Project Management Software: Is it Worth it?

God bless those of us who take it upon themselves to earn a PMP–Project Management Professional–certification from the PMI (Project Management Institute). The undertaking is not an easy one, and fairly expensive, at that. It’s one of those efforts that I view from a distance, warily, and avoid unless absolutely necessary (translation: new job requires or demands that I pursue the additional letters after my last name).

For the rest of us, project management seems to be a skill that we learn and execute somewhat informally. I worked with a woman on Wall Street who could run circles around portfolio managers when it came to performance measurement and reporting, but she “managed” her workload off the hundreds of Post-It Notes that decorated every available piece of surface area in her office–even her handbag, at times. That can’t be the best way to do this, no matter how well it worked for this particular whiz kid.

Personally, I find myself on the fence even when it comes to what I consider a happy compromise between colorful sticky notes and a new certification: project management software. Is it necessary? If so, when? To answer those questions, I’d have to first actually understand what it does and how it works. Like most everything else, if you are struggling with something, chances are, there are others like you.

My cautious foray into the world of project-management software has revealed a few things. First, most, if not all of these products can help you manage complex, overlapping or multi-participant schedules. If your project is big enough to involve more than, say, five participants and a slew of tasks-to-be-completed, you may want to begin researching PM software. Another capability these products can offer–one which I’ve found to be equally important as schedule management–is information sharing. (See my article on this site entitled, “Surviving the Office Demon.”) When you work in a highly competitive, aggressive and even hostile environment, posting your project’s progress and status for select users to view can be a boon to your career and reputation.

Next, given what PM software can do, it’s important to consider whether or not such software is suitable for your project. Better yet–research and determine which software packages are more “friendly” to your office’s technology platform, your budget, and your own tolerance for tech and/or learning curve. Some projects simply don’t warrant the investment in a new software package, and a well-prepared Excel report might do. Others will require so much training to get to a basic level of competence, they may not be worth it. And so on.

If your project is so potentially unwieldy that you do need some computer-based help, think of whether you’d be better off using a desktop system or a web-based one. Also, some PM software products are designed for personal use, single-user or collaborative (multi-user) capability. For those of you braver than I, look into software that can interface, or be integrated with, other company programs, such as individual calendars, and the like.

It’s also important to research user-reviews and criticisms of any package you are close to buying. Another tip: Have someone in-the-know show you what the software looks like and feels like to operate. I saw one PM software-generated chart that looked like something NASA produced. It should not be so sophisticated or convoluted that no one can read or understand what the program is spewing out.

Another thought: corporate or workplace life is difficult enough without yet another shield behind which people can hide in order to avoid personal contact. Don’t use a PM software program as a way to avoid having to actually speak to your co-workers, unless, of course, you are working with or near the company’s Office Demon. Then, by all means, go find the most user-unfriendly, complicated, what-the-hell-is this-chart-saying software program that money can buy. The complexity of the output, hopefully, will put at least a temporary muzzle on your office nemesis, and buy you a little bit of peace in the process. And for that, personally, I’d pay top dollar. 🙂