An important aspect of managing any project is deciding how to manage the project information; deciding what tools, techniques, and systems are going to be used to coordinate and maintain all of the individual pieces that make up a project plan. In other words, deciding on a Project Management Information System (PMIS). PMIS come in all shapes and sizes. Choosing the right one can make life easier for the project manager and the project team.
The PMBOK Guide, 6th Edition, defines a Project Management Information System as, “An information system consisting of the tools and techniques used to gather, integrate, and disseminate the outputs of project management processes. It is used to support all aspects of the project from initiating through closing, and can include both manual and automated systems.” A PMIS is what you use to organize your project documents and information, and how you store and communicate that information to the people who need access to it. It can be physical, digital, or a combination of both.
In organizations with a structured approach to project management, the PMIS is often predefined. It might be company policy that a project plan should contain a minimum number of documents, utilize particular templates, be stored on the company server, and include a basic milestone plan for a schedule. The particular requirements might be more simple, or more complex, depending on the organization and its needs.
The challenge comes when such standards are not pre-defined. When this is the case, it is up to the project team, at the start of the project, to define the PMIS. The same challenge faces organizations interested in creating a standardized process for all projects taking place.
There are a number of Project Management Information System types out there, from all-inclusive to fragmentary. Microsoft Project, Basecamp, and Monday.com are a few examples of packages with a vast array of capabilities; for a cost. Other systems can be assembled for little or no cost, such as utilizing Google systems for shared storage (Google Drive), documents (Google Docs), spread sheets (Google Sheets), contact management (Google Contacts), and schedule management (Google Calendar). Everything comes with a price and that price is usually proportional to integration and functionality. While price and functionality usually go hand in hand, there are solutions available for any project at any budget.
At a minimum, for projects of any size and scope, all project management information systems should include the following capabilities:
- Shared digital access
- A scheduling tool
- A resource management tool
Shared Digital Access
While a PMIS can technically include physical documents, the days of carrying all documents around in a physical folder are over. When talking about deliverables lists, stakeholder registers, schedules, and meeting agendas, most of these documents are created, used, and stored digitally. This even includes digitized scans of signature documents.
A PMIS should include a system of shared digital access. This can be on a company server or on a shared cloud storage system. Any system selected should be both accessible and familiar to all of the relevant stakeholders. It goes without saying, such as system should also include the appropriate level of security for the project at hand.
A Scheduling Tool
Scheduling is one of the core areas of project management. How that schedule is kept is an important component of how it will be managed. Anything more than a basic milestone plan will require a dedicated scheduling tool. This can be as simple as a calendar or as complex as a shared access Gantt chart created with project management software. Whichever scheduling tool is selected, it should be defined as a part of the PMIS.
A Resource Management Tool
Projects need things and those things need to be tracked and managed. Resources for a project can include financial resources (money), human resources (people) and material resources (things). A PMIS should define how those resources are identified and utilized. It should also allow for tracking and analysis during project monitoring and controlling activities.
Often times, when project management software is utilized, the same tool can be used for both scheduling and resource management (example, Microsoft Project). These two tools can be one the same, or separate.
The final selection decision of a PMIS should be shaped by the project environment. This includes consideration of available resources and the capabilities of the core project stakeholders. The first consideration in selection should be functionality. This is determined by answering the question, “What does the information system need to be able to do?” On a small project, this might only mean having a shared access cloud drive storage system. On larger projects, the requirements might include scheduling software and mobile device capabilities on multiple operating systems. The functionality is ultimately determined by the requirements for the individual project.
The next consideration is access. The system should make the appropriate access available to all key project stakeholders. This starts with members of the project team, but can extend to external stakeholders as well if deemed necessary. For example, a company network storage system might seem like a good choice for members of the internal project team, but it doesn’t suit the projects requirements if key external team members need access to the project details and company security policies prevent granting that type of access.
Finally, the end goal for a PMIS should be usability. The system should either be one that all users are familiar with or one that all users can be trained to use in a reasonable amount of time. The best designed system in the world can’t serve its purpose if it can’t be operated by those who need it.
Like so many other areas of project management, developing a project management information system is an item that pays off with interest. By investing some time at the start of a project to decide how information is going to be organized, more time will be saved later on down the line in terms of gained efficiency and effectiveness in managing the details of the project.