Project management software has increased significantly in complexity and functionality since the development of the science of project management in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today packages such as Microsoft Project, Oracle Primavera and the free open source tools such as open work bench have the capability to plan projects, and even portfolios of projects, in full detail. They can incorporate resources loading, costing and inter-project dependencies. However is this increasing capability leading to more project success? And how can we use project management software to best advantage of the project? In this article we look are the advantages and disadvantages of project management software and how the disadvantages can be avoided.
Project Management Software Advantages and Disadvantages
The key advantages of project management software compared to hand drawn plans in excel or powerpoint are
- Ease with which the critical path can be identified based on the identified dependencies.
- The ability to model the resource demands for the project
- The ability to integrate a number of project plans together
- The easy with which the plan can be updated and maintained.
the disadvantages of modern software packages are:
- The tendency for plans to become over complex with many hundreds or even thousands of tasks. This is especially true with new project managers who want to build every detail into the plan.
- The easy of change means that a new plan can be issued every week. This leads to confusion and instability in the team. They are never sure what is the latest version.
- the ability to assume the project is in control because of the high level of detail.
The Illusion of Control
People make projects and the aim of planning is to ensure people understand the role they are going to play in the project, not to micro-manage individuals within the project team. Highly detailed planning can give the illusion that the uncertainties have been managed out of the project. However detail beyond what is reasonably required to set to overall direction of the project is unnecessary at a high level for almost every project. Some specific areas which have detailed impact on critical operations may need detailed planning but this should be done just in time once the facts associated with the critical activity have emerged.
Hints and Tips for Good Project Planning
Our hints and tips for good project planning are:
- Fully define the project deliverables first, this will help define the scope
- Maintain the overall plan at high level no more than two pages of legible information
- Prepare phase plans for the next few weeks take you to the next milestone. Agile experts call these a scrum plan.
- Don’t change the plan unless you have to.
- Get the team involved in drawing up the plan, brown paper on the wall and post-it notes work well.
- Do think about resources but don’t spend time getting the model perfect.