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

March 13, 2009

This is the 2nd blog in a series on the value of project management
software as influenced by design and flexibility.  I’ll be covering a very
important study that came out in 1999 and what it means for you.


Before I do, just a bit of recap. In the first blog we looked
at choosing a software package that matched the complexity
profile of the projects you work on.

The fit between Design and Scope of Work determines value delivered.

Put another way, match the design of the software to the
type of work you do.  E.g. You get the most value when you
only use as complex (powerful) of a tool as is required.  Extra
power (increasing complexity) always requires more time,
effort and cost to use. Or hopefully, you find a flexible
project management software
that is designed to adjust
to your varying needs.

So let’s get to this study and what it means in terms of design.

Here’s the second hidden factor about design.  It’s
underscored by a research study by Fox in 1999
“Do the Features Support the Functions?“.

In a nutshell it’s this:

1. Project Managers (PMs) buy based upon the complexity
(accumulation of bells and whistles) of the design…
2. PMs use based upon the simplicity of the design,
3. At the end of the day, PMs fail to leverage information well.

Let me review just 3 of the findings from this survey of over
1,000 project managers that underscore what I just wrote:

1. First of all, in 1999 MS Project was the top ranked project
management tool purchased
, but it “received the lowest
overall satisfaction rating
” of the 10 most frequently used
(project management) tools. I’ll review what this uncovers
in just a minute, but first here’s the other two findings you
should know about.

2. MS Project was the most frequently used tool (59% of the
time), but with regard to supporting (the entire range of)
project management functions as a whole.  MS Word…
actually received a higher overall rating than MS Project

3. Although MS Project is the most widely used project
management tool available today, the “second most widely
used project management tool (is) MS Excel
– not a traditional,
project managment-specific tool.”  With MS Word not far behind.

I’m citing that study not to bang on MS Project, but to point you
to something more important.  If you look carefully at the
results you realize that the 1st finding is actually reinforcing
what we discussed in the first blog.

That is, when it comes to project management tools we tend
to overbuy.  We choose something more complex then we need.
We base our decision on some other driver than “fit”, and then
are not satisfied.

Yes, you could point out that the study indicates MS Project fails
to deliver to user’s satisfaction.  But I think this is only partly
related to it’s functionality and interface.  I think it is more
directly related to why people buy MS Project or any other
leading project management tool (ex.”it’s the safe choice –
it’s the industry standard”), and then find it not well suited to
their needs and purposes.  Eg. We buy based upon power
and comfort, not practicality.

The 2nd and 3rd findings point out something dramatic as well.
Here it is in a nutshell – Most of us gravitate to something
simple and flexible for typical project management work.
Simple tools are preferred over something complex and
powerful as a preferred project management tool of choice
when it comes down to day-to-day use.

By simple, I mean it’s easier to get information in and out.
From free form (word processor, blank sheet) to simple rows
and columns, both Word and Excel don’t require much
learning curve or advanced planning to begin typing.

But before you hug your trusty spreadsheet, let me point out
one very big flaw that wasn’t discussed in the 1999 report.

Big Flaw:
If you look closer at the design factor, you realize that most
of the project managers are choosing simple tools that have
a very low ability to leverage information.

That’s still going on today.

I see this over and over in the US.  People are reluctant (that’s a
nice word) to invest the energy to input  project management
information into structures that will support leveraging the
information for easy access and re-purpose across the team,
across the organization, across time.

It’s 9 years after this study, and I think the primary findings would
still stand up, except that it looks like most people would
simply add MS Outlook as the other common project management
tool in use.  But, neither Outlook, Excel or Word leverage information
well – e.g. for you to see what I’ve written, I have to copy, attach,
print, save, etc… none of this is available to you across any
task or project within two clicks.  We haven’t progressed much!

One thing that has changed since 1999, and that is that PMs are
much more frequently using web-based project management

One quick closing comment about web-based and design.
If you look at most web-based project management tools
today you’ll find that they leverage information better, but
due to the defined form structure are not very flexible.
E.g. you can’t modify the layout to suit your business needs.
Stay inside the box and you’ll be just fine.  Buyer beware that
you won’t grow out of the box confines.

Bottom line:

1. In the first blog we looked at choosing a software package that matched the
complexity profile of the projects you work on.

2. The fit between Design and Scope of Work determines value delivered.

3.  Most people need flexibility, not only for the range of projects they are
managing, but also given the range of people’s needs working on the project.

4. If you are to effectively extend the value of project management to broader
usage, the entry usage level needs to be simple.

5. Simplicity is not all that it is cracked up to be.  You need flexibility that
includes simplicity, but it has to leverage information, otherwise simplicity
on the front end creates more work, more emails, more reports, more time
wasted on the back end.

6. PMs buy based upon the complexity (accumulation of bells and whistles)
of the design… PMs use based upon the simplicity of the design,and at the
end of the day PMs fail to leverage information well.


1.  Be careful what you choose when it comes to project management software,
you may have to live with or work around (compensate for) it for a long time.

2. To get the most value, match the design of the project management software
to the type of work you do, with an eye toward leveraging information and
flexibility built into the design.


Microsoft Project Alternative

3 Comments. Leave new

Thank you! That’s a good post. It gives me hope.

Deneen Mittchell
October 12, 2010 7:54 am

It will depend on how you look at it and wherever you are coming from on the theme really. Ultimately attractiveness is in the eye of the beholder, but Now i am with you on this one.

project management system
July 12, 2011 6:52 am

Any successful project management is an amalgamation of perfect initialization, planning, implementation, execution and monitoring. Handling projects with utmost precision and delivering promised results can be toiling for project managers. However, applying the right project management tools and observing the significant key principles of project management can lead to result oriented outcome.


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