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Project Management Software – What Project Managers really Use it For

April 01, 2009

As discussed in the last blog, people define project management differently,
typically based upon their immediate needs.  They also use project
management software differently.  Actually there’s a study on that
you should know about.  Let’s take a minute to review it.

Besner and Hobbs completed a survey of 1,000 project managers (PMs) in 2004.
They had PMs evaluate which of 40 different tools that fit within the
project management umbrella, which ones they used the most and least.

Note: 55%  of the PM’s surveyed worked in organizations of 1,000 or more,
70% worked in organizations of 200 or more, so this was a study focusing
on utilization in large organizations.  65% of the projects had a duration of
3-12 months.

Of all the different things you can do with or demand from project management
software, what do you think was included in the top 5 most used list?

It wasn’t tracking Earned Value.  It wasn’t creating a project web site or resource
allocation… being able to simulate various if-then scenarios didn’t make it to the
top either.

In fact the number one feature is pretty fascinating.  It was getting a progress
report.  In case you’re wondering, here’s the top five tools/features PMs most
frequently used Project Management software for:

Small Projects – Under $1m                Large Projects – Over $1m

1. Progress report                            1. Progress report
2. Kick-off meeting                          2. Task scheduling
3. Task scheduling                           3. Gantt chart
4. Gantt chart                                   4. Kick-off meeting
5. Scope statement                          5. Change request

Back to the #1 feature – progress updates.  It’s interesting, but if you look
around you, you’ll find that the process of generating and retrieving
updates consume vast amounts of time at most work sites.  They
responsible for a high percentage of time spent in meetings, lots of
emails back and
forth, and numerous phone calls. 

In fact, most of us spend a significant part of our day chasing down
updates, and we don’t use project management software as the
primary resource.

But, it gets even more interesting when I look at all the organizations we work with.
Getting people to input progress updates into the system is usually the biggest
omission and downfall in using project management software.  It quickly reduces
the value of all the previous planning and documentation effort spent in constructing
the project plan, holding the kick-off meeting and assigning tasks.

If progress updates is the biggest stated usage need in project management
software, why do so many people find themselves reluctant to input progress
updates… in project management software? 

Maybe I should write that this way…

“Why do so many people find themselves reluctant to spend the time to type
a progress update, but will spend lots of time generating progress updates of
sorts on the phone, by typing emails, and in meetings?”

Partly it has to do with people, partly with design.  Most project
management software programs
do not incorporate a design that supports
the level of context provided by
verbal interchange and emails, as they are
narrowly focused on a specific
area of feedback, typically % complete or
number of hours or dollars expended.

I’ll get to the people side of the equation, or at least start, in the next
blog.  However, as an example of progress update design, check out the
date stamped progress update feature in ManagePro.  It’s an
of a design that flexibly supports progress updates
with context information
(“Now why are we only 55% done at this time and what issues are you
running into that you need help on?”) as well as supporting dragging and
dropping email into the progress update journal.

Bottom Line:

It seems that we’re all, whether formal project managers or not,  drowning in
information, but starved for timely, informative feedback at our finger tips.

I believe the answer to the question has to do with the brain task involved
in creating progress updates, the process called “flow” and
a lack of
“working smart” that permeates our culture.  Let me pick that up in the
next blog, meanwhile I need to check on a couple more people because
I don’t
have a progress update… 😉



Flexible Project Management Software – Designed for Who?  Defined as What?
Flexible Project Management Software – The Design Factor (2 of 2)
Flexible Project Management Software – All-in-One Solution
Working and Managing Strategically


8 Comments. Leave new

That is an interesting discovery, isn’t it? Do you think it really is true that businesses that are highly organized and that use PM tools accomplish more? I would imagine you do, and it certainly makes since. There seems to be the need for a staff/worker wide period of time when EVERYONE is lead into an experience of LEARNING how to use PM tools as a way of life. How many days does it take to break a bad (or any) habit? I think it’s 28 days. If I had a powerful leader helping me to incorporate the use of organization tools for a whole month I think it might just work…especially if everyone else were conforming to this same goal with me. Do you have any studies on something like that?


Hi Lori, I don’t have any study to put my fingers on. I see a number of sites that suggest that you have to repeat a new behavior some 20+ times before it becomes a habit, but I don’t know if there is any hard research behind that, e.g. if people tested behaviors after 10 repetitions versus 30. Good question.


Of the five types of uses, the ones that sound foreign to me are gantt chart and scope management. I totally and resoundingly agree that the time spent devising a well organized team project can become a big waste of time and money when the team members working on the project become so fixated on finishing their tasks in minimal time they fail to provide enough data into the software. Consequently, other team members do not get the benefit of progress details which could result in further inefficiency as co-workers step over each other’s tasks and the project suffers and meeting the deadline becomes more challenging. I have experienced this first hand having taken part in a programming project with many moving parts.


This program seems to have been designed with some unique features that account for and provide a solution to overcome the issues of human behavior – workers’ bad tendencies. Features like automatic time stamp on update inputs and drag and drop email feature makes it easy for IT dummies to use the Project management software so they don’t get stuck figuring out how to update their progress. I am an IT guy and sometimes I even get stuck with some other software figuring out how to get it to do something instead of focusing on the task itself.


The fact that a progress report was the number one thing the bosses look for is amazing to me. Where I used to work we had this report that ever body had to fill out every Tuesday, it was a progress report that they called a “Brief. If they would have used the project management software mentioned here this would have saved the employees a lot of time and effort every week and it probably would have been in a better format then just Microsoft word. I will definitely pass this on the the girls that still work there maybe they can convince them to change. Thanks for the information it will be very helpful.

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October 21, 2011 4:32 am

Thanks for sharing this. It’s a good resource. I been wondering what is the purpose of project management software and now I already knew what it’s for and how it works.


As one of the other comments stated it looks like this software was built to take the human factor out of it. Which means less bad habits used and less mistakes by the people that aren’t to savvy with a computer. I have also watched the IT guys where I work have to try and figure out how to fix something that somebody did in a program that it wasn’t meant for. This is a great idea, take the guess work out of their hands and give them a software that can be used by literally anyone.

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May 13, 2013 10:43 pm

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