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Project Management in Small Businesses

August 27, 2014

A just released report from project management technology reviews and research company Software Advice on Project Management Software, found that roughly 60% of the businesses interviewed are still using paper and pencil, spreadsheets, non-project management software and/or nothing at all to manage projects.  Beyond interesting, doesn’t it make you wonder “Why?”… just a bit?  In this blog, let’s look at one model for understanding what’s happening for them, and perhaps for you, and then let me share just some of the brain research that says what they are doing is a bad idea.

Software Advice’s report also found that the top reason for purchasing project management software is to improve efficiency and accuracy.  41% of the interviewed companies got that concept, another 12% got that they needed to automate or standardize processes as well. So think about managing projects from the perspective of being more efficient and making less mistakes.  In fact think about project management software for a moment, and imagine you had to draw a diagram to depict what project management software is.  What would you draw?

Here’s a quick diagram to consider, I’ve broken it down into 4 maybe 5 functions:

 Project Plan


Most project management usage that I’ve observed includes the first two phases, e.g. get a project plan in place with varying degrees of granularity on the estimates for time and resources needed.  Getting #3a or the tracking mechanism consistently in place is a challenge for most organizations.  Often if you look at an existing plan, you’ll notice that not all of the tasks are updated, so the tracking breaks down, and is supported by the efforts of the Project Management Office if available, or the “project police” as they are sometimes affectionately known.

Most organizations don’t get what 3b is about, or why it’s worth documenting that stuff.  We think it’s critical, especially when working projects that involve increasing levels of innovation… but then what do we know.

Finally project management invariable fulfills the needs for reporting to address, if nothing else, the fundamental questions of “What did you do with all that time and money?” or “The customer is waiting, where are we in terms of delivering?”

OK, so given all that what does a diagram look like for the roughly 60% of the businesses interviewed in this survey who aren’t using project management software.  This could be you, so I’ll be careful:




What do you notice when you look at the 2nd diagram?  My brain goes to two conclusions at the first glance.

1. There’s a lot of stuff being handled by verbal exchanges.  Given that people forget what they hear at different rates, it does make you wonder why so much is held dependent on talking, versus writing it down.

2. This doesn’t look like a system that leads to efficient or mistake free processes does it?  It makes more sense why in the survey organizations reported the to reason for getting PM software is to help them improve their efficiency and accuracy.

I describe the project management process in the 2nd diagram as a “Talk and Task” approach.  I consider this to be the most common project management practice, and it turns out that this is how most work is handled at the management level, not just projects.  It’s not the most effective, but there’s something compelling about it… for it to be so pervasive.  What is it?  Wish I could hear what you are saying in your mind right now, but my thought is that it’s compelling because it:

  • Is Easy, especially for extroverts,
  • Reduces the amount of transparency, so people don’t feel uncomfortably held accountable, and it
  • Avoids the dreaded task of Writing Stuff Down or Documenting at the project and task level.

Beyond ease of use, and inefficiency, the other point that strikes me, is that it is not well suited to our brain.  Not that we can’t talk and understand speech, but close to 60% of our entire brain’s resources are committed to processing visual input, decidedly more than we have neurons to manage auditory input and speech.  So why not get more of everyone’s brain involved?  On yea, back to that “it’s easier not to” conclusion.

Bottom Line:

There an informative read on Project Management Software use in small businesses.  Of the numerous findings, one that stood out to me is that close to 60% use paper and pencil, memory or office -document based tools (ex. spreadsheets) to manage projects.  In this blog I look at why the choice for non-software based methods of managing projects… and why managing details verbally isn’t the best for your brain.  By-the-way, what are you using to manage projects?  If you are looking for something different, take a look at ManagePro.



























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