The following is some sage advice I received a number of years ago when it came to wanting to implement a project software solution quickly. “Get to know your data first…” What did this mean? Get to know your data first? In my relentless pursuit for improving processes, simplifying procedures, creating meaningful reports, and automating as much as possible I would immediately jump to the fact that we needed to either build or buy a software solution for that particular problem. This could be considered the precursor to “there’s an app for that” because I needed an “app for that”. I was always looking for better ways to track time, improve processes for creating estimates, and easier ways to implement project management methodologies.
But, I didn’t “know my data” and that was a problem. I knew I had a problem that I was looking to solve. I just couldn’t quantify or describe what I needed to solve that problem. In rushing forward to implement a software for project management solution I many times missed features that were necessary. Or, I focused too much functionality that I thought was important, but later found out weren’t that important and ended up being rarely used.
The advice above was to get to “know my data”. I needed to truly understand what needed to be accomplished before moving forward with a solution. This could even mean using some manual processes or disparate software in the interim as I truly came to an understanding of what I needed.
How does this come into play in your pursuit of software for project management? You need to understand exactly what you are looking to accomplish before moving forward. The following are two types of software for project management you could consider using along with the pros and cons of each.
Stand-Alone Software Used For Project Management
As the name indicates this is software that was not explicitly designed for the purpose of project management but can be used for project management. It consists of independent software that with a bit of effort on your part can be customized to support your project management activity.
What are examples of this type of software? Word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, databases, time and information management systems, and accounting packages can all be used for the purpose of managing projects. While not expressly designed for the purpose of being used for project management they do have a place when it comes to getting to “know your data” as you figure out what is important to you and your team and what’s not as important.
The upside of using stand-alone software is:
- Most people know how to use the software - Stand-alone software has been around for some time now and people are already familiar with how to use these packages. This reduces the need for training costs to bring everyone up to speed on how to use new software for project management. Plus, people will be in a position to more likely adopt the software since they are already familiar with how to use its features and functionality.
- The software already exists on people’s computers – An extension of the first bullet above is that this software is most likely on their machines. This means that it can be used immediately with no additional cost.
- The Software is Focused on Its Area of Expertise – Each software package that falls in this category is designed to do an amazingly good job for the reason it was designed. This means it has a LOT of functionality in that area, is easy and flexible to use and learn, and continues to get better in that one area. For example, an accounting package is going to spend a lot of time getting better on the accounting side of things and not spend a lot of time enhancing the basic word processor functionality that it may offer.
The downside of using stand-alone software is:
- It doesn’t offer a holistic approach – The nature of stand-alone software is that it’s…stand-alone. This means that it could be easy for gaps or misses to occur in your plan because there’s not an overarching view of the entire project. Each package that is used as a solution for software for project management solution operates in a silo that needs a lot of manual attention to keep things in sync.
- It doesn’t play well with others – Integration between processes and systems becomes a challenge when you use different pieces of software and couple them together for project management purposes. It’s hard enough for these stand-alone programs to talk amongst themselves in your own company and next to impossible to have them talk to a client’s processes and systems.
Specialty Software Designed For Project Management
The second type of software for project management solutions are those packages that are DESIGNED specifically for the purpose of managing projects. The most common example of this is Microsoft Project but there are a number of other online and offline solutions available.
The upside of using specialty software is:
- It does play well with others – Project Management software is designed to certainly work together within the program itself and is typically easier to connect to other project management software solutions. For example, if you change a date, deliverable, resource, or other element in one place in a specialty software package, that change will cascade through the all the plans, reports and other necessary locations where that information needs to be updated. Additionally, there are “hooks” that can integrate into other specialty software solutions that your clients may use, and at the very least the ability to export and import critical information about your project.
- There are a number of pre-defined templates – Software for project management that is expressly designed that purpose will come with a number of pre-defined templates for your use. These templates can range from project schedules to reports that are put in place as a starting point for you to use to get a jump start on your projects. There is no need to reinvent the wheel as 80% of project management reports are the same (status, resources, workload, expenses, etc.) and usually require just a bit of refinement to make them work for you.
The downside of using specialty software is:
- It will require some training – These types of applications are not readily available on people’s computers nor are they typically familiar with their use. This will require some attention on your part as a project manager to make sure they know how to use the system properly, have their questions answered, and lean toward adoption.
- There will be some cost involved – While there are specialty software for project management solutions that say they are ‘free’, these are usually based upon limited functionality, users, or features. If you are looking to implement an enterprise wide solution for project management software then you will need to make sure you have a budget in place in order to make this happen.
A word of advice if you are just starting out on your pursuit of finding the software for project management…get to know your data first. You can start down the stand-alone path and get a sense of what you like and what you don’t need. This invaluable information can then feed into the selection process for your specialty project management software.
One more word of advice…once you have determined what your project management needs are then try ProjectManager.com free for 30 days! We’re sure you’ll love the reporting feature in our application that will allow you to create a project report in just three clicks, report on all the tasks in your project plan, include the actual vs. planned progress to date and view, print or email your project reports as you wish!