Projects can succeed with the right tools

We’ve all had our problems with projects. Details get forgotten. Deadlines slip. People must be replaced. Budgets get blown. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a perfect project management system? Use it, and all of your projects will be on time, within budget, and up to spec.

Alas…projects are different, people are different, and working conditions are different. Some projects can be completed by one person in a few days. Other projects need hundreds of people, in multiple locations, working for years. Some projects are uncertain; others are predictable.

The range of projects is too great for there to be any one project management system that will be right for all of them. Microsoft Project is the dominant package. Microsoft has done a good job of assembling all of the tools you need to manage a mid-sized project. It’s user-friendly and quite capable.

There is an interesting shareware program called Project Kickstart ( It leads you through the process of establishing a project plan. At every step along the way, it gives you a library of relevant information, e.g. a Phase Library, to help identify the Phases in your project.

Starting with a good project plan is critical. A good plan aims people in the right direction, and lets them see the directions that everyone else will be taking. That’s one of the keys to project success. For smaller projects, it may not be cost-effective to continuously refine the plan. A good initial project plan may be all that is required.

If your project needs more, it is possible to export a project from Project Kickstart to Microsoft Project. Within Microsoft Project you can manage, track, and report on the people, time, and money required to complete each task, sub-task, and sub-sub-task in the project.

There is a danger that you may spend too much time on project bookkeeping and not enough time making sure that the people on the project work together effectively in pursuit of common accepted goals. Project busy-work can drive out attention to the really important things.

For the vast majority of my projects, Microsoft Project is overkill. Much of my work involves small teams, working for relatively short periods, with goals that are under considerable pressure. The list of tasks can change on a weekly basis. Project management depends on a public list of tasks, with assigned people and due dates.

I went in search of a software tool that would be ideal for my kind of project. After a considerable amount of looking (always more interesting than actually building project plans), I concluded that the ideal tool has yet to be developed. However, MyInfo ( comes close, and the next beta is even closer.

All that MyInfo does is give me a natural way to break up a project into tasks and sub-tasks. It’s a simple information outliner. It comes in a useful free version and a Pro version that costs US$24.95. This version supports a simple indication of task status. It’s enough. And the overhead is low.

Fabian is an established Canadian management and system consultant ( who has always been fascinated by technology.

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