What Would an Ideal Project Management Tool Look Like?

September 17, 2008 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Computer Based Information Systems,Latest Trends,Project Collaboration

What Would an Ideal Project Management Tool Look Like?
By Andrew Filev

Experienced project managers know how inefficient traditional project management applications can be.

Let’s analyze the drawbacks of traditional tools and then picture how an ideal tool should be able to overcome the problems connected with them and make project managers more productive.

The need for transparency

Organization leaders often don’t have adequate visibility of their internal operations. This is due to misalignment of strategic plans, quarterly plans, project plans and daily to-do lists of team members. All of these elements should be a part of one master plan to provide a real-time view of what is going on in the organization. An ideal tool should be able to easily merge all these parts into a bigger picture. With the help of such a tool, daily to-do lists should emerge into project plans. Projects should lead to achieving strategic goals.

The ideal project management tool should let teams interact in the project management environment, turn their input into shared plans and allow them to update plans when necessary. The plans should be automatically merged into a bigger picture, and changes in the schedule should be immediately available to everyone on the team to see. This way, input from the bottom of the organizational tree can be effectively combined with the guidance and control from the top. Together, the top-down and bottom-up approaches to project management allow companies to become more agile and productive. Then the whole structure is transparent and can be traced from a quarterly goal to a daily task of a team member. This is the real-time visibility into a company that lets corporate executives lead their business in the right direction.

Getting rid of excessive routine jobs

Today, the project manager is the center of all project communications. It’s his or her duty to compile status updates through e-mails and meetings and put them together like pieces of a puzzle. Then the project manager must input the mix of change requests coming from stakeholders and outside business environments, then manually update the plans email the updates to team members, report the progress to the upper management and remind employees about due dates and overdue tasks. This painful process is then repeated on a daily basis, slowing down project managers and organizations.

The ideal tool should eliminate a big chunk of this routine. Here’s what the whole daily routine should look like. The tool e-mails people about due dates and overdue tasks, so there’s no need for the project manager to spend time and energy on that. When tasks are done, employees simply click on a link in the reminder e-mail to set tasks as complete. The information that the task is complete goes directly into the shared workspace, so there is no more need to gather status updates through meetings and e-mails, and there’s no need to copy this information from e-mails to project files. E-mail notifications keep people on the same page, so the project manager doesn’t need to send additional messages about the updates. Stakeholders have direct access to reports and schedules updated in the real-time, so there is no need for them to pull that information from the project manager. It’s on their fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the globe. So what’s left for the project manager? Guidance and leadership. They can stop doing the daily, routine tasks and focus on making the whole process more productive, effective and enjoyable for all participants.

E-mail integration

Another big problem of traditional project management tools is that information often bypasses them in e-mails. It’s counterproductive and boring to manually copy updates from e-mails to another software application. This is the reason people often skip this procedure, leaving the plans outdated. There’s little value in obsolete plans. So all the complex scheduling features of traditional project management software often become useless in reality, especially in multi-project and agile environments where the schedule evolves over time.

The ideal project management tool should bring e-mail communications into the collaborative project management environment automatically. E-mail integration is as important as the ability to let team members update project plans themselves. A big part of the manager’s routine tasks will then be taken away, leaving more time for leadership and strategic thinking.


Having examined all the constraints connected with the use of the traditional project management software, we are now able to draw a complete picture of an ideal project management tool.

An ideal project management tool unleashes the power of collaboration and lets employees contribute to the planning and tracking process. At the same time, it lets project managers control changes and keep track of the progress. The project manager guides the team’s work based on the most up-to-date information.

The ideal tool is simple, agile and inexpensive. It is used by the whole company from top managers to rank-and-file employees.

Most importantly, the ideal project management tool helps companies gain an important competitive advantage by being able to see though all the internal operations and react quickly to changes in the business environment. The adoption of such a tool will then be to everybody’s benefit.

Since 2001, Andrew Filev has been managing software teams in a global environment. His technical expertise and his management vision are reflected in online and offline articles that have had hundreds of thousands of readers. His ideas on new trends in project management are published in Project Management 2.0 blog.

Andrew’s innovative ideas and passion to improve project management tools are applied in Wrike, a leading online project management solution. Andrew now leads the company as a founder and CEO.

12 people have left comments

Anyone out there using HP (was Mercury) PPM? I have heard good things about it, but am curious to hear real-world accounts of the tool’s strengths/weaknesses…

Eric wrote on September 23, 2008 - 11:32 am | Visit Link

Centralization is a key aspect of a good project management tool. As suggested in this article, keeping everyone on your team in constant collaboration will keep projects moving forward in an efficient manner.

John wrote on October 6, 2008 - 2:06 pm | Visit Link

Eric – recent user of PPM and found it to be a very configurable and effective tool. You can integrate MS Project schedules for tracking purposes. PPM will tell you, based on the project schedule status, your project health in financial, risk, tracking and change management terms.

We also used PPM as the principal system of record for IT Management of all our intake (projects as well as enhancements and production support requests). In that sense, it was a total information system that enabled us to take control over the broad work load of the division.

I now work with a company that uses Primavera and it isn’t as robust nor is the company utilizing the tool to its’ maximum potential. Would love to bring PPM in here as I could see big opportunities for improvement with that solution.

Take care –

Rob wrote on October 16, 2008 - 7:38 am | Visit Link

Thanks for stopping by our blog. Grerat article!

Zach katkin wrote on February 13, 2009 - 2:39 pm | Visit Link

Would be web-based.
Installation on own server.
Free for 1-10 users.

Most of them are bad and with a catch, including the program you are lobbying for, sorry but a good and neutral blog with have a tons of replies with links to other solutions.

Hilda wrote on September 30, 2009 - 3:47 am | Visit Link

Hi Hilda,

PM Hut is not lobbying for any solution at all, PM Hut has always been neutral, and never ever publishes articles that are even slightly promotional to any PM tool, person, product, website, etc… The article does not name any tool specifically, nor implies it in any way. The bio section links to the author’s website (which is a PM tool), and his blog (which is a link to the blog about his tool).

As for the comments with links to other Project Management solutions, PM Hut does receive a lot of these, but just chooses not to publish most of them, since most of them claim to be people using a certain tool, and praising that tool (their name, of course, links back to the tool), while in fact they’re just employees (and in the case of smaller the solutions the owners) of the company producing that certain tool.

Thanks for the feedback and I hope I was able to clarify PM Hut’s stance concerning neutrality.

PM Hut wrote on September 30, 2009 - 6:22 am | Visit Link

Redmine and ClockingIT are great web based and free project management tools. ClockingIT also has a free web based hosted service. Both tools can be installed on your local servers and use ruby on rails.

vijay wrote on October 22, 2009 - 1:33 pm | Visit Link

My #1 requirement is ease of use! I’ve used a PM tool for some years which I like because it has all the features I need (almost) – but it frustrates me because I find the interface clumsy.

I am reviewing PM tools now to see if there is one I like. Most have great “looks” – but are very thin on features.

And the thing that truly amazes me is that ALL the ‘new’ PM tools continue the MS Project / Primavera style of editing the project via a Gantt chart – and only providing a precedence network. So often I see the remark that “the activity-on-node” is easier to understand. I absolutely do not agree with that. Rather, I think that most people are comfortable with it simply because (courtesy of Microsoft and Primavera) they have never used an arrow-on-node network and so they know no better.

I find that maintaining a project via the network diagram is unquestionably the most intuitive method.

Ron wrote on December 10, 2009 - 2:55 am | Visit Link

Thanks for a great blog posting. It highlights the frustration that many new PMs feel as they explore PM for the first time.

I work in a technical environment, and too often, because we’re technologists, the business tries to get tools to solve their process problems for them. Tools only facilitate process, they can’t replace process.

PM professionals sometimes fall into the same trap: trying to get tools to almost do the project management for us. I’m convinced that no tool can replace good process, but even a average-level tool, or set of tools, can provide decent support for a good process.

While I’m sure we can do better in the PM tool space, I’m almost convinced that we’ll never see “an ideal PM tool.” Instead, if we do PM well, we can find well-matched tools to support those processes and practices, and suddenly, those pre-existing tools will feel like the perfect tool.

Max Walker wrote on January 6, 2010 - 4:07 pm | Visit Link

A wall, static whitebard sheets, post its, some markers and a camera. Cheap, simple and more effective than 90% of the tools out there assuming the team is in one location.

Jay wrote on January 15, 2010 - 8:08 am | Visit Link

Hi Jay,

IMHO, your solution is good for a brainstorming meeting. How would you track and update a task using your scenario, even when it comes to small projects?

PM Hut wrote on January 15, 2010 - 9:46 am | Visit Link

I so much agree. The current focus on Project Management software is very much on collaboration. This is important, but only means a part of the work. I am spending a lot of time in effort-tracking and budgeting questions, especially doing the budget forecast (Estimation At Completion). Since I do Web-Development during my free-time I have combined both and developed: TRACKER.

It is not about collaboration, but about managing your budget. I am using a method similar to Liquid Planner by combining PERT and EVM for the calculation. So it might be seen as some small addition to the landscape of Project Management Tools.

I have no financial interest, but I would like to find out how to proceed. So if there is anybody out with ideas or wants to share his opinion, please don’t hesitate to contact me or to post a comment here.

Christian: http://www.project-tracking.org (pmsfriend@googlemail.com)

Christian wrote on November 9, 2010 - 5:25 pm | Visit Link

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