizabeth HarrinProject management software online seems to be evolving to cope with accidental project managers. I am not seeing many SaaS providers add ‘professional’ project management tools like critical path analysis, and some won’t even allow you to work with dependencies, insisting on hard coding dates. This is fine for small projects, and companies with small teams and low-risk projects. However, for experienced project managers wanting to do more complicated scheduling ‘Calendar View’ just doesn’t cut it.

I also think SaaS project management software providers are adding in more social and collaboration tools. I like this idea in principle, but what I would really love to see is PM software that integrates feeds from other sources. Why reinvent Twitter in your PM tool when there is a perfectly good Twitter product in existence, called, erm, Twitter? PM software that takes RSS feeds or other inputs from multiple sources (even those internal to the company: intranet, Yammer etc) will save PMs and their teams having to check multiple places for information.

Elizabeth is Director of The Otobos Group and author of the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, and the books Project Management in the Real World and Social Media for Project Managers. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @pm4girls.

 

Josh Nankivel, The PM Student

The PM Student, Josh NankivelWe need a focus on simple value.  Bells and whistles don’t count for much when they confuse the process and their own value is questionable.  We need less “cool” and more “get r dun!”  My most effective project management tools are a daily stand-up meeting with our team Kanban boards.  There’s nothing there that isn’t adding value.  All value, no waste.  Lean.

We need tools that don’t pretend to be a great way to communicate.  The most effective way to communicate with your team and stakeholders is face-to-face.  Period.  Second is by phone.  Then you get into instant messaging.  After that you are left with email and what most PM tools try to provide.  PM tools shouldn’t even try to facilitate communication, except for perhaps reminding you to have a conversation when you need to.  Documentation, but not communication.

Lastly, we need to have tools that stop pretending we can be great at predicting the future.  We can be OK, but we can’t be great at it.  When you set a baseline down to an insane level of detail, insanity is all you’ll gain trying to maintain it and report variances against it.  We need more wideband delphi and other methods that mitigate the influences of anchoring, and I’ve found no better way than an old-fashioned game of planning poker with user stories, in the physical world and not with a tool.  And then come out with a range, not a point estimate.

Please, PM tools.  Stop generating point estimates and singular milestone and finish dates.  You’re too big for your own britches.

Josh coaches new and aspiring project managers to achieve their career goals through various publications and training courses. He founded pmStudent.com in 2006 to help himself and others learn more about project management as a discipline and career. Follow Josh on Twitter @pmstudent.

 

Patrick Richard, The Hard-Nosed Project Manager

The Hard-Nosed Project Manager, Patrick RichardI would say the following applies to single-seat or EPM project scheduling software that runs on a desktop, or as SaaS.

We’d save time or improve the usefulness of my schedules if:

– There was a feature that would allow us to upload actual hours spent on a project from a flat file that would contain as a minimum the date, WBS code, and effort in hours. From that we’d be able to mark a task as started and get a sense of the burn rate. If the estimated remaining effort and status (active or complete) was added, we could compute an EV estimate.

– There was a feature that would allow us to do a Monte Carlo simulation given only the most likely estimates and assuming a configurable positively skewed distribution. From that we’d be able to give a more realistic end date and cost estimate.

– If there was also a database that allowed us to capture actual per task and resource, we’d be able to change the distribution for a particular resource / PM combination yielding an even more realistic end date and cost estimate. The resource / PM combination is necessary because of the PM’s impact on best case effort estimates.

– If there was also a database that allowed us to capture overall estimation accuracy per PM, a department head could use this to gauge his negotiation margin.

We’d save time and aggravation if:

– There was a risk database feature that would allow us to list the risks that have turned into issues in the past, how many times this has happened (for those outside our control), and their impact on the project.

A Montreal-based PMP, with Combat and Chemical Engineering experience across a variety of industries, Patrick’s blog, The Hard-Nosed Project Manager, tends to gravitate in scope toward its given title: hard-nosed, as well as practical, first-hand experience and observation as opposed to theory. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @hardnosedpm.

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What do you think? Are you a project manager with your own opinions about emerging PM software? Shout them out in the comments below!

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Great comments for sure, but also a microcosm of the PM world, showing the tremendous variance in what is truly required from a project management tool. If Geoff asked another 100 people, he would get a 100 more different answers… ;>) There can be no one tool that can solve every project need or desire, a fact supported by the tremendous variety of pm tools out there. As a tool vendor myself, I hear many of these needs, and only look for opportunities where my product can really help and provide value.

    What I think we should learn or take away from these kind of thought-shares is that PM’s should really have three things in hand when looking for a tool. First, they must have management buy-in that a new tool is needed, as that will most likely require at least a small process change, which invariably fails without management support. Second, a realistic budget amount that they can invest, covering both the licensing and training/support that will be required. Lastly, they need a pretty clear set of requirements, or what they are looking for.

    Just my .02c. Thanks Geoff for another excellent post!

  • Thanks for that comment, Bob! I think you’re right…project managers are as individual as the projects they manage. Michiko captured that a little bit in her comments above.

    A question for you about your point on requirements: do you find your customers know exactly what they’re looking for when they come to you?

    Incidentally, since you didn’t plug your software, I will (since this is the perfect kind of post for that). Bob Light offers Crosspoint PPM. Find out more through his website or read Elizabeth Harrin’s (above) interview with Bob a year or so ago to learn more.

  • Ty Kiisel

    Geoff,

    Although I agree with all four of the project management experts in the post, they fail to address the elephant in the room. In my opinion, the single biggest problem with project management software is that it’s so cumbersome for the average person to use (ie: team members) that they don’t. Planning tools are important, but until we have something that provides enough value to individual contributors on project teams, we will be forced to continue to manually input status, beg cajole or force team members to provide relevant project information and relegate ourselves to managing and reporting on projects instead of really leading teams.

    The reason Josh likes his stand-up meeting is because he can witness every day the level of engagement of everyone on the team. Software needs to do that. Until it does, it just isn’t going to work the way we need it to.

    Michiko is right, all projects are different and one size does not fit all. We need to address the needs of different types of projects and different methodologies. Software needs to be discipline-neutral—and so should project managers in my opinion.

    Although I don’t disagree with Patrick, I don’t think it’s adding additional features to the software that will make it work better or be more effective. We need to be less process driven and more results driven in how we manage projects. What do I need to accomplish? What’s the easiest and most common sense way to get there? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves. We need to spend more time working with people and less time working with mathematical models. According to Einstein, “Any idiot can make things more complicated. It takes genius to make things simple.”

    Elizabeth is spot on when she suggests that there are social media elements that could help the project management process be more accessible. However, I don’t believe incorporating the Twitter feed into the software is the answer. The reason I advocate taking a “Twitter-like” approach is because the stream should be a conversation about work, not what I had for lunch or where I’m going to spend the weekend. Organizations will invest in something that is relevant to getting work done, but won’t invest in anything that might contribute to employees wasting time.

    Gartner is saying that by 2014 organizations will be spending 30% less on what we would call traditional projects. That doesn’t mean the work is going away, but the way we understand it, organize it and manage it is. There’s a reason that 50% of PMOs fail in the first 18 months and the project success rate is so disappointing. We can debate the particulars of these statistics all we want, but in reality, we need to rethink how we manage work or we will become irrelevant. The software company that is able to help organizations focus on getting work done and achieving value will be the software organizations and project managers will ultimately use whether or not it includes Monte Carlo simulations or sophisticated resource planning grids.

    Our biggest challenge as project leaders is getting the team involved in the process. We need software that will help us do that.

    There’s my two cents. Great post Geoff.

  • I think there’s some really good insights in your comment, Ty! I know from my perspective, I have a terrible habit of eschewing my portfolio management software *cough* Clarity *cough* in favour of Excel models (granted, I’m awesome with Excel hehe). I know it’s wrong–I know it. But I can bang out the calculations I want fast with Excel. I can cut the data the way I want. I’m not constrained by an artificial barrier.

    I heard someone speak recently who said “if you just learned your PM software” you wouldn’t have to use Excel. And I understand the validity of that statement, but what of the rest of the project team? Do I have to handhold them every single g.d. week to make sure they get their timesheets in, and formatted properly, and allocated correctly?

    I pour more money into training and quality control of my data than I should, and that’s directly attributable to the elephant in the room you eloquently mention. And I still rip my data out and work with it separately.

    Thanks for a really well thought-out comment, Ty!

    Incidentally (free plug because it’s just the perfect post to do it on), Ty is the social media manager for At Task PM Software and cohost of Talking Work!

  • Anonymous

    Depends on the domain. In Defense I want a single seamless system from the resource loaded IMS (integrated master schedule) to the Earned Value engine and the Cost engine for producing the monthly Contract Performance Report, that provides built in real time Monte Carlo simulation of cost, schedule, and technical performance impacts.

    This software has to produce the “briefing charts” for the Monthly Management Meeting from the Performance Measurement Baseline, showing progress to plan, “get to green” plans, and a forecast of next month’s performance.

    It needs to connect to the HR system and provide resource allocation advice, populate the RAM, and provide insight into resource utilization.

    It needs to work over the web when needed, run in a VM environment or the Cloud and have an <$600 per set cost.

    Full DCMA, ANSI-748B, and DCAA compliance out of the box.

  • That’s a tall order! But then, I did ask what you wanted! 🙂
    Thanks for the input, Glen!

  • Elizabeth

    Getting the team engaged is the hardest thing, but I don’t think we’ll ever find a way to do it perfectly with technology, because people all want different things. There’s also the issue of cost – the more people who use the software, the more licences you need (in most cases) which increases the cost. Even if people only work on the project for a little while, you still need to fund their access to the tool, or you have to find alternatives, like Excel, that everyone can use for ‘free’, for those people who are not in the inner circle and granted full access to a piece of specialist software.

  • That’s very true, and it’s not just licensing fees. There’s training, learning curve and error costs as well…per seat!

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