What do PMs Want from Software in 2011?

Posted by in Geoff Crane: The Papercut PM Blog

With the rise of social media, the last few years has produced a glut of project management tools and software. I’ve been paying close attention to what’s out there and have written about it before. Largely lumped under the moniker “PM2.0″, these tools boast improved collaborative capability, improved tracking mechanisms, and improved reporting.

But how does the PM community at large feel? I wrote four of the industry’s top bloggers and asked them their opinion. The question was:

What do we need more / less of from PM software in 2011?
What aren’t they getting right yet?

Here are their responses. Thanks to all of them for their thoughtful contributions!


Michiko Diby, Preventing Project Failure

Author of Preventing Project Failure, Michiko DibyWe should start thinking of types of projects linked to types of software.

Big IMS type projects are stuck with Project. Problem there is that Project doesn’t integrate easily with accounting/time management systems needed to track EVM.

Agile projects need super light, super easy apps like Basecamp.

Corporations, don’t let in-between projects purchase in-between products as SaaS like Liquid Planner – they try to fit all their employees into one procured solution.

Michiko is a no nonsense, get it done PM, seasoned and able to lead effectively. Michiko writes about “things that get ya into trouble, and ways to get out“. Follow Michiko on Twitter @projectrecovery.


Elizabeth Harrin, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

Author of Project Management For Girls, Elizabeth HarrinProject management software online seems to be evolving to cope with accidental project managers. I am not seeing many SaaS providers add ‘professional’ project management tools like critical path analysis, and some won’t even allow you to work with dependencies, insisting on hard coding dates. This is fine for small projects, and companies with small teams and low-risk projects. However, for experienced project managers wanting to do more complicated scheduling ‘Calendar View’ just doesn’t cut it.

I also think SaaS project management software providers are adding in more social and collaboration tools. I like this idea in principle, but what I would really love to see is PM software that integrates feeds from other sources. Why reinvent Twitter in your PM tool when there is a perfectly good Twitter product in existence, called, erm, Twitter? PM software that takes RSS feeds or other inputs from multiple sources (even those internal to the company: intranet, Yammer etc) will save PMs and their teams having to check multiple places for information.

Elizabeth is Director of The Otobos Group and author of the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, and the books Project Management in the Real World and Social Media for Project Managers. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @pm4girls.


Josh Nankivel, The PM Student

The PM Student, Josh NankivelWe need a focus on simple value.  Bells and whistles don’t count for much when they confuse the process and their own value is questionable.  We need less “cool” and more “get r dun!”  My most effective project management tools are a daily stand-up meeting with our team Kanban boards.  There’s nothing there that isn’t adding value.  All value, no waste.  Lean.

We need tools that don’t pretend to be a great way to communicate.  The most effective way to communicate with your team and stakeholders is face-to-face.  Period.  Second is by phone.  Then you get into instant messaging.  After that you are left with email and what most PM tools try to provide.  PM tools shouldn’t even try to facilitate communication, except for perhaps reminding you to have a conversation when you need to.  Documentation, but not communication.

Lastly, we need to have tools that stop pretending we can be great at predicting the future.  We can be OK, but we can’t be great at it.  When you set a baseline down to an insane level of detail, insanity is all you’ll gain trying to maintain it and report variances against it.  We need more wideband delphi and other methods that mitigate the influences of anchoring, and I’ve found no better way than an old-fashioned game of planning poker with user stories, in the physical world and not with a tool.  And then come out with a range, not a point estimate.

Please, PM tools.  Stop generating point estimates and singular milestone and finish dates.  You’re too big for your own britches.

Josh coaches new and aspiring project managers to achieve their career goals through various publications and training courses. He founded pmStudent.com in 2006 to help himself and others learn more about project management as a discipline and career. Follow Josh on Twitter @pmstudent.


Patrick Richard, The Hard-Nosed Project Manager

The Hard-Nosed Project Manager, Patrick RichardI would say the following applies to single-seat or EPM project scheduling software that runs on a desktop, or as SaaS.

We’d save time or improve the usefulness of my schedules if:

- There was a feature that would allow us to upload actual hours spent on a project from a flat file that would contain as a minimum the date, WBS code, and effort in hours. From that we’d be able to mark a task as started and get a sense of the burn rate. If the estimated remaining effort and status (active or complete) was added, we could compute an EV estimate.

- There was a feature that would allow us to do a Monte Carlo simulation given only the most likely estimates and assuming a configurable positively skewed distribution. From that we’d be able to give a more realistic end date and cost estimate.

- If there was also a database that allowed us to capture actual per task and resource, we’d be able to change the distribution for a particular resource / PM combination yielding an even more realistic end date and cost estimate. The resource / PM combination is necessary because of the PM’s impact on best case effort estimates.

- If there was also a database that allowed us to capture overall estimation accuracy per PM, a department head could use this to gauge his negotiation margin.

We’d save time and aggravation if:

- There was a risk database feature that would allow us to list the risks that have turned into issues in the past, how many times this has happened (for those outside our control), and their impact on the project.

A Montreal-based PMP, with Combat and Chemical Engineering experience across a variety of industries, Patrick’s blog, The Hard-Nosed Project Manager, tends to gravitate in scope toward its given title: hard-nosed, as well as practical, first-hand experience and observation as opposed to theory. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @hardnosedpm.

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What do you think? Are you a project manager with your own opinions about emerging PM software? Shout them out in the comments below!