The growth of project management

Long before time tracking, spreadsheets or reporting functionalities we had the pen and the paper. These are probably still the most important project management tools available today.

Every day people in all walks of life use project management skills. Meals arrive at the table on time, people catch the bus or the car pool, leave chore lists for family members or arrive at the babysitter’s on time.

So why does the industry seem intent on promoting the use of project management tools? According to Chris Vandersluis, most businesses running projects will need project management tools.

Vandersluis, president of Toronto-based HMS Software, a software publisher which distributes project management tools, said any company that has to manage projects should have some kind of tool. However, he noted that some projects do not synch well with the general products out there.

“When we come into a company that doesn’t have project management tools, that doesn’t mean they don’t have project management already. Somebody is managing something,” Vandersluis stated.

“If my mom can get Christmas dinner arranged and on the table on time, she must know a thing or two about project management, but did she need a spreadsheet? Probably not.”

He stressed that although everyday life may not require resource-tracking software, business-oriented projects will need that to stay competitive.

Chuck Tatham, vice-president of marketing for Changepoint, a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based project management tool-maker, said planning, scheduling and tracking tools are key to companies keeping control over their own projects.

He added that most large corporations use management tools as a way for the boards of directors to know where the money is being spent. “You have huge-budget organizations saying that it’s not so much the project and the tactical detail that’s important, it’s how are we tracking the project as it relates to what’s important to the business?”

He noted when he asks people what their biggest business pains are, a lot of them fixate on small project management issues. “It’s sort of like not seeing the forest for the trees. We see almost an obsession with project management as a discipline in large IT departments, to the point of not seeing the bigger picture. I mention measuring resource utilization as an example.”

He said it makes sense companies would be obsessed with finding out if people are doing their jobs and giving their most, but that is not the key business-critical function that project management provides.

He also noted that no matter how good the tools are, you need the right people running these projects. “Our CEO has a favourite saying: he’d rather have a good project manager using the back of a napkin than a bad project manager using the best tool available.”

Collaboration is key

Project management tools are critical to business operations in today’s market, and according to Gartner Group that $1 billion market will continue to grow by as much as 25 per cent per year. Anderson Consulting predicts a 30 per cent annual increase in the growth of IT initiatives in need of project management.

As the project management market grows, users are stressing the importance of collaboration.

Evan Knuttila, vice-president of marketing for San Diego, Calif.-based Inovie Software, an e-workforce and e-business collaboration company, said the next step for project management tools will be a cultural shift in how they are used. He said people can now involve business partners, suppliers and employees within their networks.

“We’re seeing more and more people hosting on their own network and then allowing partners to come into their system,” Knuttila said.

“The real key to getting projects in on time is that project management isn’t just project management anymore. It has to incorporate strong collaboration. All the information needs to be centralized and available to everyone.”

Matt Light couldn’t agree more.

Light, research director at Gartner Group, defined collaboration in two ways. “There’s project-based collaboration, where team members are working together using tools, and there is virtual collaboration, which is set up on a network with partners where others can log on to retrieve information.”

Vandersluis said any new trends in collaborative software are going to be reflected in project management.

“Project management tools come in variety of packages. It used to be scheduling systems, but project management involves far more categories. For some companies it will be cost management, for others it would be communications. All of these other processes need to be integrated throughout a project,” he said.

Vandersluis spoke of true collaboration within an office as a romantic notion.

“Virtually everyone in the company has some tool they work with, but rarely does the company have one corporate standard for tools. That’s the romantic notion – that we will deploy these tools across the company, that the CEO will come in and turn on his computer and a chart will come up on a browser with numbers from 20 minutes ago,” Vandersluis said. “And that is absolutely undeployable.”

He added that project management data is not like that. “The best you may do is get a graph like that for last week.”

Light called this pipe dream the project office. He said there may be close to 50 per cent of companies working toward this goal.

“This is moving from single project management to collaborative project management. I don’t see that happening very easily without good tools,” he said, citing OLAP reporting and an increased emphasis on document management as factors that will help bring a project office to life.

Ben Au, manager of the project management office for Xerox Canada, would like to see more reporting used in project management.

“We need to be sharing information about upcoming projects so we can plan the resource management more efficiently,” he said.

Tatham said this collaboration is just an offshoot from the realization that project management is but one part of the business process.

“For our customers the pull is the tie between the project and other business-critical things like time and expense, because without that we don’t generate an invoice. Without that project management is a nice tool that helps organize your work. With that it becomes a business critical tool,” he said.

Worldwide wireless

Armine Saidi places the future of project management on the shoulders of the ever-growing wireless giant.

Saidi, director of public relations for Lavalle, Que.-based Tenrox, a workforce automation software vendor, said the ability to access real-time project information from anywhere is the trend project management tools are in the middle of right now.

“It’s the ability to share information, and wireless allows more access to that information,” Saidi said. “Many companies have employees who work from home or the road, so it is important for managers to have real-time information on time and expenses for various projects.”

Saidi noted that time tracking, equipment and resource tracking, scheduling and customer/partner support will all be able to make a smooth transition to wireless.

Au stated that wireless is really just another way of sharing through computers. “The beauty of wireless is that it can truly facilitate improvement in communication.”

Light noted he is already seeing incorporation of wireless devices and WAP-enabled programming into the world of project management. “I have seen prototypes of voice recognition tools,” he said. “I haven’t seen a lot of demand for voice, but the demand is there for wireless.”

Vandersluis agreed, noting that many of HMS Software’s customers are asking for handheld versions. “We need to be able to port these tools to wireless. People want to manage projects from wireless devices and they are asking for WAP-enabled tools,” Vandersluis said. “It’s the sexy and fun stuff.”

Light added that project team members only stand to benefit from wireless.

“Wireless project management will let team members boldly go where they haven’t gone before,” he laughed. “If you’ve got guys in the field, they don’t want to have to go inside and log on to a browser or go through password systems, they just want to get their task lists and get down to it. That’s the power of wireless on a project.”

The growth of tools

Unfortunately, there are few set rules to guide users through the adoption of management tools.

“I do think that starting small in just about everything is smart,” Vandersluis said. However, he noted that even a start-up could be focusing on large and involved projects that require a tool with a lot of functionality.

“It depends on the nature of your project work. If you’ve never done any project management before, then buying or designing the ultimate system and thinking you’ll grow into it may not be the most clever thing,” Vandersluis said.

Light agreed, saying most start ups will not have a great need for large tools, but added most companies do have to grow at some point. “You can’t use Excel and Word forever.”

He noted that when a company first starts, the price on a server-based tool with a lot of functions will be prohibitive. “But five or 10 years down the road, you’re a mid-sized company, then I think you’re in a position where you might start to compare and contrast different tools,” he said.

Light noted one issue that “drives some clients nuts” is that most tools are based on projects of some longevity and importance.

“If you have a project that will be wrapped up in one or two weeks, you don’t need a large tool for that. These projects can be getting rid of bugs in a system, something like that.” He said he often advises clients at this point to look at some help-desk tools and incorporate them into their project management strategy.

He said more collaboration between these tools would be a good idea. “But maybe those worlds are still a little too separate.”