The choice of the software or software platform often catches us off guard. Someone opt for the most expensive software or the most famous one, other people rely on the colleague experience, on choices made by other known companies or on the consultant on duty who usually tends to always show the best of its product and to hide the dark side that so cleverly he will settle with a certain ad hoc development (of course not cost free).
The question we want to answer after all seems trivial.. There is Microsoft Project (MS Project), which allows us to manage tasks, to make Gantt and Pert charts, to manage resources and create the final report. Unfortunately the management of the project is very different and without “The Project Management System” it does not go very far.
Let’s say that the perfect software does not exist as there isn’t the best project management software ever. Instead there is definitely the Project Management software that suits our needs!
Main Features of Project Management Software
We’re used to think about Project Management Software as those products that allow us to draw a Gantt chart and keep track of deadlines. The Project Management software is absolutely useless (I would say that is almost in the way) without a Project Management System and considering that we do not necessarily have to draw a Gantt. In fact, there are some areas where you are calling to make plans for the construction of something very long (highways, railways, bridges, tunnels, etc. ..) in physical terms and not necessarily temporal. In these cases it becomes overwhelming to figure out how the work advance, not only the tasks execution, but the meters that we are developing! In these cases we can be helped by timing software for planning and managing linear construction projects and infrastructure developed to improve visualization of repetitive tasks during the planning and management of large projects. One of the best known products on the market is TILOS.
A basic factor in the choice of project management software is the number of activities and resources to be managed. With the increasing number of activities (tens, hundreds or thousands), you have to switch between Open and Free tools to much more solid ones, more structured and with features that allow the integrated management of projects.
Gartner Magic Quadrant develops updated analysis on different sectors, providing a wide vision of competitors in the market. Through a graphical representation of a uniform set of evaluation criteria, the Gartner Magic Quadrant helps you to quickly understand how the various vendors are positioned compared to what they declare.
With regard to Project Management Tool and Project Portfolio Management it is possible to derive a framework at Magic Quadrant for IT Project and Portfolio Management.
Another authoritative framework is provided by PMI, which has drawn up a survey on the perception of project managers in relation to Project Management Software “PMI’s Project Management Software Survey“. The research compares many software packages and analyzes the satisfaction compared to the criteria of functionality, automation, scheduling, chart, reporting, etc..
The PMBOK Guide defines 42 processes that converge in 5 groups of basic process and 9 knowledge areas that are typically present in all projects:
- The 5 groups of basic process are:
- Monitoring and Controlling
- The 9 knowledge areas are:
- Project Integration Management
- Project Scope Management
- Project Time Management
- Project Cost Management
- Project Quality Management
- Project Human Resource Management
- Project Communications Management
- Project Risk Management
- Project Procurement Management
Thinking that there is a Project Management Software which can handle all these elements is unrealistic even if for projects only (nowadays none thinks to manage business costs with a Project Management Software), especially because the software on the market are products that must adapt to all the requirements and increasingly they tend to focus on specific features.
Generally, however, all Project Management Software nowadays have the main characteristics listed above, and differ for the processing power or the sophistication of the algorithms. We must also dispel the myth that cheap or free software can not compete with more expensive and awarded ones, in fact we don’t have to forget that a corporate Project Management System should not be judged by the software tools, but by the procedures and men who this software.
Here we focus on the main features: Project Scope Management, Project Time Management e Project Resource Management.
Project Management Software and Time Management
Historically, the Project Management was developed to manage time which, often, even today, is one of the most important, in fact, do not handle time, you use it!
At the beginning of ‘900 the engineer Henry Laurence Gantt (Calvert County, May 20, 1861 – Pine Island, November 23, 1919) devised a graphical tool to represent the activities of a project on the time axis. This instrument was used for the implementation of major structural works already in the first half of last century. Over the years the tools have matured and we have gone from a mere activities graphication to software which manage models (logical network) and methods (algorithms Cpm, Pert).
Project Management Software & Scope Management
Although it may seem strange, the PMI indicates the lack of clarity of objectives as the main cause of project failure. Standish Group pointed out in the survey “Decision Time: Part 1” that the 22% of projects fail for the lack of clarity, the incompleteness and requirement changing.
It follows that a good management of the Scope Management, understood as definition of the project contents, is a fundamental element on which to build an enterprise System of Project Management. The main outputs are usually the Project Chart and WBS (Work Breakdown Structure).
The Project Chart or Project Board is hardly to standardize and usually hypertext links to external documents are used. This feature is usually present in all modern Project Management Software.
A good project management software should handle multiple BS (Break Structure). Usually among these are:
- PBS – Project Breakdown Structure, which is the Project Main WBS or the vision of the project from a physical point of view (what functions are performed by the various parts of the product)
- ABS – Activity Breakdown Structure, which represents the project from the point of view of the activity type
- OBS – Organization Breakdown Structure, representing the project from an organizational point of view, allowing to identify people and organizations involved
- CBS – Cost Breakdown Structure, that represents the project from the point of view of the costs break down
Some software provide different views of the same BS, allowing to manage different information for the company and its customers.
Then there is the possibility to manage the Over-Structures or better to collect the projects and break down them by area or by objectives.
In summary we can say that in terms of scope management software can be categorized into:
- Managers of one or more Breakdown Structure
- Managers of Over Structures for aggregating data from multiple projects
- Managers of BS and Over Structures such entities on their own and not as simple tasks properties, with obvious simplifications and further simplification
Today, for medium or wide companies, often with physical locations around the world it is more necessary to have tools that with functionality 2 and 3, which also allow to meet the different needs of information aggregation to be provided.
Project Management Software & Human Resource Management
Without going into details of all possible organizations to support a project (Strong Matrix, Weak Matrix, the Task Force), we can say that often the necessary resources for a project cross the organization. So it becomes very important first to plan the allocated resources at an aggregate level and then at detail level.
Typically, the Project Manager expresses the request of one or more human resource for the project activities. This request is generally a generic estimate of hours or days, possibly with the detail of the required skills or business role. So the responsible for the involved Cost Centers assign specific people and communicate the choice to the Project Manager.
In my experience the allocation of human resources is one of the most critical aspects and also most famous software are often lacking in advanced features. Among the most important elements are:
- The ability to manage the skill, or rather to assign more or fewer hours of work depending on the resource capacity
- The centralization of information on resource requirements
- The data management in multiproject environment
- The management of a pool of resources allocated across multiple projects and multiple levels
- The ability to interface the planning application with Outlook or Lotus allowing any resource to make a statement of the assigned tasks or to communicate any delays
There are software for which the functionality of Project Resource Management has been mainly developed. To think that there is software that integrate all functions at maximum is unfortunately a futile hope, however, some functions can now be improved or implemented with hoc developments.
We saw which are the characteristics of a good project management software, but what’s on offer? Which are the best project management software?