outdated project management software

5 Signs You've Outgrown Your Old Project Management Software

By Shelbi Gomez | Senior Communications Manager at Workfront

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One of the most challenging phases in the growth of a business is when it becomes clear that your old project management software and methods aren’t working anymore, but you’re not exactly sure what to do instead. After all, the solution you painstakingly cobbled together over the years, piece by piece, has gotten you where you are today. Don’t you have to keep using the same worn-out building blocks to make things work?

It Has Worked Just Fine So Far… Or Has It?

Your veteran team members are perfectly at ease with the custom concoction you’ve all built together. This special stew of spreadsheets, shared documents, and task tracking apps feels comfortable and familiar to them. They remember when each piece was added to the puzzle and why. They’re proud of their ability to successfully navigate your intricate project management systems—it’s like a badge of honor to be someone who “gets it.”

But…details are starting to slip through the cracks. You notice some team members are bogged down in busy work, others keep saying how stressed they are, and still others have extra time on their hands. Frankly, you don’t have a clear picture of where projects stand or what your team is actually capable of. And whenever you start teaching a new hire the ins and outs of your system, you realize all over again just how complex it is.

How do you know when it’s time to abandon those well-worn project management methods and embrace the work management tools of the future—and do you even know the differences between them? Read on for five telltale signs that you’ve outgrown your old tools, indicating that the time is right to start looking for something new.

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1. You Get Embarrassed When You Teach New Team Members Your “System”

Have you ever had that experience where you’re showing a new team member the ropes, and you find yourself over-explaining or justifying why you do things this way—and maybe detecting a hint of judgment on their part? Are you stuck answering questions for months on end about where to go for that piece of data or how to locate this particular asset? Have you ever said, “Yeah, it’s confusing now, but it will make more sense once you’ve been through a couple of project cycles.” These are all signs that your existing project management solutions are stuck in the past, and if you’re in a growth phase and bringing on new employees regularly, it’s only going to get more challenging from here. And if you have hopes of standardizing processes across teams, you’re out of luck.

But when a system is intuitive, centralized, and all-encompassing, instead of cobbled together from multiple disconnected solutions, it’s much easier not only to onboard new employees but also to spread laterally throughout your organization.

When CHG Healthcare in Midvale, Utah, first rolled out the Workfront solution, it was limited to the creative team and those who request work from them. But adoption soon spread to the web development team, corporate communications and PR, marketing operations, and more.

Another healthcare organization, Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP) in Rancho Cucamonga, California, has nearly 1,000 users and 1,300 requestors using Workfront daily—spread across more than 100 departments and sub-departments—and usage is still growing. “Some of our newest Workfront users are from departments that exported Excel documents and posted them onto weekly huddle boards, before going back to update the system later. Now, they have Workfront open in huddles, updating tasks as they go. That reduces rework and saves them time,” says Cejudo. Imagine explaining that first process to a new employee vs. explaining the second. The difference is night and day.

2. You Use Email to Bypass Your Existing Project Management Solutions

Even though IEHP had an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution in place, employees often found themselves bypassing it and getting their work done via email instead. For instance, there was a particular vendor contract process that required up to a dozen employees across departments to email details back and forth in order to figure out whether a vendor had been approved and for what amount. As a result, details were being lost in translation, there was a risk of exceeding approved spending authority limits, and payment deadlines were often missed.

After bringing a robust work management solution (Workfront) into their suite of tools, that problem disappeared. “We are managing more than 50 vendors working on projects in Workfront,” says Dawn Cejudo, senior application support specialist for IEHP, “and that’s increased engagement and communication with external teams while at the same time eliminating data-entry time internally. Workfront is now a requirement for our vendors and it’s working great. There are no more side or lost conversations.”

If you find yourself regularly tempted to bypass existing systems and send an email instead, that’s a sign that your project management tools are no longer serving you as well as they could be.

3. You’re Always Asking Who’s Working on What

When a team is small and intimate, with tight-knit employees and just a handful of clients, everyone in the office knows everyone else’s business. It’s easy to hold the general details in your head and to have a consistent mental picture of where things stand and who’s working on what. But with growth comes complexity. That inevitable transition from being in the loop on every conversation, decision, and project approval to being in the dark more often than not can be challenging. In the past, you didn’t have to ask who was working on what, because you already knew.

The same pattern holds for moderate size teams that are either growing larger or taking on a higher volume of work. Your existing systems may have done an adequate job of keeping you apprised of where things stood in the past, but as your organization grows and changes, you notice the details getting fuzzier and more difficult to grasp.

On any size of team, if you find yourself regularly asking who’s working on what and feeling constantly in the dark, there’s a good chance you’ve outgrown your current project management approach.

According to Michelle Gracey, application services manager at IEHP, “We knew employees on the floor worked hard, but with no way to track it, there was no way to quantify it. Visibility has changed with Workfront. There are so many ways to use the data that we’re getting out of Workfront.”

4. You Have to Check Multiple Interfaces to Find the Info You Need

At mobile app developer Neofonie, team members were allowed to choose any tool they wanted to manage client projects. This is often the default approach when a business grows quickly and organically, with employees in dispersed offices and remote locations. As a result, they had 23 different project solutions deployed. Employees were recording their hours sporadically in the free Toggl application or Microsoft Excel, or submitting time records on paper, which required ten individuals to meet for up to 4.5 hours per week to discuss resourcing. They had to check multiple systems to determine how long particular projects took in the past and determine how to assign new tasks—a clear indication that consolidation is needed.

project management success

The company went through the process of centralizing systems and standardizing processes, ending up with a single solution that could handle all of the company’s project needs. Now that all time is tracked in Workfront, says COO Stefan Gerstmeier, “everyone can see what someone is working on at a daily level. Having accurate timesheet information in the system simplifies reporting. We only meet twice a month now, which I’d estimate is about a 60 to 70% time savings for reporting.”

5. It Takes Hours to Build Out a New Project

Think about the steps it takes to kick start a new project with your team. Do you hold a meeting to figure out the details? Pull out your excel spreadsheet and a calendar to plan out the timeline? Fill out a detailed creative brief or project plan to describe the goals and vision for the project? Check in with each person on their availability and bandwidth? The process can take hours or days, even for a fairly standard or repeatable project. If this is the case, that’s a clue that it may be time to consider holistic work management.

As I mentioned in a previous column, CHG Healthcare used Workfront to automate the work request process for their creative team. Now, rather than sitting through a lengthy meeting or filling out and emailing a Microsoft Word template, the requestor simply answers a series of questions, and the system applies the appropriate template and assigns the work to the right employees.

This automated system has eliminated some CHG marketing intake meetings and shortened others. A creative download meeting is now only scheduled for complex work assignments, and only after project managers know who has capacity to do the work. “I’d estimate we’ve reduced creative downloads by approximately an hour a week for the creative team, the project manager, and the brand team requestor,” adds Pett. That’s an hour a week per person, which can really add up, even for a relatively small team.

Ready for a System Fit for an Enterprise?

To answer the question I posed at the beginning: no, you don’t have to keep using your old building blocks. Your old tools served you well. You can be grateful for them without letting them hold you back any longer. And if any of these five signs felt uncomfortably familiar, consider comprehensive work management. Not only will it connect your enterprise and bust through silos, it will also centralize all tasks, content, and collaboration (a.k.a., “the DNA of work”) into one solution, so it can be analyzed, reported, optimized, and automated—an absolute must for dynamic and growing teams in the digital age.

[Want more stories like CHG Healthcare's? See our case studies.]

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