Use Project Management Tools in the Right Context

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Categories: Best Practices, Tools

Recently I came across an ad for a project management technology application. It was a picture of seven robots in a group, which symbolized humans. The slogan read, "If your team looked like this, any PPM solution would work."

It made me wonder how many organizations actually believe that technology applications do the work and produce results -- not humans.

How many organizations and project managers sufficiently analyze their project needs and the compatibility of new technology to their organizations' existing set-up and processes?

Companies often buy expensive project management applications and then force teams to conform and adapt to the application rather than customize the application to the needs of the people and project.

But buying applications because other organizations use them does not by default mean you, too, will become a leader.

Like with best practices, experience has taught me that technology and tools are valuable -- but only if they fill gaps and needs effectively.

Technology is important and can increase efficiency, but in the correct setting and context. Projects are planned and executed by people -- therefore technology must complement and be understood by the humans who use it.

Before investing in new project management applications, you must consider things like training, costs and your team members' willingness to use the tools. Otherwise it could amount to an expensive burden.

What experiences can you share of failing to engage stakeholders before investing in technology?

What factors should be considered before investing in new applications?
Posted by Saira Karim on: August 15, 2011 11:56 AM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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David Rudge
Factors that should be considered when purchasing new software to assist a project management team:

- Will it increase the productivity of the team?
- Can the pm team tailor the software to their needs?
- How quickly can the team be taught how to implement the software correctly?

claudio de heredia
Hi Saira, to me a project management tool is of the most importance.

Technology is years ahead of what people can or know what to do. The important thing is to teach these new capabilities with the tool.

The real problem is that to buy a PPM tool is a nightmare because there are so many good solutions. The market has become very mature and is tough to differentiate the ofers. Not Gartner, Forrester, IDC, etc help much. I wish there would be some impartial help on this hard software evaluation problem. Thanks.

Racquel Joseph
Tools only work when they fit a company's needs without enormous customization expense.

David M. Kasprzak
Thanks for an interesting post.

The misuse of a tool set - what I call mastery of tools instead of mastery of concepts - isn't limited just to project management. The real culprit is a misunderstanding of how to effectively create change within an organization.

All too often, as you mention, someone observes a tool working in another company, or even another department or division within the same company, and then tries to apply the tool in order to realize the same results.

Within the world of Lean Thinking - and not just the manufacturing end of things, but also those in health care or with a focus on the people side of Lean, have noted this tendency to focus on the tools as a means of creating change.

They've also noted that the tools that work well in one environment don't fit well in others, and it's an understanding of why the tools worked that matters, and only through that conceptual understanding can the wasteful practice of slapping a tool onto a broken process be avoided.

Ross Garvey
In my experience Project and Programme Management tools have been implemented for the wrong reasons. They have tended to be implemented to support PMO's and Senior Management.

In fact I am yet to see anyone who has approached the PM's themselves and asked then what sort of tool are they looking for and that will help them do their jobs.

As the old adage says - People make projects not process or tools.

Well said.

Right in the heart of commercial project management. New technology without training!!

Unfortunately, some companies (a lot in Middle East) are investing in technology, rather than building knowledge. Human training has less interest.

Peter Wright
So far I agree with most things you have highlighted and that also have been posted.

I have found that a lot of tools have tried to mimic MS Project-type Gantt charts and tracking. Those end-to-end solutions that large businesses can afford have generally been implemented to aid senior management to be able to see the status of projects/programmes without having to talk to the PM/PgM.

And this is part of the major failure of corporate/large tools: they can stop managers/people communicating effectively with the PM/PgM and they start to assume status and progress of a project/programme.

That said, if you do not have these tools and you do not have a PMO, then a lot of the PM's time can be spent trying to communicate risks/issues/updates instead of actually managing the delivery of milestones with the teams.

So I agree with David. When choosing tools, I would suggest a business always needs to see where the PM/PgM is losing time. And, COULD a tool/system aid this without creating additional risks in communication etc.

As with all things, PM it is a balance of Risk and Opportunity.

Satish M S
I agree with comments made on engaging the stakeholders for a new technology.

So far there are many tools that a PM can use & share it across. Also, while trying to invest in a new technology it is better to look into factors like cost, training, engaging across the right resources etc., & how far it is going to be beneficial to the organization factors to be considered.

Michael Lepage
I do a lot of work in the construction / engineering and related industries and the trend that I'm seeing is toward integrating Project Management systems with back-end financial systems.

The goal being to have a single system with a full picture of both cost and schedule. Unfortunately, such integrations are so complex that the resulting application becomes obscenely difficult to use. There is little focus on the end-user from these large software companies.

Simple: If it's too complex, users won't use it, even if forced. They will find a way around it. It's still a no-brainer why spreadsheets rule the cost and scheduling world.

Ron Goris
Like any project, you really need to understand what your requirements are for selecting the tool(s) of your choice. Some of the questions I like to ask are:

(1) What is it that you (and your stakeholders or business partners) want to get out of the tool to enable you to be more effective and efficient in the execution of projects now and in the future? Spending some time working backwards from a desired future-state will help in avoiding implementing tools that will only be replaced in 1-2 years because they will not get you to where you need to be.

(2) What must the tool provide now and what can be added/rolled out at a later date? Is the tool in question an integrated product that will grow and adapt as and when you are ready to take advantage of additional functionality as your maturity increases?

(3) How will this change the lives of the Project Manager, team members and/or management and is your organization ready for such change? (Referring back to (2) above...) Can this rolled out gradually over time or are you ready for the 'big bang' approach?

(4) How complex is the tool? Is it easily customizable or will changes require development effort from the vendor (or a third party)?

(5) How solid is the company behind the tool? Will they be around to provide the necessary support in the years ahead?

(6) What kind of reporting capability needs to exist? How user-friendly is this tool? Does it have a set of standard reports and/or dashboards that could be used out-of-the-box as well as an ad-hoc reporting feature that is simple to use?

(7) How easily can it be integrated into your backend systems (ex. data warehouse, financial systems)? Is this going to be costly to create and maintain?

These are just a few of the many questions that need to be asked. My favourite though is really ease of use coupled with starting with a clear understanding of how you want to use the tool and what you want to get out of it. If you can make the PM's job simpler (ex. entering data once and only once and auto generating status reports) and easier you will be headed in the right direction.

If you can provide timely, accurate snapshots of what is happening with your projects and resources for IT and business leaders to base decisions on you will also gain supporters for tool adoption.


Ron Goris.

Magali Janvier
Hi Saira,

Here are the three top things I believe project management tools should focus on to make adoption successful:

- Ease of use: If people absolutely need to watch videos and get training to use your tool, it’s not ideal.

- Team Unification: If the tool is only targeted to workers or managers, the team will never be working together and the adoption will fail.

- Efficiency: People don’t want to spend more time working in the tool than getting their work done.

Before investing in an application, teams or companies should identify the reasons why they want a tool, they should understand the problems they want to solve. It will then become easier to evaluate different options as their selection criteria will be linked to solving their problems.

Magali, PO of

Hello All, is a leading open source Project Portfolio Management solution with a focus on collaboration. empowers your entire organization to participate in authoring rich, continuously updating project records that are readily accessible, easy to update, transparent,
and actionable.

For a brief demo of the system please use the link:

Also you can download the latest open source version 9.2.6 from

-- Team?

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