Tuesday, 20 October 2015

IT Applications to enhance Project execution

Many Projects survive on as little IT as the standard Office software suite, a shared file server and an email system. However there are IT Applications which may enhance your Project execution which you might want to consider. In this post I examine some different categories of applications, some examples and whether I have had any experience to share or not. I will no doubt update this post when I learn some more from your experiences!

IT Applications for Projects

Introduction and General Considerations

I have attempted to segment applications by broad category but very often the boundaries are blurred as capabilities are enhanced in each application!

In terms of general considerations, with any application you are looking to introduce to your project team there are some general considerations to bear in mind:
  1. Installation. The ease (or likely not) in installing the application within your organisation's corporate infrastructure and thus the time taken before it is available for use. The good news on this front is that there are many more cloud based applications these days so you maybe not impacted by this
  2. Training requirements. You need to assess what training is required and get this into the project plan. Even then you need to acknowledge the risk that the application will not be fully utilised. I refer you to my post on the resistance to any change

1-Project File applications

All projects need a well organised Project File - see my previous post on the subject. While a shared file server can do the job, one application is now heavily used to enhance the capabilities - SharePoint.

This allows document check-in/out, version control and can be used to create a common site for Project team collaboration with a little effort and use of web parts. Organisations running a number of change projects should establish a standard design so there is a commonality between projects.

There is blurring between my categorisation as several applications in the "collaboration" bucket seem to provide Project Files, so read down!

2-Plan Scheduling Software

To undertake critical path analysis, you need some IT support. Microsoft Project is probably the most frequently observed tool, in my experience it is good on user interface and presentation but in versions I have mostly used (v2003), it lacks something in effort based scheduling. I started life with Project Manager Workbench (PMW) which had a very good effort scheduling engine but lacked a good user interface. It seems this has moved into an open source application Open Workbench but I don't have experience of it.

Other alternatives (not used) include:
  • ProjectLibre billed as the open source rival to Microsoft Project
  • wrike - as well as project and resource planning, it claims to do collaboration, daily work management, progress tracking, reporting etc
  • Note that bigger application sets detailed below may have their own scheduling tool

3-General Project and Portfolio Management

In this category I include any applications aimed at supporting the running of Projects and Portfolios of projects. These can help support / enforce a Project Management methodology, provide templates and centralised reporting both for an individual project and a portfolio of projects. 

The application in this category that I am most familiar with is Project in a Box, as it provides a free version you can evaluate. In terms of competitors, I don't have any knowledge but you may want to take a look at:
  • ]project-open[ - an open source enterprise project management tool promising a lot
  • Glasscubes - seems to combine aspects of Project File, scheduling etc
  • SimPro

4-Enterprise Portfolio and Resource Management Suites

These are expensive suites of software which larger organisations, with a significant portfolio of projects (and corresponding resource pools), use. They integrate a number of features such as scheduling, resource management, time capture etc. Examples I am aware of are:
I actually ran a Project to introduce ABT across 450 users so appreciate the power of the toolset but these only work if there is considerable effort in establishing processes around the tool, training and ongoing policing (typically by a PMO). The same goes for Project Server which I come across in a number of client sites.

5-Traditional Collaboration Tools

"Traditional" Collaboration Tools help the project team communicate better and hopefully cut down on email traffic which is a danger in project teams - see my post on this. Things like wikis can be quite useful and I refer you to the most popular wiki, Wikipedia for a comparison of wiki applications including some open source.

The list of tools in this area seems to grow daily and the only thing certain is that I am out of date! Some I am aware of are:
  • OpenProject is an open source tool which promises a lot
  • SharePoint as previously mentioned should be included in this area
  • There are plenty of Cloud based Project / task focused collaboration tools such as BasecampWrike , asana, slack

6-Social Collaboration Tools

I have separated out collaboration tools which are more Facebook inspired. Again, these promise reduced email traffic which is no bad thing but I haven't seen any in operation. 
  • Yammer seems to be gaining popularity. Says their site, "Yammer is a private social network that helps you and your teams stay on top of it all. Yammer team collaboration software and business applications allow you to bring your team together so you can have conversations, collaborate on files, and organize around projects so you can go further – faster" 
  • Socialcast - "Connect, engage, and accomplish more" says their site
  • Jive - "Turn your intranet into a communication and collaboration hub" says their site

7-Tools to support Agile methodologies

I have categorised applications which seem more suited to supporting Agile methodologies
  • Trello I've heard, is a great tool for managing requirements / scope especially in an Agile environment. I've had a play but not actively used.
  • Taiga is open source and describes itself as a Project Management platform for Agile.

8-Others not mentioned elsewhere

  1. Instant Messenger tools - I am quite keen on the use of IM tools such as Skype / Lync to cut down on email traffic for conversations but I guess there will be competition going forward from some of the collaboration tools highlighted above
  2. Blogs can be useful for Project communications. Clearly there are a number of cloud based sites such as Blogger being used for this particular blog or you can install the application on your own servers (e.g. wordpress, ghost)
  3. Configuration Management tools. Sharepoint does the basics for project documents but for more complex project requirements (e.g. software development) have a read of my post of the topic
  4. Test Management tools. These are commonplace in system development projects covering test planning and defect management. HP Quality Center is the one I have used the most although I have also come across the open source Eventum defect management application, see a review here

Conclusions

I have just scratched the surface of applications which may be of use to your Project team. The world is moving so fast that the examples listed and even completely new classes of applications can be considered with significant cross-over between the categorisation I have attempted.

However I want to remind you that change isn't easy to achieve so bear in mind that by introducing completely new applications into your project team you run some risks of actually slowly down progress which clearly isn't the aim of the game! Plan for this eventuality and persevere to get the benefits.

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