The right software can, when used properly, help project management professional (PMP) managers and their teams complete their tasks successfully

Used to plan the ins and outs of projects, collaborate on documents, divvy up responsibilities, track time, deal with all sorts of issues, and more, project management tools provide a means to handle corporate initiatives from start to end.

While there are solutions available to assist with project management, many companies are still struggling when it comes to getting initiatives done on time and on budget. Case in point: A study focusing on 5,400 large-scale IT projects with initial budgets exceeding $15 million found that a lot of PMP managers appear to be struggling with their duties.

The study, done by McKinsey & Co. in conjunction with Oxford University, finds, among other things, the following:

  • 17% of big IT projects derail so horribly that they can threaten the long-term viability of the company.
  • Big IT projects run, on average, 45% over the initially budgeted amount and 7% over the initially allotted time while generating less value—56% less, in fact—than had been anticipated.

Released late last year, the study also notes that IT executives mention four categories of problems that doom projects. These include missing focus (improperly clarified objectives), content issues (changing requirements mid-project and technical complexity), skill issues (lack of skills and unaligned team), and execution issues (unrealistic time frame and reactive planning).

Not even the best software can compensate for a poorly devised and executed game plan, but there are certain applications that PMP managers will want to be familiar with in order to increase their odds of success. On that note, InfoSec Institute/Intense School recently talked to representatives at Planbox, OneDesk, Genius Inside and 37signals to discuss their respective project management software offerings. What follows is a rundown of the applications and some comments from the various company reps.

Planbox

Planbox is an Agile project management tool designed to help teams to plan, work and deliver more efficiently. According to the company, the intuitive interface makes it easy for Agile novices or adepts to start being proficient sooner rather than later. The emphasis is on team collaboration, gathering customer feedback, and giving users the tools necessary to respond quickly to change. Moreover, all clients are assigned a dedicated account manager and get access to live phone/chat as well as free daily webinars.

Asked why PMP managers should consider Planbox, Olivier Cabanes, the company’s chief executive officer, explained that the technology, first, is so easy to use that people can jump right in and benefit from it and, second, is rigorous enough to provide the functionality that the most demanding PMP managers require. Cabanes added that the Agile methodology that Planbox is based on is an important differentiating factor when determining what separates the company’s product from rival solutions.

“The first distinction that is important about Planbox is that we are based on the Agile methodology,” he stressed “More than three-quarters of software development projects are…managed with some form of the Agile methodology. Agile is now moving outside of software development and moving towards the entire organization. Our focus is really on providing a solution that will cater to all of these people within the company—not only to the software development people. We’re just in a position to move forward in a direction that will please our users and our potential users very much.”

He also had something to say about what sorts of functionalities PMP managers should be looking for in the project management software they ultimately decide to use.

“One of the main problems with [many] project management tools is that people [sometimes] end up not using them because they’re too cumbersome, because they’re not easy to use, because they’re not intuitive,” he said.

“If people don’t use it, your plan will not be updated, your time-tracking will not be accurate, your statuses will not be updated. It’s really important to choose a tool that the entire team will want to use and that everybody can commit to using day in and day out. Otherwise it’s really just going to be a license that was bought for nothing.”

OneDesk

OneDesk is a suite of applications that includes feedback management, innovation and ideas management, help desk, requirements management, project portfolio management, product roadmapping, and issue tracking. The solution, according to the company, facilitates the involvement of customers, employees, and partners in the development process; enables effective social collaboration by directing the conversation towards business goals; manages ideas and drives innovation through the organization; and more.

“Some of the best PMs in the market place today, they’re going to take on a number of different roles—sometimes as engineering, accounting, communications, or HR,” said Catherine Constantinides, online marketing specialist at OneDesk. “With that being said, what OneDesk does provide is a web-based unified environment specifically designed for team collaboration and project management. It’s really with the idea in mind that project managers essentially need a whole [lot] of different tools to get the job done.”

While definitely something PMP managers should consider, Constantinides advised that it’s important to understand that OneDesk is not merely a project management application.

“It’s actually a unified environment for the entire product development process,” she stressed. “What OneDesk really enables you to do at the end of the day is…link your tasks and issues to feedback and requirements management as well. And that’s really what sets it apart from other project management tools out there on the marketplace today.”

PMP managers wondering what sorts of features they should be looking for in tools they and their teams use should consider things like visibility and traceability.

“Visibility and traceability is enormous,” she said. “One of the biggest issues in project management or some of the…issues that they come across is information falling through the cracks or getting misplaced when they’re toggling between spreadsheets. Being able to instantly access any project-related information really is going to eliminate the need to have to go out and retrieve all this other information from other solutions, out of the email inboxes, from spreadsheets. Really being able to have that visibility and traceability is key. In terms of traceability specifically, being able to trace back project items to their origins and being able to see other items that are related to it [is important].”

Genius Project

Constructed to adapt to the business processes of organizations, Genius Inside’s Genius Project delivers what the company calls a highly flexible and configurable portfolio and project management software solution with feature sets for a wide range of project teams and project types. With Genius Project, users can take advantage of web-based project management software that offers all the functionality of desktop software with the flexibility of the Internet at a lower initial cost; tap into an on-demand option to access project and portfolio information through any browser on PC and Mac, smartphones and tablets; manage projects from idea to commercialization; and more.

“The big challenge that project management professionals are facing is that they have islands of information they’re working with,” said Neil Stolovitsky, senior solution specialist at Genius Inside. “They may be using the Microsoft Project desktop application, but there’s no consolidation of that information.”

He explained that Genius Project is a 100% web-based collaborative tool that consolidates all project information in a single location.

“It will also match the entire lifecycle of the project,” he continued. “[This includes] the time the project has to go through the approval process till it becomes approved till you’re building out the plan and schedule and assigning all the work and letting your team members know that they have work. Then they can update their work so that they can get involved and update their time sheets or their time cards.

“We take a pretty traditional approach to project management, so if you’re looking for Gantt charts and having a web-based Gantt chart and a scheduling tool and have all the pieces necessary to manage the entire lifecycle of the project whether it’s a simple project or a highly complex project, we have the tools to support that. In addition, what makes us different is it’s highly configurable, so you can set up different profiles. So, depending on who you are when you access the system you’re not [inundated] with features and functions that are not relevant to you.”

Asked how easy it is to use Genius Project, Stolovitsky said that it’s as easy as PMP managers set it up to be. It can be a very robust solution, he said, and it can be a very simple solution.

Basecamp

37signals’ Basecamp solution is intended to keep users’ projects and data in one place. Whether users have a single project or 100 projects going on at the same time, they can see everything that’s going on at once. When a project is completed, users can archive it on Basecamp so it’s stored safely in the event that they ever need it again. All parties involved in a project can work together on Basecamp. PMP managers can have full control over who sees which project, and who sees which team members. Users can keep their files on Basecamp so everyone knows where to find them and share any file with their team or clients by just dragging it from the desktop right into the web browser.

According to a member from 37signals’s customer support team, the reason PMP managers need to know about Basecamp is that the solution is easy to use.

“Anyone can pick it up and be up and running in no time at all,” said the source. “We designed Basecamp to be Fisher-Price easy. When you pick up a Fisher-Price toy, you know how to play with it. You don’t need any instruction books to get started with it.”

Conclusion

PMP managers have lots of options available when it comes to project management tools that can help them and their teams to handle even the most difficult and time-sensitive tasks.

Planbox, Genius Project, OneDesk, and Basecamp are but four of the many project management tools that PMP managers can use to get their projects done right. Knowing what features are necessary will help PMP managers find the right tools for their respective companies. And, to be certain, selecting the right software can make life a little bit easier for PMP managers juggling multiple tasks and deadlines.