Not surprisingly, project management software seeks to help manage projects, particularly large and complex projects. The software comes in different flavors from small programs intended for use in managing personal and home projects to elaborate Web-based multi-user systems intended to help manage projects of a global scale.
Typical Components of Project Management Software
SCHEDULING: Identifying all the activities involved in implementing a project and their interdependencies constitute a key task. Based on the findings, the activities are sequenced in a practical order, with each activity scheduled to be completed by specific dates. The scheduling is done in a manner to complete the whole project by the target date.
RESOURCE ALLOCATION: Projects need resources in the forms of money, manpower, materials, equipment and control systems. Estimating the levels of the resources needed, and arranging for their availability by the time needed, is another key task of practical importance.
BUDGETARY CONTROL: Money will be needed to organize all the needed resources and keep things moving till the project is completed. For projects of some size, this can be a chaotic exercise unless proper financial control systems are in place. Financial control is typically exercised by estimating the levels and timing of funds needed in the forms of budgets, and constantly monitoring actual funds flows against the budgeted levels.
COST CONTROL: Financial control becomes really effective when costs of all the resources are estimated in detail and realistically in advance. As costs are incurred, they are compared against these estimates, or standards. Any variations, particularly adverse variations, come under close scrutiny to identify the factors that led to the variation. Where possible, necessary actions are taken to overcome the problems.
QUALITY MANAGEMENT: Quality parameters are identified and actual performance is constantly reviewed against these parameters. Quality parameters depend on what is acceptable to the project client. Neglecting this aspect can lead to serious problems with your project client, and a bad reputation that could affect the chances of getting future projects.
COLLABORATION AND COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS: It is people who get and keep things moving. To ensure that things move in the right direction, good collaboration and communication systems must be in place. Facilities such as computer application sharing, calendaring, emails, text and voice chats, fax, electronic bulletin boards, audio and video conferencing over the Internet and electronic discussion forums are used for efficient communication and collaborative working towards a common goal.
ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEMS AND DOCUMENTATION: Administrative systems tie everything together into a cohesively functioning project organization. They are also needed to ensure that all activities are properly documented to meet requirements such as accounting to different stakeholders and complying with legal requirements. The systems should also provide for tracking and resolution of different issues that arise during the course of the project.
DELIVERABLES: Specific deliverables, such as CPM Charts for schedules, budgets and budget comparison reports, cost variance reports, quality test reports, evidentiary documents should be generated from the key processes outlined above. Without a clearly defined deliverable, accountability and results can suffer.
Project Management Software Packages
Project management software can come packaged in different ways. We take a brief look at the different flavors.
SINGLE USER DESKTOP PACKAGES: Meant for the use of an individual, these packages typically cater to personal and smaller projects.
NETWORK SYSTEMS: The data and software reside in a central server accessible from the networked desktops of multiple users. These are used in larger project offices.
WEB-BASED SYSTEMS: Web-based applications and data can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection. They can also be made secure through Intranets and Extranets accessible only to authorized persons. These are ideal for projects with geographically spread operations.
SPECIAL TOOLS: Instead of complete (and complex) project management software, smaller tools can enable easy accomplishment of such specific tasks as scheduling or cost computations.
Project Management Software Features
Project management software should be easy to use. Complex packages with many facilities require time to learn and master. In a typical project environment where time is short, the software or many of its facilities can remain unutilized.
The software should direct focus to important things like objectives, work deliveries, progress tracking, making needed alterations and communicating these to all concerned. If the project management software emphasizes routine things like scheduling and the original paper plan, it might result in bureaucracy and inflexibility, with adverse impact on successful project implementation.