Selecting a Project Management Tool IS a Project

Recently, I have seen a more online posts asking questions about what project management tool(s) a company should buy:

  • What tool does everyone recommend?
  • My company would like a project management tool? What should we get?
  • I’d like your opinion on a project management tool that is cloud-based and easy to use.
  • PM tool recommendations please!

Within 24 hours, there are a number of responses. They range from asking for more information, to recommendations, to sales pitches. The platforms being recommended are good with a variety of features. But, are they the right platform for you and your company?

First, let me stress that researching, finding and implementing a project management software tool IS A PROJECT! It’s no different than any other project you would undertake. As you start this initiative, you may find a tweak to the current process is needed vs. a tool, and that’s OK. But in the end, this is a project.

Having implemented PM tools in the past, below are the best practices I recommend as well as a few things to consider. Every project is different, so consider these an input into whatever process you will use.

  • Project Sponsor: No sponsor, no project. The sponsor can be a PMO leader, project management manager, or someone in management that believes a PM tool is necessary. They help shepard the change and drive acceptance throughout the company.
  • Business Case & Project Charter: Yes, create a business case and a Project Charter. If you’re a multi-national conglomerate with offices around the globe, it will probably be more complex than the single-site <50 person company. Don’t over-complicate it. But, make sure you have justification as to WHY you need a tool and what it should do for your company.
  • Requirements: These are important. Unless you’re a total ad hoc, fly by the seat of your pants company, chances are there are PM processes in place that are working pretty well and you want to keep. Instead of letting a tool dictate its processes on you, you’ll want to enhance yours. Identify requirements that are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves. Some things to consider in the requirements:
    • Governance; are there any project approval processes that should be documented & captured by the tool (i.e. compliance/FDA/HHS/customer projects)
    • Reducing “pain points” in the process; look at as-is to-be processes, figure out where there are opportunities for efficiencies
    • Automation; what can be handled automatically vs manually
    • Collaboration; consider remote workers, vendors, stakeholders, external partners and others when looking at collaboration capabilities
    • Cloud-based vs. on premises; there are still companies that want on-prem which not all providers offer, and vice-versa
    • Phase-gate/approval processes at key milestones
    • Change control capture and authorization
    • Training/post go-live support needs
    • Anything specific to the industry you’re in
  • Project Team: The PM tool needs to include more than just PM’s in the project (though having some of your PM staff included is a must). Consider project sponsors, current and future. Don’t forget about your BA’s, or development staff, or stakeholders. You probably got requirements from these same people, so why not have them on your team.
  • RFI/RFP: You wouldn’t pick an ERP without a RFP! Same goes here. Research the various tools on the market and narrow down your list. When it comes time for vendors to demo, create a matrix based on your requirements that team members can check off as features are, or are not, shown. Don’t let emotion and flashy demos cloud functionality! Use qualify-able and quantify-able metrics.
  • Implementation: There are a few options here. I’ve gone live with all projects on the PM platform day 1, and also had pilot projects so we could “ease into” using the new platform. Every company is different, but make sure the implementation includes good training and change management.

It’s rare to hear someone say the tool they use meets 100% of their requirements. If you find one that does, great! If not, don’t feel bad. You’re definitely not alone. Sometimes you may need to adjust your process to fit within the parameters of the tool. Other times, the tool’s workflows and processes can be customized.

Selecting a project management tool is a project. Don’t let a shiny software demo wow you into thinking this is the best application in the world. It just could be, but go into it prepared knowing what you want it to do and have a team supporting. Who knows, selecting a project management tool may be one of the most enjoyable projects you undertake!

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