Why selecting the right project management system is important

Finding the right software for project management has always been a challenge to buyers. Leveraging and deploying the right project management tool can streamline the entire process, enabling your organization to deliver higher quality work with greater success. Trying to manage all the moving pieces of any small or complex project through manual methods or by using spreadsheets can get ineffective and out of hand pretty quickly. One could be looking at missing deadlines, overlooking critical tasks, work falling through the cracks, not having a risk management plan in place, not knowing what your resources are working on, ever-escalating issues, and in the worst case scenario, the entire project getting sidelined or dumped even before it gets off the ground. That’s where the buyers’ remorse comes in and picking the ‘right’ project management software becomes all the more crucial.

Why “The Best” may not be “The Best” for you

When enterprise buyers were surveyed, almost 96% of time said that at least some of the software they’ve purchased is a shelfware (software that isn’t used, probably because of an impulse buying decision or a failed implementation). Software decision makers often substitute ‘best-fit’ with ‘best-in-class’ which often leads to this deluge of spending. If your decision is based on merely picking a couple of names based on top-of-the-mind recall, evaluating their offerings and signing up, then it would most of the time, if not always end up being a wrong decision.

One of the most popular solution project managers goto when they think of moving away from manual or spreadsheet methods is Microsoft Project. Microsoft Project still remains one of the most popular options available on the market, even today! Independent user research supports this claim that almost 67% of the companies surveyed used Microsoft Project. Yet, most organizations find that Microsoft Project lacks the full capability that they require. Microsoft Project is a project manager focused tool that is too complex for most users and integrates only with other Microsoft solutions. Another aspect that Microsoft Project suffers heavily is in the area of communication and collaboration. The moral of this story – buyers who blindly follow the bandwagon and jump onto Microsoft Project without knowing the specific requirements of their situation can often spell doom for their businesses. There are many comprehensive and online alternatives to Microsoft Project today.

Choosing a Project Management Solution is Hard

Choosing a project management software is not an easy task. There are hundreds of tools in the market and the capability spectrum is quite broad. It can be quite daunting finding the right one for your organizational success.

At one end you have simple task management tools like Basecamp for simple needs and complex project portfolio management software like Primavera for complex requirements. Basecamp doesn’t have sub-tasks or Gantt and sells for less than a hundred dollars while Primavera allows you to do Monte-Carlo simulation on project portfolios and sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, both claim to do project management and both are right in a way.

The challenge magnifies all the more so with Skype and Slack showing up under top project management software in many “best” lists. All of this is very misleading to organizations and team leaders who are seeking to evaluate and select an appropriate project management software. So, how do you go about choosing and picking the right system that

  • Has the features the project manager needs,
  • Gives the right level of visibility to your executives and senior management,
  • Is something your entire team is ready to use, and
  • Fits your budget.

1. Answer your Whys

Project management solutions come in all shapes and sizes. What may look like a comfortable win at the beginning turns out to be a disaster at a later stage. The process has to start with a transparent and honest assessment of why you need it. You can begin by outlining your needs and identifying the current problems in the way your team works. This can be followed by a deep-dive into your existing processes to bring out the pain points.

Another way to think of the ‘Why’ is as a piece of a big jigsaw puzzle. When you know what your piece looks like, it is much easier to see where it fits or doesn’t and get your team coming together on a shared vision. Knowing the ‘why’ is an essential first step in figuring out how to achieve the goal of choosing the right project management software for your business.

2. Look beyond your Top-of-the-mind Recalls

What do you typically do when you are looking for an apartment in a new city? Isn’t it tempting to latch onto the first locality that comes to your mind? Similarly, when it comes to project management software, the Basecamps, the Wrikes, the Asanas and the Jiras of the world come to mind immediately, and most software decision makers merely choose one of them without assessing if it’s a strong fit for their project management teams and business requirements. However, the need of the day requires you to go beyond these top-of-the-mind recalls and see what other options are available. With your whys in place and your needs defined, start looking for expert recommendations on sites like PC Mag and Project-Management.com, and software buyer reviews on sites like Capterra, Software Advice, and G2 Crowd.

Talk to your network to see what they are using. Ask your team members what they used in their previous organizations. Do a bit of research yourself. Compare their feature lists with your ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ list. Narrow it down to a handful of potential tools you would want to dive deeper into.

And don’t get into the “Nobody gets fired for choosing IBM” mentality.

3. Identify the Implementation Barriers

Once you get this far in the journey, the next step is to consider all the hurdles or the implementation barriers that you may have to clear before you can signal this to be a success. These implementation barriers could be anything from an unexpected level of resistance from your team to multiple time-consuming and costly training sessions and from data migration and to set up for critical integrations and even your purchasing budget. One has to plan for mitigating them. Getting people and teams involved is one thing, and buy-in is another. To get their buy-in, you need to root your vision about the software in their everyday working world through sustained engagement and speaking to people in their own language. Lack of buy-in can create resistance not only from team members but also from senior managers. Your limited budget might force you into buying a lesser solution. The idea is to identify all that could cause this exercise to fall apart and work out a realistic implementation plan that accounts for each of the potential barriers on your list.

4. Solve the Cost vs. Functionality Riddle

Given that project management software spreads across a broad spectrum, it is natural that the costs and capabilities of project management software vary considerably. Project management software vendors can be quite talented at getting customers to fixate on exciting new features so much so that important feature gaps might never be addressed. If you make a wrong choice, then you may end up paying for something that doesn’t suit your needs.

As MadKudo CTO Paul Cothenet puts it, “The biggest mistake you can make with productivity software is to add five minutes of extra work to each member of your team to save you five minutes.”

While you are allured by the next big shift in digital technology and about to jump onto the bandwagon mindlessly, keep yourself firmly grounded to the features you’re likely to need or benefit from and also keep an eye to the future needs.

As Sid Haas, vice president of Business Development at LKCS, a marketing services provider puts it “Implementing a project management solution throughout an organization is a long-term project in itself. So, select a solution that will grow with you and offers features that you may not even think of utilizing at the start.” More importantly, don’t be tempted to purchase a feature-rich system that you expect to ‘grow into,’ instead pick the tool that supports your near-term goals first.

Business owners and software decision makers often don’t know how much they should spend on a project management software evaluation. This can result in choosing a tool that might not have the features their teams need.

Sometimes, they may also look at the software as a financial expense. This is one of the worst mistakes one could make. The purchase of a project management software needs to be viewed as an investment in efficiency — not a financial expense.

5. Take it for a Test Drive

Almost every software out there comes with a free trial. Even if they don’t mention it on their website, vendors are happy to hook you up with a short test if you ask. Make the most of this step. Bring together a small group of cross-departmental users and take every possible software from your list for a test drive. Use realistic project scenarios to run through your list of business challenges and software requirements. As your team starts exploring the new software, regularly get feedback from them as each functional unit may have goals it would like to attain or a different idea of what it would need the software to do for them. The purpose of this free trial is to kick the tires and kick them hard! So, get past the team inertia and get your evaluation as accurate as possible. Make the team members feel they were a part of the decision making and that their needs are being met. Keep communication lines open to counter any problems and to stay on top of things. While you are evaluating the features and the software workflows, make it a point to also test out the customer service and overall vendor responsiveness. Ask their support team for help and get your questions clarified. See how responsive and helpful they are. Interact with their community and other helpful resources and see how valuable they are to get you started. More importantly, as you progress through your trial, make sure that the new system feels natural to your organizational culture, needs and work habits. This will ensure that adoption isn’t a challenge down the line.

6. Balance Control and Collaboration

About two decades ago, project management was essentially about classroom-trained managers gaining control and highly unproductive status meetings. However, the last decade has seen dramatic changes in the business environment. Projects have gained strategic importance and are not viewed as just delivery mechanisms anymore. The role of a project manager has been through a radical transformation, leaving the tag of glorified coordinators behind. What was an authoritative environment at one point, has shifted to a more collaborative one today. Today, team members also log into the software to see what’s on their plates, what their priorities are and to collaborate across distributed teams. Within this collaborative environment managers and executives find it easier to stay up to speed on what’s going on and get a sense of real-time progress. Clients no longer wait to be fed with old status reports. They want to proactively participate in the project’s development and communicate real-time. So, when you are looking for your next project management software, you need to assess and strike a balance between the level of control and collaboration in the software. Along with the ticks on Work Breakdown Structure, Gantt Chart Scheduling and Budget Reporting, you also need to assess the effectiveness of the collaboration features and capabilities that the tool offers.

7. Evaluate Onboarding Timelines and Go-Lives

One last thing you need to check before you sign-up for your project management tool is to run through your rollout plan and make sure it is as smooth as possible. Typical items to consider in this step include the overall timelines for implementation, whether it is going to be smaller, phased implementation or an org-wide rollout, providing for adequate onboarding and training to different stakeholders, identifying the champions and key advocates for the tool and what role would they play in ensuring the overall success of this deployment, ensuring all critical documents are available in the new system, any data migration activities involved and setting up key integrations for end-to-end business intelligence. You also need to evaluate the level of startup support you can get from the vendor as well as the ongoing technical support in the long run.

Conclusion

Sometimes we have to choose between what is right and what is easy.

Albus Dumbledore (from Harry Potter)

Choosing a project management software is precisely this time. Lying above you is a promise of progress, optimized decision making, and enhanced customer satisfaction. Below you is the danger of a missed opportunity and continued chaos. If your decision is based merely on picking a couple of names, evaluating their niceties and signing up, then most likely it will end up as a shelfware.

Choosing a new project management tool can be an intimidating process, but don’t look for an easy way out. Choose what’s right for your business, your clients, and your team.

Laura

Choosing the right project management software can be a long way. It should more or less suite all the people on your team (at least enough for them to be able to use it) and - ideally - benefit them. My team has tried a couple of project management apps, including the most popular ones, until we found the one that works for us the best. In our case, it's Kanban Tool ( https://kanbantool.com/ ). It's user-friendly, it's efficient and has a lot of useful features. It took a while but I'm so glad we don't need to search any further.


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