The right project management software – part 1

This article deals with the different product classes of software that are frequently used in the implementation of projects. You will learn how to find software that is suitable for your requirements step by step.

First things first: Project management is not automatically introduced to your organization by installing software.

Start thinking about project management software after you have an established and widely accepted project management system. This means that the project management processes are lived, the roles for the project managers are defined with their authorizations and responsibilities, there are uniform designations and standardized methods as well as templates.

As soon as this is the case, you can use the following considerations to find the right project management tool support for your needs.

What is project management software?

In project management, there are many recurring tasks and standardized processes for which the use of EDP is of considerable benefit. The project-related recording of expenditure and the comparison of project planning and the current state based on it, e.g. with an earned value analysis, are typical examples of this. In principle, all of these tasks can also be carried out with standard office software; spreadsheet programs, in particular, are of particular importance here. However, programs specially developed for the requirements of project managers can support the specific planning and monitoring methods faster and more effectively. But even the most expensive and functional tools do not replace the competence of the project manager.

'Project management software' is not a clearly defined product - it can mean anything from e-mail clients to database-supported multi-project and project portfolio software. It is therefore helpful to first clarify what type of software you mean. Essentially, PM software can be divided into different categories:

  • Planning tools that are used, for example, to create network plans, bar charts, work breakdown structures, lists of requirements, etc. can create and maintain.
  • Resource management software with which the available resources (employees, machines, rooms, etc.) are assigned to the tasks, and their utilization is controlled.
  • Controlling software for the recording of expenses, accounting control of the project budget, monitoring of the project progress as well as adherence to deadlines, and for forecasting the key performance indicators
  • Software solutions for special project management disciplines such as configuration management, quality management, risk management, profitability calculations, process optimization, etc.
  • Document management systems for the administration and archiving of project documents
  • Collaboration platforms for handling project communication and supporting project management processes, e.g. by mapping workflows or Kanban boards
  • Programs for multi-project technology and project portfolio management, e.g. with overall views of the company-wide project portfolio for top management.
  • Standard office software (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and possibly database management)
  • Telecommunication software (email clients, browsers, video conferencing, etc.)

Project planning, resource management, and controlling are usually combined within one software product and correspond to the general idea of ​​project management software 'in the real sense'. There is currently competition between the providers to offer as many of the above-mentioned categories as possible with one product. The result of this development is extensive software suites with an enormous scope of services and a correspondingly high implementation effort.

The interpretation of the standard office software in the above list as PM software makes it clear that project management does not require its applications per se. For small projects, in particular, it makes sense to carry out the tasks at hand with the help of programs that are generally available. However, the larger and more complex the project, the more time-consuming the project planning becomes, for example, and the more you come up against the limits of the capabilities of these programs so that the use of project management software in the narrower sense becomes necessary.

Functions/features of PM software

Project management is a cross-sectional task that requires different management disciplines depending on the type of project, project size, risks, project environment, industry, and specific task. Accordingly, it makes sense to structure the requirements for the functions of a software solution thematically. In this way it is possible, on the one hand, to determine the required category of software and, on the other hand, to systematically ask future users about their needs.

Requirements for PM software

Project management software offers you a compact solution that is thematically structured from a project management point of view. From the recording of expenses to the workflow.

A generally valid prioritization of the subject areas is not possible, since the importance of a requirement is determined solely by the individual needs of the user. The subject areas are therefore listed alphabetically. For each subject area, five levels of functionality that build on each other are described. Resist the temptation to demand the maximum range of functions in all areas. More performance does not consequently mean more benefits, but always higher costs!

For the individual testing and evaluation of a specific product, it is therefore essential that you check the requirements that have been identified as important in a product demonstration with the provider. For example, there are major differences between individual products in terms of user-friendliness, with which certain requirements are met. For a function that is required frequently, it is important whether it can be called using a command that is always available, or whether it has to be programmed individually.

Expense recording

  • Simple input of the effort by the project manager from other sources such as spreadsheet programs.
  • The project management software is multi-user capable and supports direct input of expenses by employees.
  • Not only working hours but also all other project-relevant cost types can be recorded. The working hours can be converted into costs using different hourly rates.
  • The input by the employees is controlled and facilitated by the assignment to projects, time windows, and other control mechanisms. A workflow supports approval processes by supervisors or project managers.
  • Working time is recorded without redundancy and exclusively by the PM software. Expenses for line work and absence times are also recorded. An interface to the ERP system supplies the personnel administration with the required data. Conversely, the PM software takes over project-relevant cost center data from the ERP software, such as depreciation.

Controlling

  • A detailed cost plan can be drawn up. At least one basic plan is available as a reference for controlling
  • Status information (workload, other costs, degrees of completion, etc.) can be recorded. Simple target / actual or plan / actual comparisons allow simple controlling.
  • Standard project controlling methods such as trend analyses or earned value analyses are available.
  • User-specific controlling parameters and metrics for status evaluation can be defined. Automatic notifications depending on these measured values can be activated. Workflows support monitoring and control, e.g. through escalation mechanisms.
  • The project management software supports cross-project and company-wide controlling. With the help of scenarios, the effects of control measures can be analyzed.

Fund management

  • Regardless of the cost plan, the income of all kinds can be calculated in terms of amount and point in time, thus creating a financing plan
  • Complete cash flow invoice taking into account the commitment
  • The project management software can manage the budget of the project in a manner consistent with the company's accounting.
  • Funding management workflows are supported.
  • A business plan can be drawn up for the project, the fulfillment of which is monitored during the project.

Information management

  • Integration of individual project information in the project file/database. This includes, for example, comments on work packages or the description of tasks.
  • A reference to external documents is possible from the individual project elements. However, the integrity of the references is not checked.
  • The integration of an external document management system is possible to be able to use its efficiency, e.g. version management or search function.
  • The project management software implements its document management. It manages access to the documents and guarantees the integrity of the references to them. With check-in / check-out, version management, meta information, and search functions, it offers the basic features of a document management system. If available, it connects document management with the other performance features such as workflow and change management.
  • Document management can map a cross-project knowledge base and the associated processes. In addition to search and structuring functions, this also includes documentation functions after the end of the project and archiving options. The experience gained from projects can be stored in the form of 'Lessons Learned' and made available to the next projects.

Configuration management

  • Change requests can be defined in the context of issues.
  • The independent management of change requests.
  • The change management allows an assignment of the change requests to project elements and the assignment of responsibilities.
  • The software masters complete configuration recording.
  • The software completely maps a configuration management process such as CMII.

Cost management/project cost accounting

  • Costs can be assigned to work packages or activities. A simple cost plan can be created in tabular or graphical form.
  • Project cost types can be defined and shown in the cost plan.
  • Costs can be defined as time-related rates so that the project management software can calculate costs directly from the duration of use. This applies to all types of resources. The hourly rates can be time-dependent (e.g. night work supplements) and can be set individually for each resource. Costs can also be assigned to abstract resources such as qualifications.
  • A complete project cost calculation according to project cost types, project cost units, and project cost centers is possible.
  • Complete mapping of project cost accounting and the company's cost accounting so that communication can be carried out consistently with an enterprise resource planning system.

Multi-project management / multi-project technology

  • The project management software can manage more than one project at the same time, but the projects cannot be linked to one another.
  • The resources are managed across projects. Bottlenecks are recognized and displayed.
  • The time planning module masters cross-project relationships and can take these into account in a definable way when calculating the network plan. Sub-projects can be defined.
  • All projects are brought together in a consistent database, with the individual projects being processed locally if necessary. The PM software can map all projects in a portfolio structure (e.g. programs, sub-projects).
  • All project information is consistently managed in a central database in real-time in a multi-user environment. Several planners can make changes to their projects at the same time without endangering the consistency of the data.

Scheduling and activation mapping

  • Activities can be defined, given a start and finish date, and structured.
  • The processes can be linked using the four standard relationships according to DIN 69900. The tool handles forward and backward calculations within the project to determine the buffer times and the critical path.
  • The project management software masters multi-project technology, so it can calculate cross-project relationships and resource allocations.
  • The tool can carry out simulations, optimization calculations, and scenarios based on deterministic plan specifications.
  • The PM software has non-deterministic algorithms such as the Monte Carlo simulation or analytical probability calculation. It can determine the probability distribution of the entire project duration from the probability distributions of the individual durations. It can optimize the network plan from the individual information in such a way that specified target values ​​(e.g. the most likely project duration) are minimal.

Presentation

  • The project data are visualized with simple graphics such as a bar chart. Colored printout in DIN A4.
  • The layout of the project plans such as network plan or bar plan can be individually adapted and printed out in this adaptation. It is possible to scale the plans on one sheet or to distribute them on several sheets in their original size.
  • Complex graphics such as staggered bar charts, bubble charts, or similar are available for the presentation of the project data.
  • The output can be in media-neutral vector graphic formats. The tool can also export all graphics to a project portal.
  • A separate layout definition can be created for each output medium. There is no size limit for the printout (i.e. at least DIN A0).

Portfolio management

  • The project management software provides a view of all projects with simple key figures such as the current degree of completion and the target / actual variances.
  • There are cross-project evaluations. Calculated key figures can be defined by the user. Reporting and presentation functions are also available across projects.
  • The project life cycle is already supported in the idea phase. The software maps an approval process that transfers the project from the application status to the active status.
  • Methods are available for calculating profitability. The projects can be evaluated according to a user-definable scheme. The projects can be prioritized, the priority is also available in other performance features.
  • The entire life cycle of a project is mapped. Forecast tools (e.g. scenario technology) are available for the economic evaluation of the entire project portfolio. A benchmarking system enables current projects to be compared. Free metrics can be defined for project evaluation, the software already has a predefined scheme (e.g. balanced scorecard or similar).

Project structuring

  • The project management software can create and manage a single or multi-level list of work packages or tasks.
  • The project management software can create and manage a hierarchical list of work packages or tasks that can be structured at least 32 levels deep.
  • Structural elements are coded. The project object and resources can be structured.
  • The project structure can be represented graphically in a tree diagram and edited graphically (e.g. drag and drop). Any number of project sizes can be structured.
  • The project management software supports multiple, parallel project structures on one size and can use them for evaluations and reports.

Reporting

  • Ready-made reports show the current project status.
  • You can create your reports and save them. The project data can be exported for external evaluation.
  • Fields can be created whose values are calculated from the project data using user-defined formulas. These fields are also fully available for evaluation.
  • A complete filter and structuring option allow all questions relating to the project data to be answered. These can also be graphically prepared using your own or integrated modules from technology partners.
  • Reporting is possible at the project and resource level. Cross-project and company-wide reporting is supported. The data is prepared for online analytical processing (OLAP).

Resource management

  • Resources can be assigned to the activities from scheduling during project planning. Conversely, this creates a view of the resources about their assigned tasks.
  • The allocation of resources allows the neutral allocation from resource pools. When resources are assigned, the utilization of the resource is displayed directly. The availability of the resources can be modeled individually (e.g. calendar per resource).
  • Resources and resource groups can be assigned properties, according to which they can be filtered, organized, and sorted. Resources can be requested using a requirement profile. A comparison of the requirement profile and the performance profile enables suitable resources to be found.
  • The project management software has algorithms for optimizing resource utilization and can carry out capacity-based scheduling in a multi-project environment.
  • Resource management covers the entire company with all projects. It unifies line and project organization. Based on the portfolio of current and planned projects, it predicts the future requirements for the workforce.

Project organization

  • The program has its access management. This means that users only have access to the project data via an ID and password.
  • Access rights can be assigned individually for each user.
  • Roles can be assigned to users, which define the access rights and features of the tool according to their needs.
  • The access rights management provides group rights and inheritable rights. Roles can be defined by the user himself.
  • With a single registration, the roles and access rights are adapted according to the situation without having to log in again (single sign-on). Depending on the project or document area called, the project management software knows what rights the user has and what options are made available to him.

Risk management

  • As part of the project issues, risks can be defined as an independent category.
  • The project management software has an independent risk management system that allows simple risk assessment and documents risk prevention measures.
  • Risk management allows the allocation of risks to project elements and the allocation of responsibilities.
  • Complete risk management within the project organization with project-accompanying risk monitoring and risk prevention measures such as the provision of alternative plans.
  • Company-wide, cross-project risk management at all levels of the company and project organization. Escalation and de-escalation mechanisms are defined to transfer responsibility for risks from one level to another.

Interfaces

  • Input and output of simple basic information via ASCII files (e.g. CSV format).
  • All project information can be exported, including user-defined and calculated fields, so that they can be further processed in other evaluation programs (e.g. spreadsheet programs).
  • Bidirectional data exchange with other applications can take place via standardized interfaces (e.g. ODBC).
  • XML import and export is supported. With the help of assignment tables, XML-DTD can be mapped to the internal project data display.
  • A software development kit (SDK) and an application programming interface (API) can be used to create user-defined interfaces for complete integration of the software in all IT environments.

Workflow

  • Simple, ready-made workflows are available, such as the acceptance of work packages or the automatic generation of reports after certain events.
  • Simple workflows can be mapped by combining user-defined fields and macros.
  • The tool automatically notifies the responsible persons when certain events occur. This can be done through a notification on the personalized homepage of the program or through email notifications.
  • Linear work processes can be mapped user-specifically.
  • The PM software has a complete workflow module that can document branched and conditional workflows with several participants in different roles.

To be continued ...

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