Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's About More Than the Tools

Tools are great in the project management world. I dare say they’re a necessity if you want to get your tasks done in a timely manner. And doing things in a timely manner is critical if we want to stay on track and on budget.

But really, the tools we use can be anything…depending on the size of the project and the complexity of reporting. You can actually manage a project with only Excel or similar spreadsheet software as your only PM tool if you have to (though probably only on very small projects) – using it for managing tasks and timeframes in the project schedule, managing resource assignments, and definitely the budget. I use it all the time to manage the project budget – including analysis and forecasting on a weekly basis. But I’d never use it on a big project or a critical project. I’m a fan of real project scheduling software like MS Project, Project Drive, or a similar tool. They’ll get the job done faster, better, more accurately and more efficiently and they have reporting built in to the tool – which will make your executive management and customer much happier and your job much much easier.

But project management doesn’t stop with the tools, does it? In fact, it’s really not about the tools. You don’t have to spend the big project dollars on the tools – you can do it fairly inexpensively as pointed out above. But the big dollars are spent on the personnel resources and the tasks they undertake and the time they spend on the project. It’s about project skills and the actual management of the project itself as well as the leadership used in managing the project resources. It’s about project best practices.

Project management, as a whole is really about…


Your team and your customer need consistent behavior. You need to hold project status meetings at the same time every week (yes, every week), you need to deliver weekly status reports in advance of that project status meeting with your team and your customer, and you need to be holding internal meetings with your team every week to get updates and hold them accountable. The project manager who regularly postpones or cancels meetings is not displaying consistency and will find it hard to demand consistency from his own team throughout the project.

Best practices

Using best practices – whatever you and your organization define as best practices – is the responsibility of the project manager. Doing things like using repeatable processes and templates that work, conducting formal project status meetings and reviews, planning out the project budget and reforecasting it to stay on top of it on a weekly basis, and managing project scope closely against the project requirements are all a few examples of project management best practices. These are the responsibility of the project manager and using them is a way to display good project leadership and a way to help ensure ongoing project successes.


Finally, project management is about leadership. If a project manager can’t be a strong project leader, then he’s not bringing much to the project table. Sound, swift, and confident decision-making, efficient and effective communication and customer management, consistent behavior and delivery on project milestones and deliverables are all examples of good project management leadership and are all the responsibility of the project manager.


Tools are a necessary part of the project management process. But they don’t guarantee success and they don’t ‘make’ the project manager. If the project manager can practice consistency, utilize best practices, and show project leadership, then his days as a project manager are likely numbered. PM is much more about the soft skills than just the use of tools.

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