Perhaps the key theme of the last decade or so in the IT sector is that the fast pace of change is accelerating. Businesses face many challenges related to this reality, including choosing which new technologies and services best fit their needs and financing the projects to put them in place.
Another vital task is to make sure that the planning, rollout and operation of these projects, once they are decided upon, are well planned and executed. This is not an easy task. Projects are complex and involve people who are decentralized and often resistant to change. They are, in reality, more a series of connected but individual moving targets than a single overriding initiative.
Project management software is the enabler that can keep these initiatives from melting down into failure, stranded money and, eventually, recrimination.
"Project management software for IT services teams can improve efficiency on multiple levels," according to project management firm Mavenlink, which answered questions submitted by IT Business Edge. "For example, it helps IT teams gain control over their operations, understand the health of all their projects in real time, and stay up to date on various project tasks to ensure the team is meeting commitments. When everyone on the team is on the same page, the team’s output flows more easily."
Project management software, like seemingly everything else in IT and telecom, is changing. Margo Visitacion, Forrester's vice president and principal analyst serving enterprise architecture professionals, says that the legacy approaches support project managers, "but not the team."
That is one of the key things that is changing. Getting the full benefit from these suites requires enfranchisement of everyone involved, not just top managers. "These solutions are [now] targeted at the team as a whole," Visitacion wrote. "They allow teams to have a common workspace that has all tasks, documents and conversations in one place. It reduces the amount of time workers spend searching for information in emails and provides the information real time, and in context. These tools don’t replace the requirement for project planning, instead they support and enhance planning capabilities."
Changing Tools and Platforms in Project Management
These project platforms are growing more potent and more holistically tracking and driving project progress. Stephanie Ray, the vice president of Product Marketing for ProjectManager.com, told IT Business Edge that extremely granular measurements can make it more likely that a project is kept on track. "In the planning and scheduling phase, task estimates are tracked according to actual progress, so managers can see the progress being made across their projects, both at the individual level and at the team level," she wrote. "When teams participate in the estimation process, it’s possible to measure efficiency of the team against the project baseline or managerial estimates, to measure overall efficiency."
Project management software can track team member hours on a weekly or monthly basis. This input can lead to insights into the employee and team efficiency. Simply, how long somebody is working can be measured against his or her impact on the job at hand. The software also encourages teamwork. "Team members also collaborate with their peers in online IT project management, supporting streamlined workflows and handoffs, as well as digital asset management keeping all project and task files online with the project," Ray wrote. "In a basic way, teams save time and improve efficiency through online use of these tools."
The bottom line is that project management software is rapidly changing as radically as the projects themselves. This complexity leads to a piece of advice from Mavenlink: Use a single platform across the enterprise. "Best of breed" solutions in which most effective pieces of multiple software packages are cobbled into a single "all-star" package aren't recommended because the various elements must be tightly knit together.
It is important to recognize that project management platforms are not all the same. "Many project management software platforms share similar features, but there are aspects that differentiate between platforms," Mavenlink wrote. "For example, some platforms may have a quality project management features, but lack other tools such as project accounting and resource management. Another key differentiator is the ability to integrate the project management software with other apps and platforms commonly used in business, such as Slack or Quickbooks."
Finally, organizations must understand the complexity of the tasks that are being carried out. Problems might arise if a project management software solution is implemented that only performs one or two tasks. "It may do those things very well, but it also means more platforms will be needed for other tasks," Mavenlink wrote. "This can slow teams down because it forces them to bounce back and forth between platforms depending on the task or project, and it also decreases the likelihood of adoption within the organization. A more ‘all-in-one’ approach for project management software gives IT services teams more agility and helps them react to potential issues more efficiently."
Organizations: Understand Your Project Management Software Needs
Organizations must do their homework and know what they want the platform to achieve. "I would say there are a wide range of features, depending on the vendor and the team size’s needs," Ray wrote. "For example, requirements for the complexity of the Gantt [scheduling] chart depend on the project; management can rule out a large number of IT PMS offerings, since their Gantt charts are little more than roadmap views of task progress. In other tools, such as our online Gantt chart, we offer advanced Gantt features such as portfolio roadmaps, critical path, WBS [work breakdown structure], task dependencies, and baselining, which more advanced PMs find valuable. Most tools offer task management and basic reporting, but differentiation is felt at the level of features from Gantt charts to resource management to dashboarding."
Mavenlink suggests that the enterprise should identify which of its other software platforms the candidate project management software suites integrate with before making a decision on which to use. The idea is to have the project management software platform work with, not against, the software that is already in use.
Project management software is growing in importance. It can help an organization to keep pace with the fast changes that are buffeting IT. However, the wrong platform (or the right one implemented poorly) could do more harm than good.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.