Looking for your next project management solution? Not happy with your existing tool? Making the right decision is not only about comparing product features, it is also about finding a solution that will drive your project team to success.
There are so many features out there that it makes it hard to distinguish the ones that will really help you operate the project and drive it to success. I would like to suggest that the list can be narrowed down to only 5 critical components that should be considered:
- Visual planning
- Details in context
- The big picture
Let’s delve into each of these 5 criteria.
There are so many features out there that it makes it hard to distinguish between the ones that will really help you operate the project and drive it to success
1. Visual Planning
The first criteria is so simple yet so important. A project management software must provide a view people understand. What is the optimal view? As always… the answer is, it depends on where the focus is. Are you focusing on tasks that require a nice-looking task table? Or is it a dependency matrix that should be presented over a timeline?
Whatever the “view” is, it should be there – intuitive, inclusive and clear.
If people view and are able to understand, they will cooperate, they will report back. If they don’t understand, you just lost your most basic building block.
When checking into your next project management software try to think about how easy it will be for other people to understand your plan.
If people view and understand, they will cooperate, and they will report back.
2. Details in context
The second criteria is related to the details of the project and to the way these details are organized and tracked. At some point, as great and conclusive the project plan may be, it must go into the details and turn into an action plan.
Once going into the details and creating an action plan, it is very easy to lose the overall plan – changes are daily, estimates appears to be wrong, assignments are changing – the details are reshaping all the time and the relations to the original plan are no longer clear.
Consider a financial plan that at some point was translated into quotes, orders, booking and billing. Tracking the original financial plan is only possible if each transaction is documented in context of the overall plan. Same goes for project planning and project task management – task tracking must be in context to allow a proper project tracking.
Task tracking must be in context to allow proper project tracking
3. The big picture
The third criteria is about the high level view. Projects need to be reported to management, to stakeholders and to customers. Reporting a project status requires a different view using the same data – if you are using the same view for your CEO and for your project team – something is wrong.
Managers, and other people that are not part of the project team, are less interested in dependencies and details. They would like to see a high level view, presenting tracking information and project success parameters. If they are going into details, it is specific to a challenge they see, and the solution should allow that. But there is no point showing all details – the focus should be on the big picture.
If you are using the same view for your CEO as you are for the project team – something is wrong!
The first thing project teams want to do when they understand the project is to… talk about it! Share ideas, Ask questions, Collaborate!
The last thing you want to do at this point is to have your team use another tool to communicate. Consider the most trivial collaboration message – “Well done!” following nice progress on a task. Such a message should be as easy as a click! And it should be as easy as another click to receive the message on the other side.
“Talk” is not only about a technical messaging system. If the message is sent outside the software tool you are using, the information, the contents of what you are sending is also being sent there. The probability that your project management software will be used to continue following the discussion is reduced dramatically. You just lost attention and team engagement in your project.
Make sure that collaboration can be done within the tool that you are evaluating and in close proximity to the specific activity.
If the message is sent outside the software tool you are using – you just lost attention and team engagement in your project.
Now that people understand and are fully engaged, you have the details in place and a high level view for managers, the project is rolling in the right direction. It’s time to measure.
Measuring can be used to analyze the project structure or to analyze activity actions – progress and collaboration. Either way, it gives you something you can follow beyond your thoughts and assessment.
“Analyzing” is not only about getting data from the tool, it’s also about the ability to use the data. You can spend a lot of time arguing that a specific team is not engaged, Team leaders might even act defensively trying to protect his or her team. But what if you have a number? A score. This number or score will tell us the probability of a successful outcome. And what if this number or score is easily comparable with to numbers and scores from other teams? It is much harder to argue with. It’s data!
“Analyzing” is not only about getting data from the tool, it’s also about the ability to use it Are there other things I should look for?
Of course! There are many other considerations that we haven’t mentioned – integration with other tools, storage space, budget, resource management and more (a spreadsheet isn’t one of them). These items are fairly standard with any solution. They are not less important but they are second to the fundamentals – visual planning, details in context, the big picture, the ability to talk about the plan and to analyze it. If your next project management software can’t provide these 5 critical components, the chances are, the project will fail somewhere further down the road.