Project management software is a term covering many types of software, including estimation and planning, scheduling, cost control and budget management, resource allocation, collaboration software, communication, quality management and documentation or administration systems, which are used to deal with the complexity of large projects.
One of the most common purposes is to schedule a series of events or tasks and the complexity of the schedule can vary considerably depending on how the tool is used. Some common challenges include:
- Events which depend on one another in different ways or dependencies
- Scheduling people to work on, and resources required by, the various tasks, commonly termed resource scheduling
- Dealing with uncertainties in the estimates of the duration of each task
Project planning software can be expected to provide information to various people or stakeholders, and can be used to measure and justify the level of effort required to complete the project(s). Typical requirements might include:
- Tasks lists for people, and allocation schedules for resources
- Overview information on how long tasks will take to complete
- Early warning of any risks to the project
- Information on workload, for planning holidays
- Historical information on how projects have progressed, and in particular, how actual and planned performance are related
- Optimum utilization of available resource
The following may apply in general, or to specific products, or to some specific functions within products.
- May not be derived from a sound project management method. For example, displaying the Gantt chart view by default encourages users to focus on timed task scheduling too early, rather than identifying objectives, deliverables and the imposed logical progress of events (dig the trench first to put in the drain pipe).
- May be inconsistent with the type of project management method. For example, traditional (e.g. Waterfall) vs. agile (e.g. Scrum).
- Focuses primarily on the planning phase and does not offer enough functionality for project tracking, control and in particular plan-adjustment. There may be excessive dependency on the first paper print-out of a project plan, which is simply a snapshot at one moment in time. The plan is dynamic; as the project progresses the plan must change to accommodate tasks that are completed early, late, re-sequenced, etc. Good management software should not only facilitate this, but assist with impact assessment and communication of plan changes.
- Does not make a clear distinction between the planning phase and post planning phase, leading to user confusion and frustration when the software does not behave as expected. For example, shortening the duration of a task when an additional human resource is assigned to it while the project is still being planned.
- Offer complicated features to meet the needs of project management or project scheduling professionals, which must be understood in order to effectively use the product. Additional features may be so complicated as to be of no use to anyone. Complex task prioritization and resource leveling algorithms for example can produce results that make no intuitive sense, and overallocation is often more simply resolved manually.
- Some people may achieve better results using simpler technique, (e.g. pen and paper), yet feel pressured into using project management software by company policy.
- Similar to PowerPoint, project management software might shield the manager from important interpersonal contact.
- New types of software are challenging the traditional definition of Project Management. Frequently, users of project management software are not actually managing a discrete project. For instance, managing the ongoing marketing for an already-released product is not a “project” in the traditional sense of the term; it does not involve management of discrete resources working on something with a discrete beginning/end. Groupware applications now add “project management” features that directly support this type of workflow-oriented project management. Classically-trained Project Managers may argue whether this is “sound project management.” However, the end-users of such tools will refer to it as such, and the de-facto definition of the term Project Management may change.
- When there are multiple larger projects, project management software can be very useful. Nevertheless, one should probably not use management software if only a single small project is involved, as management software incurs a larger time-overhead than is worthwhile.