What do you use for your project software? One tool? Many tools? Open source? Homegrown? Free? Expensive? Site license? Per-user license? Small learning curve? Large learning curve? Desktop? Cloud-based? The options are almost endless. And now hundreds of players stand where just a couple stood 20 years ago. Can one of these save your project? Probably not. Let's discuss...
Project software these days comes from a lot of companies who are certain their offering is going to fix your project, task, resource, or financial management issues. Sometimes they have built it to solve their own scheduling and PM needs and feel they have now perfected it and it's ready to push to the waiting PM public. I've worked with some of these organizations. I've talked to the individuals behind the software and supporting it. Usually great people. And passionate. I've reviewed and overviewed their software. And sometimes it just happens that their emails start to bounce because sales just weren't happening or their product didn't really solve anyone else's needs like it did their own.
But who knows... it may work just perfectly for you. I believe that they all solve a need. PPM... task management... budgeting... resource planning... issue management... risk tracking... bug tracking. Does one software solve all needs? I haven't found one yet. Can you make it through a project without any of these? Yes, I believe so, and I have. I wouldn't recommend it on large projects – at least use a scheduling... task management/progress tool. But yes, you can get by on one project or smaller projects without any real tools if there happens to be nothing available in your organization.
What do you really need to focus on?
If you have no specific software or you're bare bones-ing it through a project on a wing and a prayer, what do you need to manage to get through? What should you focus most or all of your attention on? Because it isn't about what you do – it's about doing what you need to do to succeed and even excel but not go overboard, right? So, it's more about the best practices that are top priority. Let's consider those...
The bottom line is this - you have to track the tasks. That is – right along with good communication – at the heart of every project no matter what shape, size, dollar amount, timeframe or industry it is in. You have to track the tasks and task progress and to do that just on paper would likely make the project essentially non-manageable. This may be the only project management task that I would say you could not just do on paper. It would make managing the team and their assigned tasks very difficult. You could use a spreadsheet, but that's still a tool.
Reporting status on the project is key to ongoing communication and keeping all team members, all stakeholders and the customer on the same page at all times. Any word processor will do, but if you're considering that a tool then you're resorting to email (I'm not taking that away from anyone in 2018) and that's ok too...and gives you easy revision, resending and tracking.
Managing the budget.
Another tough task without any tool at all – I like to go basic and use a spreadsheet, so I almost never budget within a specific project management focused tool. How about you – what do you use to track, manage, forecast and analyze project financials? I like my homegrown spreadsheet that has built-in formulas and has been re-worked over time to do exactly and track exactly what I want and what my project customers and senior management have wanted over time. I'm open to change, but not really.
Communication is Job One – in my opinion – for the project manager and business analyst. It is at the bottom of success on every single project I've ever been a part of. If it goes poorly, so does the project and vice versa. But you can handle communication through phone calls, emails, and meetings if you need to. Just don't forget to listen – that's half of excellent communication.
Again, one of those tasks that I like to do with a spreadsheet. It's part of the project schedule in the tool, but for me only in so much as I ensure that project resources aren't overloaded on a project at any given time. Beyond that, forecasting who I need and for how long... I build that together with my above referenced awesome project financials forecasting and analysis spreadsheet. They go hand in hand on most projects and why is that? Because your human resource is usually your most valuable and expensive piece of the project puzzle.
Go with a list here. If you have no real issue or risk management (and I know they aren't the same thing) tool, then a list will suffice. I often end up just using an Excel or similar spreadsheet for this anyway... nothing in a specific PM focused tool. The key, of course, is to keep all issues on the radar, know who is working on each and what the status of each is. If it's a big enough issue, it's going to need a task on the revised project schedule anyway.
Summary / call for input
So, the best damn project management software available isn't going to save you or your project. It may make things easier, but until robots and artificial intelligence completely take over, it's up to us to make the difference between success and failure on the project – not the tool or tools.
Thoughts – do you agree with me and this list? You don't have to, but I'd love to hear feedback from you if you feel differently. Thanks!