Making the most of project software

Sep 29 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

To hear them tell it, project managers are a breed apart. They like to feel that they require skills and knowledge mere mortals don't possess. If you're a "regular" manager (also known as a functional manager, team lead, or several more unkind names certified PMs call you when they think they can't hear you) can you learn anything from them? Yes, especially when it comes to adoption of software and technology.

First, understand that all managers have to occasionally handle projects, and all projects contain some degree of "people" management, just in varying degrees. The difference is that project managers have been quicker to adopt technology. We can learn a lot from what works - and what doesn't.

I recently spoke to Arpan Shah, the Director of the Microsoft Project product. In speaking to him about what's new in Project's latest version, I learned a lot that wasn't product specific, but spoke to the challenges all managers face:

The workplace is moving to a "project paradigm". Project teams tend to be assembled for the specific purpose of the project and disbanded when it's over. Now think about how many teams, task forces, or groups you work with or on that are put together the same way. "Matrix" management (where you don't actually manage the people involved but have all the responsibility for success or failure) has become the new normal.

Projects are very expensive and prone to failure- they need all the help they can get. According to many sources, over 70% of capital expenditures are spent on projects (mostly IT and some construction). That's good news if you're in that business.

But according to the "2009 Chaos Report", 68% of projects are considered failures. That's a lot of money down the drain. It's no wonder people turn to technology to gather data and manage information as effectively as possible. Is your work any less important?

Project software is big business for a reason- In fact, the total market for project software is estimated at US $3.1 Billion. Whether it is a behemoth like Microsoft Project, with 20 million users worldwide, or smaller tools like "Basecamp" or, people need to organize, share and make sense of all the information associated with that work.

Software and technology can help with the basic problems of team communication.Even if it's not especially designed for projects, tools like these can illustrate how technology can help your team. After all, what is it they do? They help you post information in a way everyone on the team can access and understand it, capture and organize important metrics, and help you track all the thousand little details that can mean the difference between success and failure. If you take out the word "project", how does that NOT apply to what you do every day?

One big difference is that project teams are usually made up of people who are prone to use technology to good effect (engineers, IT and the like). What if you're not a technical group? How do you get people to use software and online tools to help them work better?

Shah has a suggestion to help any manager speed adoption of technology. He calls it "policy and governance". Essentially this means that use of information systems should be policy - done in conjunction with your team (maybe even forming a communication or governance council).

Once the policy is in place, you create accountability by using the report functions to measure your performance indicators and deliverables. Even if they've done everything, if it's not in the system they'll "look all in the red" and be held accountable. Training needs to be frequent and available, and can be formal or informal. It doesn't always have to be a "class".

Use the successful users as evangelists to encourage others to get on board. Finally, create a sense of community by using shared templates and constantly adopting what works best.

So do you need a big tool like Project if you're not doing lots of project work? Probably not, but on a smaller scale there are tools like Google Docs and others that work on the same principles. Be aware, big isn't always bad.

One advantage to enterprise tools like Project is that it blends well with your other tools like Sharepoint, Outlook and other software people are already using (or should be using since the company has already paid for it). This can make adoption easier.

Whether it's a giant construction project or just trying to get the sales figures to add up, the principle is the same, the tool is up to you and your team. You need the right software, and you need to get people to use it.

If you're struggling to get people to adopt tools like these at work, check out the white paper Beating the Hype Cycle - How to get people to use the web presentation tools you've already paid for, available right here on Management Issues.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.