The utopia for every Project Manager, I believe, is having a tool that puts everything you need at your fingertips – from your project plans, issue and change longs, statuses, financials, stakeholders, and so on. It’s a tool that works for you, instead of the other way around. However, in reality, this is never the case. There are tools that are specialized for specific types of projects – for example, if you’re managing an Agile project where Kanban boards are key, you could use JIRA or Asana, or Microsoft Project for Waterfall projects – yet there isn’t a single tool that does everything. Additionally, tools can be expensive. Organizations, therefore, have to be mindful of which tools they invest in.
So how do you go about choosing the right tool? Here are my recommendations.
If a project has a lot of interdependencies, a traditional ERP implementation for instance, you would choose a tool like Project, or others like Gantt charts which can develop that critical path. That way, you can build alignment from the very beginning. An Agile project works best with Kanban boards, so a tool like JIRA will help you map your sprints, move things around, move things into a backlog, or work towards your minimum viable product. If you’re collaborating across multiple stakeholders, Smartsheet is great, as it allows you to track, plan, and automate workflows with a sense of flexibility. Do research into which tool aligns best with the needs and complexity level of your project, and choose accordingly.
A lot of times people in Project Management think they have to innovate and reinvent the wheel to get projects done. Don’t get distracted by the bells and whistles on your tool. Instead, focus on fundamentals. Use tools to make sure your project plans are up to date, the statuses readily visible, you’re communicating clearly and you’re managing expectations of clients. The tool is just an enabler – it’s your ability to use it effectively that will drive programs and projects.
Think about how you can use the tool to give colleagues and clients self-service access to the data they need. That way, they won’t have to approach you to get their questions on status or updates answered. Self-service access to tools will allow stakeholders to have the information they need at their fingertips. It also will help everyone align on responsibilities and deliverables, as well as dependencies. So if any issues pop up, everyone has a full view of the statuses and how things are progressing in real time.
Sometimes, you don’t need the latest tool, where something simpler could do the trick. I was once running a large program office for a big retailer, involving 125 people across 20 countries. The client wanted to create a war room for this, with information up on the walls so he could have a view of what was happening. I knew that this would take a lot of time and energy to keep up.
What did I suggest instead? Excel. And indeed, we used it at a high level to track key milestones – 15 in total – of that project. Everyone could easily understand where we were along those milestones, and how the program was progressing. The client loved it. He could see that it was a simplified way of managing a lot of people and moving parts.
In reality, we could have chosen to use a tool like Microsoft Project. We could’ve added in thousands of lines of tasks, with dependencies right across. But we had a lot of talented people managing their workstreams independently in their own countries, with the tools that worked best for them. So as a roll out from the program office, Excel ended up being the most effective tool.
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Director, Program & Project Management Services