More than ever before, project managers are looking to technology help mitigate the risk of project failure. According to a recent list of Top 10 Project Management Trends, “the implementation of new PPM solutions [in 2010] will soar. Program and project managers, under pressure from senior management to demonstrate project portfolio performance and its impact on the enterprise, will make the pitch for — and win — resources to implement project portfolio management solutions.”
The reason is clear: Project failure rates continue to climb. While project management software does have the potential to make projects more successful, it can only do so when combined with the power of efficient processes and strong project managers.
Here are some steps to ensure that you have what it takes to make your technology successful.
1. Use Time Tracking Data to Determine Project Cost
People dislike tracking their time for a number of reasons. Some believe that it wastes time that they could be spending on more important work, while others are suspicious that management does not trust them. If team members do not know what the time data will be used for or why it is being tracked, it can be difficult to get them on board.
Yet time data is crucial if you want to understand your true cost per project. If you do not know how much time your team members are spending on various projects, you do not really know how much the projects cost. A project that is a large resource drain can be much more expensive than the numbers in the budget indicate.
Not only that, but if you are asked by senior management to cut 10 percent, how will you know where to cut? You do not know where your profit lies. Having team members track their time by project (and specifically by task) gives you the knowledge necessary to make the right decisions.
A software solution for project time tracking will only help you to accomplish these goals if you can get your employees to use it. Usually, you can get people on board by explaining how the data will help the company in general or them in particular. For example, if your employees know that by tracking their time, they are minimizing the risk of their manager incorrectly estimating their tasks (e.g., scheduling them for 10 hours when the task will really take 15), they will gladly help. Some managers also opt to create a rewards system for time reporting.
2. Know Who Is Available for Task Assignments
Once you get employees to track time, you must ensure that the system you are using will make the most of your data. Choose a project management system that will integrate with your other systems for payroll, DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) compliance, billing, etc. If you don’t, employees will most likely wind up tracking their time in a number of different systems, which is inefficient and bad for morale.
Integrating this data instead helps you to understand who is over- and under-allocated, who is behind on their work, and who is available to work on your project next month. Can you really afford to make scheduling decisions without this information?
Some project management solutions will also allow you to perform a “what-if analysis” before assigning work to resources so that you can see the potential impact of assignments beforehand. Project managers can consequently avoid unnecessary risk and take the guesswork out of planning.
3. Keep Track of Actual Remaining Work
Anyone else tired of asking for status updates and hearing that the task is 90 percent done? That always seems the be the answer, doesn’t it? Updates based on percent complete cannot provide insight into how much longer certain tasks will take or whether or not the project will be late. This is why a project management system where employees track time against tasks is necessary.
It not only shows project managers, at a glance, how many actual hours of work remain, but it also updates project plans automatically. This improves project estimation for the future by verifying the accuracy of previous estimates.
We recently spoke with a project manager at a large, well-known beverage corporation. He told us that despite the fact that his company had recently purchased a robust PPM solution, employees were still entering their time in multiple systems.
This leaves them unable to feed actuals from different groups back into the central project plan for up-to-date status reports. They are not receiving any of the promised benefits, despite making a hefty investment of both time and money. This is just another example of how technology will not magically fix project issues without the right processes in place to support it.
4. Manage Communication Issues
In today’s world, the project manager often has to manage multiple people and projects across departments, companies and time zones, as well as account for each team member’s own distinct methodology, technology system and work style. Often, culture and language barriers play a part in this process as well.
Though collaboration tools like Microsoft SharePoint can help, communication is ultimately a human problem. Joseph Phillips, author of five books on project management, writes, “Communication takes up 90 percent of a project manager’s time. … You, the project manager, must be at the center of communications; you have to be the communications hub.”
Project management solutions are only helpful when they are used to enhance the right combination of interpersonal skills and management methods.
5. Balance the Triple Constraint
Most project managers are familiar with the triple constraint: scope, quality and time frame. One of these factors will always have to be flexible enough to accommodate the others. You might add value delivery to the list as well.
For example, a wedding cake that is delivered a day late is worthless. For this reason, project managers have to ensure that they are still going to be able to deliver something useful in the end. These days, the world moves so fast that you have to constantly check to see if you are still on target for delivering value, even if quality, schedule and cost constraints are met.
Technology alone cannot do this for you. It is a subtle, complicated process that requires market research and an understanding of your customer base.
Software and Process Management: A Winning Team
Project management software is at the most advanced that it has ever been, providing impressive functionality and benefits to the project manager. Yet it takes a bit more than technology to eliminate project failure — it takes a quality project manager who can implement the correct processes and manage people effectively.
The right software solution can be a powerful tool, but only in the hands of someone qualified to wield it.
Curt Finch is CEO of Journyx, a provider of Web-based time-tracking and project accounting software designed to guide customers to per-person, per-project profitability. An avid speaker and author, Finch recently published All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource. He is also a blogger for Inc., and you can follow Finch on Twitter.
April Boland is the Resource Manager for Journyx. She is a former Jeannette K. Watson Fellow who currently develops and coordinates communications strategies to meet organizational objectives. Boland also authors the Journyx Project Management Blog.