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Finding the Perfect Tools Balance

As project managers we are tasked with many jobs – planning your project, assigning tasks, getting and providing progress updates, managing risks and issues to name a few. To effectively manage or even just keep track of all this information we make use of (often) a myriad of tools.

I have yet to see an all-encompassing tool that “does it all” for us however it is vitally important that whatever suite of tools you select to help you out that they perform as you need them to. In this article I will go through the key areas that I try to automate as best I can to help do my job effectively.

High Level Project Forecasting (Budget & Schedule)

While I’m not a huge proponent of MS Project, it does have its strong features, one of which is its ability to quickly provide a high level forecast for both budget and schedule. When putting together a proposal, I find this tool very valuable in being able to create a set of tasks, dependencies and estimates to come up with a budgetary project plan that can be submitted to a prospect or client. You can set your individual resource rates, observe calendar outages (Christmas is one that we often neglect in terms of forecasting downtime) and have sliding schedules – if you structure it right – to show some what-if scenarios (i.e. if the client signs by Date X, you will deliver on Date Y).

Tactical Task Management & Collaboration

MS Project is not a tactical task management tool. I have tried and tried but on its own I don’t believe that MS Project can do an effective job of assigning low-level tasks (what I call “tactical”) and getting proper updates from your team. The tool, whatever is selected needs to be able to allow your team to collaborate, and by that I mean provide updates to the team on where progress is at with the task, what roadblocks they are facing as well as schedule and budget impacts (i.e. how much time do they need to complete the task and when will it be done). Having a tool that allows sharing of this information is a great value-add to any professional services team. Some tools out there that one could look at include Asana, Wrike and of course SharePoint. Whatever tool is selected will need to be accepted and embraced by the team so some change management should be expected when selecting a new tool for this area.

Financials Comparison and Projections

Being a numbers junkie this is probably my favourite area. As you’ve probably elicited from other articles I love using Excel for this type of task. With the flexibility of the tool there is really no equivalent out there that provides the ability to take a base set of numbers (your raw data) and chop, slice, dice and mix to provide your target audience (usually executive sponsorship) the information they need in an easily understandable fashion. With the wide acceptance of Excel as the leading tool for any type of numbers analytics it doesn’t make sense (to me anyways) to go with anything else.

Issue & Risk Management

Issue and Risk Management is not as fluid as something like tactical task management however a good project manager will always keep their finger on the pulse of these two items. Having a repository that is easily editable and shareable among stakeholders is vital. I typically like to use SharePoint (they have out-of-the-box lists set up for these). You can easily create and edit items, have historical comments to show the progression of your items as well as easily incorporate them into an offline status report (SharePoint does a great job in being able to export data for a one-time snapshot).

I hope this has given you a good sense of what we project managers need to use a variety of tools for in our day to day jobs. The pot of gold is that one “unicorn” tool that does it all for us but until that comes along, I hope the suggestions I’ve given you here today will help you in your project management work.

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