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Must have features of a decent project management tool

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Project Management - where do i even start.

There are 5 main key characteristics of a projects:

Scope, Time, Resource, Budget and Risk.

To successfully deliver a project, you must consider each of these 5 characteristics, and manage them throughout the project journey. That is, to be a successful project manager, you have to be able to spin plates, and there are a lot of plates, and you must keep them all spinning, all at the same speed, at the same time, at the same height, and they should look good while they do! So, to do this you need a project management tool that makes this, not only doable, but enjoyable.

That means that your chosen project management tool must enable you to deliver your projects timely, using given resources and within budget. A good PM tool should offer visibility of your project, allowing you to see progress. Not only of the overall package, but of the status of each task. It should allow you to be accountable to and informed about your project, and all its intrinsic elements, at any given time. While also allowing you to be organised, in control of its progression, of your team, and of the tasks.

There are many project management tools available today and choosing one can be overwhelming. All have similarities, yet offer slightly varied functionality. It’s difficult to know which one will work best for you. Project delivery can be demanding, and the pressure to get it right is high, so you need a management tool that will help you deliver. Moreso, when you are working as a contractor. Your client is placing immense trust in your ability to project manage, and your business reputation is at stake if you do not.

This got me thinking – what are the must have features of a project management tool that enable me to do my job, and to do it well. Better than well, even. Enable me to do my job like a boss.

So I took it back to basics.

First of all, I need a place to be able to log all of my projects. A central location, easily accessible by me, and the team, with space to document project details - who my end client is, my team, what resources i have to work with, what budget i have, what I’ve used and what is remaining, preferably at a glance, project timelines, task deadlines; all the details that i need to run a smooth and successful project, logged in one central location, easy to see at a glance.

Right - so, once we have all details stored, i thought about the functionality i need.

I need to be able to add project tasks, and subtasks, with due dates, and I need reminding as I approach said dates – that goes without saying. We are only human - we can retain a lot, but even the best of us need reminding sometimes. Checklists work very well for me, as I work in a methodical, prescriptive way, so the ability to list out what I need to do, assign due dates to each task and receive email prompts as the due dates approach, for me, is a must-have. Which leads me to another key feature I need – third party integration. It’s no good getting email prompts, if the tool isn’t compatible with my chosen email provider, and vice versa.

Having the ability to assign responsibility and schedule tasks externally makes managing the team supporting me on each project much easier, more refined. The ability to manage collaboration working in one place helps you keep your ducks in line.

Time management is vital for successful project management, so i need to be able to see the project journey. I want to be able to visualise the various stages of my project so i can map out what tasks i need to do, by which point in time, from which I can create a schedule; a running order, factoring in any task that has a time restraints attached to it (ordering items, for example - where lead time, and delivery time, can impact).

Completing a project creates paper, even with today’s paperless workings, there are some documents you just can avoid getting in hard copy; Documentation providing information, or documents that have been produced as a deliverable, so having a central location to keep scanned documentation, that’s accessible to me and to my team, is a bonus.

When working with templates, I need to be able to update my document in live time, with real time changes, so many team members can work on a document at any one time, especially in today's virtual environment. As a result of uncertain times, socially, the world is looking more towards virtual working, and so we need to have the mechanisms to support this. Project collaboration, in a virtual world, needs the ability to conduct live time edits.

A good project management tool will enable you to track your budget and resource use, allowing you to monitor usage in real time.Every good project manager will always know where a project is in relation to the budget, so I need the ability to create and access reports about my project. I need a platform that will generate reports easily.

I want to be able to generate reports that indicate our process, our time spent, our project status – a project management platform needs to be able to pull all that data together and quantify it, so we can show our clients, learn from the data , and reference when needed.

Above all, the one thing I want from a project management tool is the ability to identify and thus manage risk throughout the project life. I need a tool that will enable me to foresee any risks, or challenges; by identifying risk, early in a project, I can implement methods to mitigate and minimise those risks – which is, if we’re honest, the reason we map out projects in the first place.

This is the reason we plan our projects like we do. It is risk management that drives our efficiency. We manage our time, to avoid the project failing to meet the deadline; risk avoided. We allocate our resources ahead of time and monitor closely; risk avoided. We generate reports to track progress, spend, team working, all so we can monitor and manage the project well, and avoid the risk of the project not delivering.

Risk is why we keep such a close eye on the minutiae of a project - to minimise the risk of failure and to maximise the chance of success.

This is what I need from a great project management tool; I want to be able to view and monitor every element of my project, at any given moment, so that I know what needs to be done, and i can advise my team. It is my right-hand man, my Alexa, keeping me on the best path towards project completion. It is my guidance, alerting me when resources are running low, and when time is spent unnecessarily. It is the tool that helps me keep all the cogs in the project clock working together and turning in collaboration towards the chime at midnight, when I can say that the project is complete, on time, within budget, using resources allotted, and that the team enjoyed delivering.

So, does such a tool exist? As i mentioned before, there are many to choose from, all offering varying degrees of what I need.

Personally, I prefer to use a mixture. I think Asana is a great tool to use, when used in correlation with outlook – you can create tasks from email, with reminders, and allocation of responsibility.. It has a board function, where you can create tasks, subtasks, create timelines, due dates and set reminders in a visual format – however, it doesn't yet offer the ability to track time, to monitor budget and resource, but it does work with third party integration. Which is the next best thing, Coupled with a few other platforms, it does a pretty good job for me.

So until a project management tool is created that fulfills all my needs, I'm happy working with a few at a time - I’m a project manager - multi-tasking is what I do!

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