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Flexible Project Management Software – Designed for Who? Defined as What?

March 27, 2009

Laura Quinn wrote an article on 6 Views on project management in 2007
stating, “The definition of ‘project-management software’
varies widely, and your needs are likely to depend substantially
on your project, your team, and your project-management style.”

I noticed she didn’t say the software should flexibly adapt to
those differing needs or specific outcomes.  She did
list a couple of suggested programs at the end of her article,
but they aren’t really flexible software designs.  Maybe project
management software isn’t supposed to be flexible? 

It got me thinking, but first let me cover a bit more of what she said.

She interviewed “nine nonprofit project managers (asking) what
project-management software meant to them, and what software
they were using to manage their projects.” She went on to write,

“Their answers varied, but when we boiled it down, project managers
were using software to support six different types of
project-management functions.”
1. Planning Projects
2. Managing Tasks
3. Sharing and Collaborating on Documents
4. Sharing calendars and contact lists
5. Managing Issues or Bugs
6. Tracking Time

Her interviewees were apparently defining project management based
upon the outcome they needed or used it for.  Sort of reminds me of
the story I learned when I was a kid, about the blind men trying to
define what an elephant was.  Each of them making a definitive
statement based upon their own experience or requirements.

When I step back and look at it, I have a couple of different thoughts.

1. First of all, although she defines it as six different types of functions,
I only see broadly three:
    1. A planning function, (create a plan to use in a variety of ways)
    2. Track activity on the plan (tasks) and all the activity to address variances (issues).
    3. Sharing information (calendars, documents, contact lists, updates).

2. Here’s a second thing I find interesting about the study.  She interviewed
project managers to gather her information on this area.  They apparently
didn’t share a common definition of project management
.  In fact,
reading between the lines, project managers are defining project
management based upon their outcome needs, not the overall scope of
activities included in structuring work around projects. 

3. As you look at her 6 categories, or my 3 categories, doesn’t it strike
you that most people at work need to do all of either list at some point
on any given day?  Does that mean everyone is a project manager?

Doesn’t everyone, from the admin to the CEO, have to manage tasks,
do some planning, track time, manage issues, work from shared

Project management starts looking really diffuse, or maybe pervasive?
Or maybe project management, defined as something that “project
managers” do, has lost its definitive edges as it gets applied in the
work place, because everyone who manages information as part
of their job is involved at a general level in project management –
back to that fuzzy definition. 

The term project management for most of us, starts looking
like another name for working in the information age
.  Is that
project management?  Does the term need to be redefined or reworded,
or only used with a qualifier?

If project management in the general sense roughly approximates something
that most people do as they work in the information age, this has tremendous
implications for how flexible “project management” software has to be.

Project management in this general sense, stands out in contrast
to somethingthat engineers do as they design a multi-month, multi-person,
multi-task, path to an outcome.

Bottom Line:

So if you are looking at project management software, be very
careful about your definition and desired outcomes
.  If your
scope of work defined as projects is very broad, you’re going to need
a very flexible software tool that you will want to use for most or all of
Laura’s 6 categories – if not more.

If your defined project management outcomes are very specific, the tool to
help you reach that will typically be non-flexibly designed.  Why?
Typically it has to be to reach that type of outcome, e.g. the more the
project management software looks like it wears an engineering hat, the
more rigid rules imposed for how information is entered, modified and output.


 Flexible Project Management Software – The Design Factor (1 of 2)

 Flexible Project Management Software – The Design Factor (2 of 2)

Adaptive Design and Project Management Software Flexibility

Flexible Project Management Software – All-in-One Solution

PC Magazine – Project Management Software for the Rest of Us

Microsoft Project Alternative

2 Comments. Leave new

project manager job description
May 22, 2012 6:39 pm

I do agree with all of the concepts you have offered on your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for novices. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.


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