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The real truth about PM software

In October last year, Microsoft and Gold partner Wellingtone invited five customers from different sectors/industries for a workshop in London to trial Microsoft Project Online and investigate if this solution helps them to resolve some of the key pain points they are currently facing within their organisations in terms of project and resources management.

When asked: why are you interested in the trial and what do you hope to achieve? All reported a similar problem, namely how to standardise their project and programme work.

 “We’re looking to improve the overall approach we have to project management.” “We’re keen to find an efficient way of prioritising the applications and streamlining the approval process.” “It would be good to have a tool that does that automatically and I hope it will remove a lot of the grunt work.”

Next, participants were asked how they thought software could help in their everyday work. The responses are shown below:

“I hope it will help to streamline the way we manage projects and improve communication and understanding across any given project and between organisations.”

“From a project manager point-of-view it will simplify things hugely. The standardised templates and checklists will be very useful. Standardising the terminology within our own organisation is a major concern for us and it looks like the software will help with this too.”

“It will save me a lot of time, that’s one of the most obvious benefits. But I also think it will enable me to ask better questions of my team and make sure projects are not only running on time, but that they’re being handled in the right way – the fact it breaks down every stage of the project is great.”

Finally, the panel was asked: what are the barriers to greater software integration? Here, two main objections emerge: cost and integration (or users getting to grips with the software)

One reviewer said: “Cost is certainly a key factor for us at the minute. The monthly licensing/subscription fees will start to add up.” Another added: “Implementation is the main concern – we’re not a hugely sophisticated organisation and most of our staff don’t have experience using MS Project. I’m also unsure of how useful the ‘resource management’ aspect of the software is.”

Both concerns are legitimate, but thanks to advances in technology, can be countered and justified.

Trends in cloud technology, for example, have delivered substantial cost reductions for companies across many industries in recent years. As the technology becomes mature and standardised, the leading edge of cost control is moving to cloud services, in which workloads that are not mission critical can be accessed with more flexibility, lower costs, and without investments in unnecessary infrastructure.

Trends in functionality, too, have exposed the limitations of other more basic tools. Many teams start with lightweight spreadsheets for organising and tracking tasks. However, at some point, lists of tasks become too complex for simple spreadsheets. They have dependencies, shared resources, unique constraints, or maybe the list just becomes too long and unwieldy.

That’s when the humble task list can ‘graduate’ into becoming a project. And as a business accumulates more projects, it will inevitably at some point, require another sophisticated tool to manage all these projects in one place. (One that fits integrates seamlessly with existing, and ‘popular’, IT infrastructure such as Project Professional.)

So, in summary, we can say: standardisation is a real problem in project organisations; software is a valuable tool in helping to alleviate this particular pain point; technology needn’t cost the earth and needn’t be a mystery. It’s a help not a burden to the project manager.

  • Did our reviewers agree? Read the verdict in next month’s blog. Also look out for the special technology report in the March edition of Project magazine.
  • APM members and non-members can sign up for free to the webinar: Microsoft solution to top 5 pain points on Wednesday 28th January. Click here for more.

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  1. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 01 February 2015, 06:27 PM

    All projects are unique – all projects need a unique set of processes to optimise management. One size does not ‘fit all’ and jamming software into an organisation compounds the problem.    There are advantages to be gained from standard operating procedures, see: http://www.mosaicprojects.com.au/WhitePapers/WP1086_Standard_Operating_Procedures.pdf But the way SOPs are used needs common sense and on-the-ground flexibility discussed under the concept of ‘auftragstaktik’, or directive command in the White Paper. Sensible organisations work out a methodology that suits them, decide on the minimum number of SOPs that are mandatory and then when the system is working effectively look to automate as much as is practical.