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Are You Using the Right Project Management Software?

12.09.2009
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This is a guest blog post by Andrew Filev from Project Management 2.0 blog...

So you’ve decided to follow the agile path and manage your projects in the iterative way? You have the methodology at hand and a team of committed professionals who will make your project materialize. Now it is time to think over the project management tools you will use to organize your plans.

Is technology important?
If you have tried introducing agile practices to your organization, you have probably found it difficult to do that while utilizing traditional tools for project management. It turns out that technology plays an important part in setting up your project operations according to the agile methodology.

According to Gartner, “IT investments can be prescriptive to agility,” and proper doses of the right technologies and IT best practices can increase the enterprise's overall agility potential.

But what are the right technologies? It’s simple. They are the ones that improve your team members’ productivity, instead of putting more pressure and jobs on them. They are the ones that support the key principles of agile management, like:

• Clear vision of the project
• Fast pace
• Self-organizing teams
• Leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork

Do traditional project management tools support these principles? Let’s take a closer look.

Applying traditional PM and PPM tools to agile projects

Traditional project management software applications, like MS Project, were created to support the waterfall project management style and are file-based. All the data on different projects are stored in various disconnected files and are usually accessible to the team members in the read-only mode. The existing combination of processes and tools does not encourage the team to contribute to project plans directly on a daily basis. With these solutions, someone has to connect all the pieces and bits of information into a bigger picture, and this person is the project manager. Traditional project management applications also are rarely suitable for distributed teams that work in a heterogeneous environment of multiple operating systems. This software is focused on the project manager and places him or her in the center of the project communications. It often means that the project manager must collect all the data and manually put the information into the project plan. All these routine procedures lead to a situation where the project manager's talents often are buried by the routine work. The huge amount of mechanical control/synchronization work often leaves very little time for leadership, which is essential for agile project management. Therefore, instead of helping project managers, the file-based systems make the manager’s workload even bigger. This process also is subpar in terms of harnessing the information from the field. Because of the middleman, information travels slower, and a lot of things are just left off the radar.

Agile management is executed by people, but tools can inhibit or catalyze it. Traditional PM tools are clearly not catalyzing agile processes.

Project Portfolio Management software was meant to address the problems with file-based systems. Indeed, it has a lot of extensive scheduling options that can help a manager to align several project schedules. However, such systems are not focused on collaboration and are hard to get adopted by regular business users. They were mostly designed to fit the top-down management approach and are also not meant for the bottom-up agile management style. Hence, many PPM implementations don’t go beyond PMO, while for true agility, the supporting processes and tools should leverage the collective intelligence of all employees. Again, the use of such software creates an enormous workload for project managers, who turn into project secretaries, instead of motivating and leading their teams to successful project completion. This brings us to the conclusion that the real power is in people, not in tools. At the same time, a good tool should leverage the collective intelligence of the whole team.

New generation of project management technologies
Recently, we are hearing more about collaborative project management software built with the use of Web 2.0 and social media technologies. Many organizations use tools like blogs, wikis, social networks or microblogging for project management. Later on, popular tools like Wrike, Basecamp, Zoho, etc. came to light. These tools are based on the use of Web 2.0 technologies, and they utilize the main principle of Web 2.0 – collective intelligence, i.e., they allow a team to work on a project collaboratively in real time. Today, these tools are often called Project Management 2.0 applications.

Will these tools do a better job in helping you to manage your projects in the agile way? To answer this question, we'll need to take a practical look at Project Management 2.0 applications and find out what they have to offer.

Integrated project communications
Tools like blogs, wikis and social networks can energize project communications and help your team members to share and store knowledge more effectively than e-mail does. Yet many organizations today are just not ready to abandon e-mail communications. The good news is some Project Management 2.0 collaboration platforms are integrated with e-mail and help you leverage this ubiquitous tool. These platforms are capable of tapping into the team’s knowledge and boosting the manager’s productivity. Some Project Management 2.0 tools allow plans to emerge from separate e-mails in the course of continuous interactions among many people.

Better visibility
Project management 2.0 tools enable team members to organize their daily tasks in to-do lists, which the tool merges into a structure that is turned into an organized plan by project managers. Project plans become part of a bigger picture that is aligned by upper management. This bigger picture reflects the bottom-up field knowledge brought in by the people on the team level. It also shows the real-time state of things in an organization, giving you a clear vision of your resources. At the same time, this structure is easy to coordinate and adjust from the top, as it is totally transparent to managers. The flexibility and openness of Project Management 2.0 applications allow organizations to harmoniously combine the field knowledge coming from the bottom up with the leadership and guidance coming from the top down.

Better project transparency and planning
Besides giving an up-to-date picture of internal operations, some of the new-generation applications enable managers and other members of the project team to view projects differently. People can pick any reasonable sub-set of tasks, create a view with these tasks and share the view with someone who needs it. It means that more people can collaborate and contribute to the project work productively. Each of these views can be changed by team members to reflect the changes in the project environment. The whole structure evolves with time. Managers, who have access to more views and bigger views, can avoid scheduling conflicts, set priorities and align multiple projects and teams. Flexible, many-to-many structures that allow you to create, share and easily merge views are an important part of the Project Management 2.0 approach. This approach enables collective intelligence and leads to collaborative planning. In turn, collaborative planning makes projects more agile, teams more productive and operations more transparent.

Now, when we’ve dug into the ways different project management applications can be applied to project management, we can conclude that not all of them will be a good supplement to the agile project management methodology. Agile methodology is changing the landscape of traditional project management, and it is only natural that old-school project management technologies simply do not work for it.

Agile management is about people, and that’s why it’s so important to choose the right technologies that will make your team more productive, help you take advantage of your team’s collective intelligence and let you see the big picture of your projects. Project Management 2.0 applications can offer you all these benefits. Now it’s your turn to leverage these benefits and complete more projects with better results.

About the author:
Since 2001, Andrew Filev has been managing software teams in a global environment. His technical expertise and his management vision are reflected in online and offline articles that have had hundreds of thousands of readers. His ideas on new trends in project management are published in Project Management 2.0 blog. Andrew's innovative ideas and passion to improve project management tools are applied in Wrike, a leading online project management solution. Andrew now leads the company as a founder and CEO.
Published at DZone with permission of Kelly Waters, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)