Project Management

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A blog that looks at all aspects of project and program finances from budgets, estimating and accounting to getting a pay rise and managing contracts. Written by Elizabeth Harrin from

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How Do You Use PM Tools (And How Much Do They Cost You)?

Categories: research, software

A recent survey by GetApp, an online research company, sheds a bit of light on what’s really going on with project management software tools – which regular readers will know is a topic close to my heart.

I found the results interesting and here I’ve picked out a few to comment on. Starting with…

More than half of respondents (57 percent) work at organisations with annual budgets of $2k or more for project management software.

12 percent of respondents said their company had $25k or more to spend on software annually. My thoughts here are that the survey doesn’t correlate this to company size. You’d imagine that the cost of cloud software goes up with the number of users, so knowing the budget without knowing what they get for it in terms of project management population signed up isn’t very helpful.

However, this next point is interesting…

91 percent of project managers are willing to spend more for project management software that includes the missing features they need.

I’ve looked at a lot of tools and I have to say that there are similarities between what project management software does. After all, there are only so many ways to record tasks and mark them as complete. What extra bells and whistles you get for dashboards, resource management and so on are all good, but a Gantt chart is a Gantt chart at the end of the day.

So paying more for software that differentiates itself by having something “extra” – well, for many companies I think that is a hard sell.

However, this survey looks like customers will pay for what’s missing. The things they report as missing from the products they are using currently are:

  • Task management
  • Collaboration
  • Budget management
  • Integrations
  • Idea management
  • Chat tool
  • And some others

No individual feature was reported missing by more than 12 percent of people, so there wasn’t a clear winner – if that’s the right term – for what is lacking in PM software. Rather, it’s a broad range of features that might not be in the tool you happen to be using.

The researchers draw an interesting conclusion from this, and I tend to agree: software hasn’t caught up with what project managers are actually expected to do these days.

It has been a while since the formal project manager was handed a fully-specified requirements document, and spent their days doing project scheduling, monitoring and control. Today we’re expected to handle a wide range of tasks from budgets to change management and everything in between.

And we need the tools that can deliver.

The amount people are prepared to spend on getting the features that matter to them is set out in the chart below. Most people don’t want to go more than 15 percent more and nearly 10 percent wouldn’t pay any more even if they got the extra features.

The challenge for software vendors is that every PM seems to have a slightly different set of requirements for what they need, at least in my experience. Even within my own business we use multiple tools because it’s easier and there isn’t one integrated product that does everything.

I’m used to it now, so I don’t see it as a problem. In itself that’s a problem! You can’t improve or look for efficiencies if you aren’t open to the idea that there might be some somewhere.

I’m not alone in using more than one tool, as the next survey result shows.

Almost three quarters (74 percent) of project managers surveyed use between two and five total tools for project management.

5 percent of survey respondents say they use over 10! I can’t imagine what they would be unless they have included software like Microsoft Word and email in their list. Perhaps they work with clients who use different products and as freelancers or contractors have to use multiple tools by default as every client has their own in-house specification.


This study seems to show that the situation for project managers today is that they don’t seem to be happy with the tools that are out there. With over 90 percent saying they’d pay for missing features and struggling along using multiple tools there sounds like plenty of demand for project management software vendors to step up.

However, I think that’s a sweeping conclusion to come to from this set of data points. I agree with the researchers that unless project managers have the right tools that help them do the job they are paid to do, we risk project failure (or at least not 100 percent success). But in my experience people are happy to talk about the things that aren’t going so great – and without access to the questions it’s hard to see if they were asked if there was nothing they felt was missing.

I’m naturally sceptical about surveys and I do think the data here is interesting. What do you think?


The survey was conducted with around 200 project managers in the US who use project management software for their day jobs. They came from a wide spread of industries but with a focus on IT and 49 percent of them had the job title Project Manager, with the others being slightly more junior or senior but still in PM-related roles. You can read the whole survey and see all the results here.

Posted on: January 02, 2017 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

How Do Companies Measure Project Manager’s Success?

Categories: consultancy, research

According to recruitment company Robert Half, interim project managers are in high demand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, interim is a bit like contract but generally longer term and more invested (contractors, feel free to call me out on that if you don’t agree!).

The Robert Half team asked 200 UK CFOs and Financial Directors about how they evaluate the success of an interim manager, and it isn’t all about the successful delivery of a project (although that comes in at 34%). I put this infographic together to explain how the survey respondents measure the success of one of their interim managers. They were allowed to respond to several answers, which is why the results don’t add up to 100%, and you can see the full survey results here.

Posted on: November 20, 2016 11:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

The Future of Your PMO is Safe…

Categories: PMO, research

…At least, that’s what a survey by ESI would have you believe.

The funding for PMOs has historically been a bit iffy. That’s not a technical term, by the way. PMOs have struggled to prove their value and there is a cyclic effect when times are hard in business: PMOs start to lose their funding and get scaled back or cut completely. That, according to ESI, is finally changing.

The study of over 900 respondents held earlier this year reports that 49% of PMOs are funded as a corporate overhead. Even the word ‘overhead’ doesn’t do the PMO any favours. I know PMOs aren’t exactly revenue generating but they should be a governance and cost control centre rather than a bottomless black hole of overheads. In fact, where a project is done for a client, and a PMO is part of the deal, 40% of them are funded by the project. So you could argue that the PMO is a revenue centre in those situations. However, the study does not make it clear whether those costs are passed to the client or not. I digress…

Corporate i.e. central funding is a good thing for PMOs. ESI believes that corporately-funded PMOs have a far greater opportunity to mature and to provide a wider range of benefits and services both to projects and the business as a whole.

Funding increases on the way

Enterprise PMOs are optimistic. The report concludes that around 30% of enterprise PMOs thought they would be seeing increased funding in the next financial year, so they must think they are doing a good enough job, growing enough and gaining enough recognition to be worth the extra investment. The ESI pundits report that enterprise PMOs typically have a wider influence and higher visibility than those PMOs set up to support an individual project or programme.

PMOs that are supporting individual initiatives are less optimistic about their future and their funding. This is hardly surprising: if your department has been set up to support a project and then that project finishes, your future is uncertain. You can foresee the end of the project from Day 1 so it is no shock that project level PMOs are a bit more reticent about their future.

The challenge of resource management

Another interesting statistic from the ESI study is that resource management is perceived to be the thing that the PMO is worst at by the people who actually do the job.

About half of respondents reported that their PMO has been ‘very ineffective’, ‘ineffective’ or ‘neither effective nor ineffective’ at resource management across projects and programmes.

This is a shame (and a surprise). I thought one of the main benefits of a PMO was to handle resource management and make sure that the right people were working on the right projects at the right time. They certainly have the tools and the remit to do that, if they want. Resource management is tough because it’s probably the part of project planning that deals with the vagaries of your people more than any other. There are just so many variables and things that might change. Keeping track of who is doing what when is more than a full-time job and relies heavily on the support and input from the team members themselves. Plus more and more of what project managers do is knowledge work which makes it very difficult to estimate. This is going to continue to be a challenge for project managers and PMOs.

Another resourcing point flagged by the study is the lack of access to team members trained in Agile working practices. More and more teams are adopting Agile but the training and change management aspects of embedding this in the organisation seem to be lagging behind.

And the challenge of recognition

The survey invited participants to say what other people thought the PMO struggled with as well as giving their own assessment. Inability to effectively manage resources was not something that made the top list of reasons why people challenged the PMO.

The main reason for ‘challenging’ (for which I would read ‘complaining about’) the PMO was about the value that it added to the organisation. In other words, people saying that it didn’t add any value to the business. That’s not really a surprise. Executives have struggled to see the value of the PMO for some time and it’s only when you have a programme of quick wins and a high profile about the work that you do that the value of a PMO is clear. And even then you won’t always win over the detractors. There will always be someone who says project managers should just get on with it.

PMOs provide a valuable role within a company and the regular ESI studies show the changing landscape of the global PMO. It will be interesting to see if we are still hearing the same complaints and complements about PMOs in a few years.

Posted on: August 13, 2015 09:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Brushing Up On The Basics

Categories: research, risk

I’ve spent a lot of time going through the PwC Global PPM Survey recently and there are lots of things in there that project managers can take away. The most important message – and this won’t come as a surprise – is that “the PM community needs to brush up on the basics.”

They give some statistics to support that:

  • Almost 40% of project managers do not believe there is clear accountability within a programme to make decisions and enable delivery.
  • Almost a third of project managers do not have schedules that align both programmes and projects i.e. the programme level schedule does not integrate with the project schedules.
  • Risk and issue management is not being carried out effectively. Only 77% of issues are managed “in a timely manner” and only 72% of project managers report that risk management is carried out through the life of the programme.

That last statistic troubles me, because risk management is not a one-off activity. You can’t set up a risk log (on my other blog I have a free risk register template) and expect it to manage itself or expect the project’s environment to remain static to the point that no other risks manifest themselves during the life cycle. Risk management has to be a regular, ongoing activity.

Getting the project management basics right

The survey says:

“PMs can improve their performance in getting the basics right and help Executive Teams deliver programmes of change. Many of the improvements that can be made are basic PPM processes and should be part and parcel of every programme but are frequently not done well or are not done consistently.”

This is what I consider the basics.

First, set your objectives. Have a clear goal and a line of sight to that goal. Everything is easier when you have total clarity about what you are trying to achieve because every decision you make supports the journey to get there. (It also makes it easier to do point 3 below.)

Second, regularly measure progress. Apparently this is not always done in all programmes, although why you would invest in a programme of work and then not bother to check anyone is actually working on it is beyond me.

Third, have a process to manage changes. According to PwC’s maturity assessments, almost half of programmes don’t have established processes for managing change.

Fourth, build in time to reflect. You can’t do a good job when you and the team are stressed and under pressure. You need a moment to catch your breath, consider alternative solutions, work out what’s round the corner (be it positive or negative) and review lessons learned so you don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.

Fifth, manage your risks. Risks that aren’t managed cost you money. Risks that aren’t exploited miss you opportunities. Everyone needs a Plan B because you can never be too prepared, especially when you have a lot of time and money tied up in delivering transformational change.

All of these are basics, but they don’t need to be unwieldy or fully documented to be done well. The most important thing is talking about them. As the survey authors write:

“Whilst reviewing a risk register or ensuring a benefits tracker is up to date need to happen, what is most important is that the conversation around a particular risk is had with the right people to drive mitigating action.”

What other project management practices do you consider to be ‘the basics?’ Let me know in the comments below.

Posted on: June 24, 2015 03:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Career trends: the picture from 2014

Categories: research, salaries

Did you get a new job in 2014? Or are you hoping to get one next year? ESI have released a new report that looks at career trends over the last 12 months.

Starting salaries

As this in the inaugural report, ESI don’t have historical trend data on starting salaries. Even so, their assessment is interesting. In US Dollars, they report starting salaries as:

  • Graduate entry level: $38,957
  • Small project: $53,291
  • Moderate project: $64,768
  • Large, highly integrated project: $74,264

Note to self: put together justification for pay rise to present to my manager.

Getting the big money

The study found that if you want to be ‘proficient’ and earn the big bucks, you need to start off with 2 years on small projects, 5 years on medium sized projects and then 7 years on large, complex projects. That’s a career trajectory of 14 years! I hope that it doesn’t take the new project managers on my team that long to become a valuable, proficient project manager.

Note to self: plot out the career plans of the project managers in my team so they can see how they are advancing on to larger projects

Earn more with training

Just 5 days of training a year can make you a better project manager, and in turn, lead to a higher salary, the report says.

  • On small, low risk projects a week’s training can advance your career by 5 months
  • On moderate, medium risk projects, a week’s training can advance your career by 9 months
  • On large, highly integrated projects, a week’s training can advance your career by 13 months.

Targeted training can accelerate your ability to take on more complex and larger projects, jumping you ahead of your peers.

Note to self: find a course and get training booked for 2015.

Experienced PMs are in demand

Let’s say that you’ve done your time, you’ve advanced with training and you are now an experienced, proficient project manager. How hard is it to get a job?

Not very hard, according to the ESI study.

They report that it is difficult to find suitable, skilled project managers at all levels but it’s really, really hard when you want someone capable of managing a big, complex project.

  • 36% of respondents found it hard to find staff for small, low risk projects
  • 67% of respondents found it hard to find staff for moderate, medium risk projects
  • 88% of staff of respondents found it hard to find staff for large, highly integrated projects.

So there should be plenty of opportunities around for people at the experienced end of the scale, if you are able to take the time to seek them out.

Note to self:  update CV for all those great opportunities!

What are your career goals for the next 12 months? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Posted on: December 12, 2014 06:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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