Last week, we looked at the importance of having project management tools. To close that part of the discussion off, hive.com states that 77% of high performing projects use some form of project management software.
This week, let's consider how to make sure you are getting the right tools. Here are 6 important points to consider in your search for the best project management tools.
Get Feedback from All Potential End-Users and Support Personnel: This is perhaps the most critical steps. Some software tool projects with the worst outcomes that I have seen were simply dictated by others. In one case, a replacement billing system demanded by a CEO took months longer to implement because those supporting the current system feared a job loss. And in the other, a replacement payroll system at a school district took a year to work out all the issues because not only was it presented as a fait accompli, but the training was scheduled at the convenience of the trainers and not the end users.
Involvement is the number one tool for user buy-in, so I recommend involving as many as possible participating in all the key decisions, including participation in requirements and testing of potential solutions.
Address Your Pain, Not the Pain of Others: Getting the right requirements is also essential. You are probably looking to solve certain problems unique to your situation. Document what those problems are and turn them into requirements. Make sure that the candidates you are considering solve your pain points, rather than those invented by the vendor's marketing department or other users. This, in turn, will increase stakeholder buy-in and assure the solution is both accepted and actually used.
Plays Well with Others: Hand-in-hand with the previous point, you want tools that integrate well with your methodology, processes, and solutions in use. Making a few tweaks to processes to fit a solution is acceptable, but unless there is advanced planning for organizational change, you do not want to implement new methodologies to use your new tools. If all of your projects are "waterfall," tools forcing an Agile environment are not going to work well.
Be sure to look at your project management workflow end-to-end. Will the chosen tools that you are planning to integrate easily exchange data with existing tools and programs? If not, is there an easy work around? Without an easy integration into your existing environment, you can turn off users and waste time getting systems that are a patchwork of solutions to work.
For this reason, you may want to give more consideration to tools which can provide multiple functions (like tracking resources, schedule, and cost together) so there is only one user interface to learn for the most important functions.
Ease of Use and User Experience: Easy to use and powerful is a winning software combination. If the user interface is easy to use and works intuitively, buy-in will be much stronger. You may want to dig in to the development policies and rules of the vendor. One package I worked with had the annoying problem that the software required a lot of dates to be input, but every screen that required a date had a different user interface. The developers were not encouraged to use common code, but reinvented their own tools every time one was needed.
Part of the experience is support. Will the solution provider make any customization's for you? What will that cost and how long will it take? Will you get a quick resolution for any issues found? Or perhaps the software is highly configurable - in which case you can see how easy it is to learn the configuration process and make any necessary changes in-house.
Streamline Collaboration and Communication: A large part of the job of project management is collaboration and communication, especially during project execution. Status updates can be onerous to compile without support and they may need to be communicated via multiple media, such as dashboards and written reports. That means you should be looking for tools that can assist with these important needs. Using the tool, will project customers get updates faster? Be able to tell in real-time or near real-time how the project is progressing?
Requirements management is also the #2 cause of project failure. Seek out tools that can compile, monitor, and report on details of requirements. Tools either need to provide these important functions or integrate well with your existing practices. Changing how requirements are managed is not a quick task, so be sure your existing vision and processes are supported.
Try Before You Buy: Let's close out with another critical step. Some companies with good marketing departments look great on paper, but the software may not perform so well in your environment.
Recent case in point: A few days ago I was looking for a cloud backup solution that would integrate well with my current environment. Needless to say, there were not many candidates meeting all my very specific requirements. One stood out well on paper - it looked like it fit my need exactly. I also found good online reviews. I downloaded the trial app, but got stuck immediately. On consulting the online help, the screen I arrived on was not documented, so I sent an email to support. Several days later, I'm still waiting for a response.
In the meantime, I located an even better solution that, believe it or not, was essentially free (the software had no cost, but I had to pay a modest storage fee). I now have a working solution in place that meets 100% of my "must haves" and at least 75% of my "should and nice to haves." I had to make some small adjustments to my processes. Not perfect, but good enough to proceed to the next steps.
Even if the vendor does not offer try before you buy, ask for a demonstration or try to observe if you can find someone nearby using it. It will save a lot of pain and lost time and dollars.
In addition to these considerations, make sure sound problem solving and decision making are used to identify and select the final solutions. Check out 6 Tips to Improve Project Decision Making to be sure you are arriving at the best solutions.
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