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How to Make Project Management Software More Efficient

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Why do projects fail? You can cite a lot of factors like constrained budget, lack of resources and unmet deadlines. But when you get to the bottom of these reasons you’ll find that it all boils down to one thing: inefficiency. Constrained budget is a symptom of a failure to forecast or manage expenses, while lack of resources and unmet deadlines paint a picture of an inept project leader.

Project management systems today are designed to increase efficiency with automation, workflows, and dashboards. But they are enablers more than a guarantee of efficiency. It is not enough to have a powerful project management software; you need to know how to utilize it.

In this article, we’ll show you the techniques on how to make project management software more efficient. Whether you have an existing system or planning to get one, these seven tips should help you maximize it as an asset:

The good news is there are fewer project fails today, according to the study by the Project Management Institute – Pulse of the Profession 2018: Success in Disruptive Times. The organization breaks down success rates into the following KPIs:

Credits: PMI – Project Performance Metrics

But as can be gleaned from the chart, many projects still fail to meet their original goals/business intent. There’s much room for improvement and one critical area is optimizing your project management system.

For instance, if you are using the powerful and intuitive Wrike project management software you should know how to use it to the fullest; otherwise, you’re undervaluing an asset.

Let’s get down to the details on how to optimize project management systems.

How to Make Project Management Software More Efficient

1. Know what you need

The first step on how to make project management software more efficient has nothing to do with the software and has everything to do with your requirements. The latter, after all, dictate the software’s user adoption success, that is, if it meets your needs.

So, before getting any of these best 10 project management software you got to have a plan first. Foremost, you should ask: what are my project requirements? There are many factors to consider, let’s point out the most critical requirements:

  1. Methodology. What are you using? Many software programs are designed for a primary methodology, even as they are flexible to adapt to other project methods. Aside from the traditional approach, some of the popular methodologies include Agile, Waterfall, Critical Path, Scrum and Six Sigma. You can find out more about project management methodologies here.
  2. Vertical vs. general. Project management software has evolved from an all-in-one platform into vertical solutions. Today, you have a range of niche choices for a variety of industries such as construction, creatives, retail, and software development. Whilst it is recommended to choose a vertical solution because it has features for your specific needs, a general platform is a better option if you deal with a wide array of project types.
  3. Project size. The complexity of your project also dictates the kind of software you will need. Here, project management systems can be classified into two broad categories: lightweight vs. enterprise. For short-term small projects (ex. website development, creative campaign), many SaaS project management apps are ideal. They have affordable plans and can scale to your changing needs. For complex projects (ex. construction, system development), an enterprise solution may be better since they are equipped with more advanced modules like resource management, issue tracking, project hierarchy, and workforce management.
    Project size is also determined whether you are managing one or multiple projects. Many enterprise systems have project portfolio features that help you to shuffle from one project to another, correlate their requirements, share resources and, generally, allow you to stay on top of simultaneous projects.
  4. Who will use the system? Are the users novice or experts? Do they have a technical background or none? The safety baseline is to consider a project management system that is intuitive and with plenty of self-help tools. But it doesn’t mean that is your best option, always. If your users are developers, a system that allows for coding may not be a weakness, rather, a strength for deep customization.
  5. What is the best pricing? Finally, price matters, not just the cost itself but the terms. In general, look for flexible pricing, especially for short-term projects. You wouldn’t want to be paying for one year or a perpetual license for a project that runs for three months only.

Ease of use is critical to user adoption. Dashboards should be neat, clear and intuitive, as we see here with a Wrike sprint board.

2. Have a working process

Having a clear workflow makes it easy to see how the project management software fits into the picture and where it can make a huge difference. A workflow helps you stick to project goals and spot bottlenecks easily, the latter being where a system can greatly help. Many systems feature smart alerts and real-time feed and boards that show things to do, doing, done or missed. You can only optimize these features if you know where to apply them.

A typical project follows five phases: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring/Control, and Closure. Although you may have a customized workflow, it should have phases with clear-cut milestones. These milestones can be broken down into tasks and subtasks, each one has their own sub-goal and owners. Project management software is designed to associate tasks with owners and plot the deadline on a calendar. They alert you on the status of a task, either in your inbox or via an activity feed. A project management system prevents tasks from being missed and, in case of a delay, can be set to automatically adjust deliverables across the project timeline. Again, these awesome features can only be realized to the fullest if you have a clear workflow.

Furthermore, your workflow defines the type of project management software. Many systems are built for agile projects, while others for scrum. Still, others target traditional projects, so it’s important to have a clear working process.

In general, here are the things to consider when mapping your workflow:

  • Project scope and timeline
  • Project methodology
  • Key people and resources
  • Deliverables
  • Tasks and subtasks
  • KPIs and metrics

A clear workflow doesn’t mean to always include all the five phases. For well-structured and simple projects, a clear layout of tasks and subtasks is enough, as seen here on a Monday hierarchy of tasks.

3. Map communication protocols

Today’s project management solutions feature real-time communication tools like IM chats, team inbox, activity news feed and video conferencing. They allow your team to call, email or @mention each other, as a group or individual message anywhere and anytime. The difference with email, project management communication tools place all messages and conversations in one location, so retrieval is easy using smart filters.

But, however great these tools, they need to be used properly. You need to impose a communication plan to ensure consistency and transparency. For example, using @mention to identify the recipient in a group chat or notifying the immediate superior for task accomplishments with a clearly stated deliverable.

These tools are enablers of effective communication, but the communication process itself has underlying factors that a project leader must understand. A PMI paper explains these elements in detail, which include:

  • Roles of sender and receiver
  • Right medium for different message types
  • Clarity of message
  • Importance of feedback
  • Impact of noise
  • Context is key

Social network-like activity feed as the one you’ll find in Wrike is a big plus for team communication; everybody is familiar with this tool.

4. Identify the core and future features

This is the part where you start poking into the key functions of different project management software.

The most efficient way to compare project management solutions is to start reading industry guides (you can check our top 20 project management tools here). The guide links you up at once with the top options in the industry so you can compare their features. So, what should you consider?

Below are the standard features to look for, meaning, the smallest project will require these tools. In general, the more sophisticated a feature is, the more complex the system and, likely, the higher pricing is.

  1. Project planning and calendar. This allows you to set priorities and deadlines, assign tasks and set notifications. It should also be capable of automatically adjusting the schedule for delays or incidents.
  2. Time tracking. It helps you monitor team productivity and ensures you pay exactly for the work hours rendered, no more no less.
  3. Automation. The software should be able to automate mundane and repetitive tasks. These include team notifications, quotations, reporting, and synchronization.
  4. Collaboration and communication. There must be plenty of options to communicate and work in real time, especially if you have remote teams. Collaboration tools include file sharing, versioning, group calendar, activity stream, team, and individual workspaces and team dashboards.
  5. Project budgeting. Costing is essential to project success. This tool helps you forecast expenses and avoid stalling the project for lack of funds.
  6. Quote and invoicing. Another important tool, this feature ensures you don’t over- or under-quote and that billing matches your deliverables.
  7. Reporting. Most software comes with on-demand reporting, automated reporting, and KPI dashboards. You may need all or just a couple of these features. KPI dashboards are especially helpful to give you a quick overview of how the project is performing. Using charts and timelines, these dashboards deliver insights that spot bottlenecks, critical junctions, and accurate forecasting.

KPI dashboards like we see here in Clarizen help you to get a quick insight on important data.

You should also consider the general features to future-proof the system. These include:

  1. Ease of use. You may need to onboard new members in the future, so make sure the learning curve is low.
  2. Integration. A new system or app may be needed to be integrated with the project management software. In this case, make sure your solution provides an open API so you can configure the integration.
  3. Customization. You may need to change the workflow or adopt a different project management methodology. Can the system adapt to these changes?
  4. Scalability. As your business grows and your project becomes more complex or numerous, your project management system should be able to cope with.

If you are yet to decide on software we highly recommend giving Wrike a try; after analyzing dozens of project management solutions, our expert reviewers concluded that Wrike has one of the most intuitive and powerful feature sets in the market. You can easily sign up for a Wrike free trial here.

Wrike

This award is given to the best product in our project management software category. It highlights its superior quality and underlines the fact that it's a leader on the market.

Wrike won our Best Project Management Software Award 2018

Our score
9.7
User satisfaction
99%

5. Get everyone on board

User adoption is critical to a software rollout and the same goes with implementing your project management system. You can classify four user types for every new system: ambassadors, early adopters, slow adopters, and resisters. By knowing who these are in your team you can implement the proper measures.

  1. Ambassadors. This should be you and perhaps a few of your members. As an ambassador, you should promote the benefits of the system to senior management and be the go-to person for your team when it comes to using the software. So, it is important that you learn the software’s ropes first before getting your team on board. If you have other ambassadors in the team deputize them with more responsibility. Employees feel motivated when they are given key roles to play.
  2. Early adopters. Some of your team members will be fast learners, but they won’t be as active as the ambassadors to promote the new system. Rather, you can learn a few things from them, perhaps, an unused feature or process that they have discovered. So listen closely to them.
  3. Slow adopters. Some team members will fall behind in learning the tools. This is normal, so make sure you provide an ample room in the project calendar for slow adopters to catch up with the rest. You can organize the ambassadors and early adopters as an ad hoc team to provide support to slow adopters.
  4. Resisters. These are the most problematic users and the best approach is to put your foot down by instituting a compliance policy. Their resistance is mostly caused by attitude or force of habit, not skills or learning curve.

6. Automate what can be automated

We’ve discussed automation as a key feature above but it deserves its own highlight. Why? Because it is one of the great benefits of project management software, one that will elevate your efficiency as the project leader.

How does automation work in project management system? In general, tasks that are mundane, repetitive and predictive can be automated. These can be the following:

  1. Admin tasks. Includes onboarding new members, time tracking, creating minutes, scheduling meetings and tracking expenses. These tasks eat a major chunk of your time; once automated, you are free to focus on project deliverables.
  2. Reporting. Some reporting tasks that can be automated including budget reports, team performance evaluation, milestone reports, compliance reports, and KPI measurement. Robust project management solutions like Wrike can automatically aggregate various project data points (no. of tasks, completed, pending, timeline, task owners, etc.) and display them as charts to help you easily visualize project status.
  3. Quotes and invoicing. If you have a recurring project, you can automate quotations and billing by using templates. Doing so gives you more than just free time, but ensure you respond fast to client queries and guarantee the accuracy of your invoices. Your project management software should allow the centralization of these documents, where they are easily retrieved for reference.
  4. Notifications and alerts. Automation allows you to get timely notifications so you can act on urgent issues. It also ensures nothing falls into cracks because someone forgot to send an alert. Project management software lets you set alerts at global, project and task level. Alerts can also be set by role, group, and email address. The typical things you need to be notified include completed tasks, overdue tasks, project milestones, team activities, emails, and reminders.
  5. File sharing. Most projects deal with documents that need to be shared with the group. This process can usually be automated by creating a group and setting all file uploads as shared documents. Users need not key in email addresses every time they attach a file.
  6. Resource management. For more complex projects, a resource management module is a must. This feature shows which shared resources (ex. creatives, conference room, laptops, company car) are in use by who and for how long. The module typically features an online request form that fast-tracks the approval process and warns users for conflict in schedules.
  7. Approval workflow. If you have a repetitive approval process this, too, can be automated. A few examples are: authorizing a check release based on automated billing; moving the next task after a precedent task has been met; and signaling your receipt of meeting minutes or a report. There is no need to meet the team just to give the go signal. A mobile project management app, for example, is handy to keep the project moving even if you are out of town.

7. Get all the training you can get

Lastly, don’t forget to tap vendor support and its training resources. Don’t skimp on training even how intuitive the software is. Often, users will stop at using the basic features once they got the hang of the system. Again, this is underutilizing an asset. Many vendors have a knowledge bank, an active community, case studies and plenty of video tutorials that teach you the best practices in using their software. Likewise, a SaaS solution is usually updated regularly, so make sure to incorporate training in your project schedule as an ongoing event.

A good habit is to subscribe to a vendor’s onboarding tutorials if this is available. These tutorials are short but put you on the right footing, gradually introducing you from the basics to the more advanced features. If necessary, you should subscribe your team to a vendor’s support session plan so everybody is on the same page.

Conclusion

Getting a great project management software goes beyond going for the most robust or complete system. It all depends on your project requirements, business size, resources, and underlying company culture. The above tips on how to make project management software more efficient add plus points to your project success rate.

You can give Wrike a try to start implementing our tips above. Wrike can scale to any business size and adapt to a variety of methodologies. Simply sign up for a Wrike free trial here

Project management doesn’t come siloed, it also requires other key systems like accounting. If you are a small business and want to know your top options here you can read our top 20 accounting solutions for small business in 2019.

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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