Project management systems, in theory, should organize the management of projects from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the focus of project management systems has been restricted to one-off apps that focus on only small sections of the entire lifecycle of work. What’s gone wrong and how can we fix it? Project management systems facilitate the management and execution of all the various activities and processes involved with ensuring a project’s success. Regardless of whether a project resides within software engineering, IT operations, marketing, civil engineering, product development, or some other discipline, there are seven stages of a project’s lifecycle that project management systems should address:
- Identification – Determining the need to undertake a project as a result of requests, directions or inputs received from various sources.
- Prioritization – Ranking different projects against each other in terms of importance based on factors that might include project value, level of commitment, strategic alignment, potential outcomes, required effort, and cross-department negotiations.
- Planning – Determining the scope of work and available resources, assigning resources, and setting expectations for project milestones, deliverables and completion.
- Coordination – Coordinating and managing project workload, such as task assignments, delegation, allocation of time, and sequence of work.
- Execution – Managing the execution of the actual work on the project, including what needs to be done, how it will be carried out, and the collaborative effort required.
- Delivery – Delivering on the project expectations and outcomes.
- Measure – Monitoring, measuring and reporting on the project results, outcomes, impacts, efficiency, timing, budget and other metrics.
Project management systems have the ability to reduce the complexity of project management and ensure the highest levels of project efficiency and effectiveness when they help manage the flow of work through the entire project lifecycle. Unfortunately, most project management systems fail to take this end-to-end approach, focusing on only a few phases of the entire lifecycle. [To learn more about how project managers can better cover the work lifecycle, I recommend that you read our series on “Managing the Lifecycle of Work.”
In fact, many tools promoted as comprehensive project management systems really only emphasize the execution phase of the project lifecycle, with perhaps minor attention given to project coordination and reporting on project outcomes. This means you end up having to invest in an assortment of other tools to manage the full lifecycle of your project. That might include a help ticket system to manage project requests. You’ll likely have to invest in a resource planning or scheduling system to help with the planning or coordination phases. To get the level of project analytics or reporting that you actually need, you’ll probably find yourself investing in yet another tool to augment your so-called comprehensive project management system. Before you know it, you’ve invested in a dozen or more different tools to help you manage your projects.
And even if your project management system focuses primarily on execution, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t pay sufficient attention to one of the most critical aspect of project execution – project collaboration. In such cases, you might be tempted to simply fall back onto email, but be careful. In the project management realm, email tends to foster inefficiencies and thwart project accountability. Still, if you go the email route, you’ll want to make sure you choose a project management system that provides the level of email integration you need.
The requirement to invest in so many different tools and systems to successfully manage your projects from beginning to end has caused the term “project management systems” to become something of a misnomer. In response to the confusion created by so many vendors characterizing their less than comprehensive tools as complete project management systems, the terms “work management systems” or “enterprise work management” have surfaced.
Comprehensive Project Management Systems
The idea is that project management systems will actually address the complete project management lifecycle. Work management systems should represent everything that you really wanted and expected from project management systems in the first place. The bottom-line is that any search into true project management systems should actually start with what the end-to-end capabilities of enterprise work management systems can do to facilitate the management of your entire project management lifecycle.