Project Management Software

Needs to handle Planning, Scheduling and Controlling

Project management is a specialized discipline derived from management. So we look at project management software in terms of how it meets three different management functions:

  • PLANNING
  • SCHEDULING
  • CONTROLLING
  • In Project KickStart versus Microsoft Project [MSP] , I related how two major project management software products had strengths and weaknesses, but both had a role to play, in the Planning and Scheduling functions of project management. And how we had run into problems when management wanted to use the Microsoft Project {MSP} project management software for Controlling.

    [Briefly, we could only use MSP for minimal tracking rather than detailed tracking because of the difficulty of getting complete data from other systems into MSP.]

    My three colleagues at the dinner table that night were all from technical - hardware and software - backgrounds so there was lots of debate about how and when the bridge would be built to get data into MSP [and any other project management software for that metter]. And we got to sharing notes about how each of us tracked our projects in the meantime, including what project management software we used. Turns out one had an incredibly elaborate system, almost an engineering marvel, but it took far too much time. The other two were having great difficulty with consistency between the time reported in the project accounting system and what they recorded in their informal tracking systems. And that showed up right when they were trying to get out their billings at month end. When I told them about my system and how little time it took, they almost didn't believe me, so I said "Well, tonight is the time I do my once-a-week update - you're welcome to watch me so you can see if I'm exaggerating or not."


    Sidebar

    We used my laptop from the hotel lobby with a temporary telephone connection to one of the hotel's lobby telephones.

    Sidebar


    It actually took me five minutes less than I had told them, and that included lost time with a balky telephone connection for my laptop. My "secret"?

    1. Once a week I accessed our project accounting system and loaded the time that I and my project staff had charged to each project into a spreadsheet [yup! Spreadsheet counts as project management software in our books!]. Straight manual copying, since a bridge hadn't been automated to transfer data out of the project accounting system. With an average of 4 staff per project and 3 projects there were at least 12 entries to copy, sometimes more if staff charged to more than one code. A big bonus in exchange for this nuisance of copying data? I knew right away if time charged to my projects was incorrect or incomplete and I could check with staff and accounting if changes were needed. Otherwise, when I came to bill at month end, things were right, and ready to go.

    2. The spreadsheet into which I copied the detail was set up to give me the weekly, monthly billing period and accumulated hours and dollars, by code.

    3. A different spreadsheet in the same workbook [we used Microsoft Excel, but the concept would work with most any spreadsheet product, even the free give-away ones] had the project phases and billing milestones from the project management software, as well as the budget for each. This was set up at the beginning of the project and updated with Change Orders throughout the project.

    For each billing month there were two columns: actual and billed. Often these were the same, but sometimes amounts could not be billed until a milestone was completed. Actual was linked to the monthly sub-total column from the data entry sheet, so it updated automatically. When I did the monthly billing, I kept the spreadsheet opened in my laptop and entered the amount billed into the Billed column.

    At a glance, this one spreadsheet gave me an overview of progress and the vital billing information.

    Besides making three really great friends, one of them now knew what to do with data he could mine from the project accounting database. The temporary bridge he built saved all four of us from copying data, went into widespread use within our organization, and for a while was shared with clients until the more elaborate bridge to MSP was finalized. And, there were now four of us who were very popular with the finance / accounting staff [our adjustments came in throughout the month in small quantities that were easy to handle instead of right at month end when it was hectic] and with the CFO [billings went out promptly and that is one of the big keys to cash flow!]

    So, some of the things to consider when you look for project management software...

    • Is the project management software capable of tracking activity and costs as well as planning and scheduling tasks? If not, it might be Project Planning Software and/or Project Scheduling Software .
    • If the project management software includes the ability to track activity and costs, will you be able to interface easily with your other time and accounting systems? Beware the added cost of having yet another stand-alone system!
    • A spreadsheet or even word processor [why not even paper and pencil?!] can also be effective project management software to track activity and costs for the controlling function.

    Need help with your project management? Spreadsheet or specialized package, David can help you use your project management software.





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    Project Scheduling Software