5 Essential Tools for Project Management

As a project manager in the 21st century when most of us have a blackberry smart phone, drive with a GPS-enabled car, use TiVo to record our favorite show and carry a Mac as our notebook of choice, you would think we are as sophisticated in leveraging the latest and greatest tools to support us in managing projects. Guess again.
As a project manager in the 21st century when most of us have a blackberry smart phone, drive with a GPS-enabled car, use TiVo to record our favorite show and carry a Mac as our notebook of choice, you would think we are as sophisticated in leveraging the latest and greatest tools to support us in managing projects. Guess again.

A lot of project managers I know rely heavily on the following high-tech tools:

  • E-mail. Used for project communication. Don’t you love being cc’d on every single freakin’ email that gets sent in the project? Oh, don’t forget those massive attachments. Ahh, nothing like technology from the 70’s.
  • Microsoft Excel. I am already impressed with your abilities to stick in complex formulas. But come on, enough is enough. Excel is not meant for generating Gantt chats for Pete’s sake.
  • USB Flash Drive. So what if your flash drive can hold up to 6GB worth of project information. Mine can hold 8GB. HA! Beat that. Although I am not sure how badly it would affect the project if I loose this puppy. Maybe it’s a good idea to make a copy of the project schedule by e-mailing it to everybody in the team.

Wake up, people! You can keep using e-mail, Excel and your flash drive, but there are better and more effective tools out there that will make every project manager’s life much easier. I have learned my lesson and these days, I make sure that I take full advantage of the following 5 essential tools for project management:

  1. Project Management Information System (PMIS)
    As defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI), a Project Management Information System (PMIS) is a standardized set of automated project management tools available within an organization and integrated into a system.It is used by the project team to:
    • Centrally store project information
    • Facilitate communication, collaboration and feedback
    • Analyze and forecast project performance
    • Disseminate project status to relevant stakeholders
    • Contains real-time information essential for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing a project
    • Automates project processes such as change request, risk monitoring and other project related workflows

    Having a PMIS is much better than using e-mail or network shares as central project repositories. My tool of choice is SharePointbecause it is easy to use and integrates well with existing tools that I have. Other tools that you can use as a PMIS without asking for the IT department (you know how that is) to set up:

  2. Project Scheduling Tool
    Spreadsheet tools like Microsoft Excel can only do so much in helping you break down project tasks and assign work. A decent scheduling tool should be able to not only assist you in planning for the project, but also be able to conveniently deal with:
    • Varying resource availability. Can the scheduling tool allow you to put in different resource calendars and show you the overall impact to the project schedule?
    • Presenting real time information. Which tasks are on schedule? Which tasks are behind? What risks have been triggered? What is the current earned value for the project?
    • Comparing baseline information to the actual project status.Why are we drastically behind? Is it because my resources are slacking? Or maybe our initial estimates are off?

    My tool of choice is MS Project coupled with MS Project Server because it integrates nicely with SharePoint. Now for those pundits who is thinking that Microsoft Project is so hard to use and it sucks, well, last I checked, it is just a tool. It assumes that you know what the fundamental steps of project management entails. If you don’t, then, yes, the tool is useless. Don’t even get me started with people using Microsoft Project to draw up an impressive schedule with Gantt chart and all, print it out, pass it to the entire project team and never to touch Microsoft Project again.

    Anyway, here are some alternatives to consider:

    A tool I recommend to my clients to view MS Project files if they don’t have MS Project is AdeptTracker Viewer– it is a free MS Project file viewer.

  3. Communication Tool Other than E-Mail
    I have tried and used a wide array of communication tools but I want to narrow it down to the following tools that I use:
    • Skype: Great instant messaging tool that works on various platforms and devices. I can access my skype account on my computer and mobile phone. More importantly, all messages are logged and archived.
    • YouMail: Let’s just say this is voicemail on steroids. It is a free voicemail tool that can be used as a replacement for your mobile phones’ voicemail. All voicemails are stored, can be transcribed and sent as an e-mail, searchable and also has visual voicemail feature even if you don’t have an IPhone with an AT&T contract.
    • Twitter: Great tool for communicating with the project team because messages can be sent and received using e-mail, the web, or short messaging system (SMS) from your mobile phone. Most importantly, messages sent and received are archived.

  4. Information Lookup Tool
    How many times have you been stumped because you have a some kind of question related to project management “I wonder what’s the best way to estimate effort on a software development project?” or a very specific question related to activities in the project like “I wonder what is the flight status of the plane I am going to catch for the project turn over?”. Well, my dear friend, I have just the perfect tools for you:
    • LinkedIn Q&A: I know LinkedIn is primarily used as a networking tool, but let me tell you, I have found great wisdom in a lot of the Project Management Q&A.
    • Google SMS: Imagine being able to access Google to pull up information you need to manage projects WITHOUT internet access? All you need is SMS on your mobile device and you are good to go. You can find information like flight status, weather, driving directions, stick quotes, etc.

  5. Calendar Synchronization Tool
    Milestones. Deadlines. Delivery Schedule. Time and dates are hands down the driving force in every project. How can we effectively support meeting these dates? I have seen project managers entering dates into scheduling tools like Microsoft Project, then entering it again into personal calendar tools like Microsoft Outlook and then typing it again onto an e-mail to broadcast it the the entire team. Very productive use of time, don’t you think? NOT!Google Calendar has resolved a lot of the double entry issue for me because:
    • I can share it with the entire project team and they can enter their availability as well
    • It synchronizes with my calendar software (Mac ICal)
    • Most importantly, it can send automated reminders via e-mail or SMS. Woohoo!
Ok, hopefully I have opened your mind to the possibility of maybe, just maybe, improving not only your personal efficiency as a project manager but your whole project team as well.

3 thoughts on “5 Essential Tools for Project Management

  1. Dux,
    Good Stuff! But I’m still not sure how to avoid entering Milestones into both MS Project and my Outlook calendar. I also followed one of your videos where you described synchronizing the Team calendar in SharePoint with my personal Outlook calendar. Unfortunately, this feature appears to be disabled by our corporate guys…. Anyways, I’m still thinking that I have to enter a Milestone 3 times!!! Any ideas on this?

  2. Google Voice can do exactly what YouMail does for communication and in addtion, it converts voice messages into text and sends them to you via email or text or both. Still have everything on the server as well

    I use GoogleVoice instead of my cellphone voice mail and it’s great! Try it…

  3. Dux, I’ve been through the four PM posts: I’ve really appreciated your contribution. You have found a good tradeoff between being synthetic and giving a complete picture about how to manage a project. Thanks!

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