Gaining agility in the mental gymnasium of project management software

Here’s one for the number crunchers out there: An estimated 40 million people on the planet use Microsoft Excel for project management. As a percentage of the total number of people who must use PCs, it’s probably not a huge number, but as a percentage of the total number of dedicated project management

applications sold, it makes Excel the most popular project management product on the market today.

When you look at project management packages, two things quickly become apparent: They are feature-rich and they require some level of expertise to get the most out of them. How many of us are using less than 25 per cent of the functionality of our PM software? Have PM software vendors missed the mark? Are packages such as Microsoft Project too complicated to be successful?

Not that long ago, PM software vendors used to think the fundamental problem in the market was lack of training. If only users were intelligent enough to understand what we could do for them, they’d surely implement an integrated high-end system. Training, we all thought, was the best answer. The market taught us different. It turned out users didn’t want to be trained to use more complicated systems; they wanted systems that were easier.

The first wave of this has really reached its maturity level. The domination of Microsoft Project as a desktop tool was largely successful because of how users could produce their first results with the product quickly.

The next wave of PM software is underway. Now, enterprise systems from numerous vendors are splitting the user experience between a fully functional desktop tool and a much, much easier to use Web-based interface. It’s true these systems involve more work to deploy, but the end results can be amazing in an organization that must manage multiple projects with numerous resources.

The newfound interest in the Project Management Maturity Model lends itself perfectly to these systems as the model is all about moving from ad-hoc project management to an integrated process. But this leaves out the 40 million people using Excel. There’s still a huge market for project managers who are most effective when working in an ad-hoc manner and have no desire to operate in an integrated view.

While meeting with Fujitsu Consulting last week, one of their managers used the term “”agile”” project management. There is no doubt a significant market exists for a project system that is even simpler than Microsoft’s offering. It would have to be low-cost, stunningly easy to use and would have to be able to go from insert disk to useful output in a period measured in minutes, not weeks.

I realize there are already products trying to target this market (Milestone comes to mind), but these 40 million users are still not finding something that makes a sensible return on investment for them, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more attacks on this end of the market over the next year or two.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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