In my project management experience, sometimes the company had one or two licenses to project management software but rarely more than that. Thus, complex project management and tracking was limited. Don't waste time getting side tracked with how to deal with this roadblock. Through my work on several, diverse projects ranging from supply chain projects to ERP implementations to Sarbanes-Oxley projects, I've found that there is only one area in which project management software provides an ease-of-use advantage (and is only required in the early phase of the project with one license) and that is the automation of the critical path. However, this advantage had no effect on results!
In 100% of the hundreds of projects I've either led or worked on in a diverse set of companies and industries, I've found that developing the critical path has been one of the keys to project success. I've completed the critical path manually and with project management software. There was no difference to the project's results! The only difference was the ease with which the critical path was developed. Developing it manually adds a bit of time to the process but it is not substantial, and it certainly doesn't merit a delay in beginning the project.
The reasons that project management software provides an ease-of-use advantage in developing the critical path include:
- Integrated into the software is the capability to identify predecessors.
- Integrated into the software is the capability to identify when the task starts in relation to other tasks (for example, task A starts simultaneously with task B or task A starts one week prior to task A's completion).
- The software automates the creation of the critical path timeline.
On the other hand, the key to bottom line results has nothing to do with project management software. Instead, it is to spend the proper amount of time upfront in developing the critical path. It is essential to bring the appropriate parties together to gain a solid understanding of the tasks, the sequencing of the tasks, the priorities of the tasks, the resources required for the tasks, etc. All of this data goes into the critical path. Project management software doesn't help at all with this most critical aspect of critical path development. In fact, it can deter progress if the group is so enamored with project management theory and software that they lose focus on understanding the project in sufficient detail. Instead, the keys to success are as follows:
Focus. Typically, the project leader is the key to success, as he/she keeps the project team focused on the end results to be achieved, the tasks required to achieve the end results, etc. It is easy to become distracted on non-essential tasks, resource concerns, etc. instead of defining the requirements to achieve the end result.
Questioning Ability. The project leader and team's ability to ask good questions throughout the critical path development has proven to be one of the ingredients to success. For example, in a new product launch project, the project leader did not have technical expertise in the subject matter, yet was integral to project success because his expert questioning ability led the team to not only develop a solid project plan but also to consider important sequencing options and priorities they might have otherwise overlooked.
Organization. It's easy to get overwhelmed with thousands of tasks, resource requirements and priorities. Thus, organization becomes integral to success.
Communication. The best critical path is useless unless it is clearly understood and communicated to project participants and related parties. On the other hand, even a mediocre critical path will deliver superior results to an optimal critical path if communicated and coordinated expertly.
Beyond the critical path, the number one key to success is execution. I've seen absolutely no difference in projects managed through complex software to those managed manually. The single largest difference is project leadership - in essence, bringing the team together, clarifying the path forward and priorities and a never-ending, relentless focus on follow-up.
Instead of delaying projects or getting bogged down in the latest, complex project planning software, get started immediately, follow simple principles and you'll achieve significant project results.
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