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In the last week, I have returned from a short but active and energizing vacation. I toured a zero waste recycling company, waited interminably for the construction on a bridge to provide a passing lane, attended a non-profit function, and began the task of preparing for the holidays, replete with multiple family dinners and the traditional visit from Santa Claus.

Projects, projects, and more projects – everywhere I turned I saw folks using “project management.” But it made me think…. What are the most important factors to consider when picking a project management tool?

Who is going to be doing the project?  
Getting ready for Santa’s annual descent down the chimney to sprinkle the family room with toys is a project, no doubt.  But, it is a project that is largely planned and executed in secret by a team of one or two.

The project to evaluate switching from dual stream recycling to single stream recycling is more likely completed by a small team of players who bring multiple and varied skills to the table.

Organizing a roller derby bout or re-building a bridge both involve a large number of players and companies providing goods or services.

Planning is essential but working with volunteers is very different from working with paid employees, and different strategies and tools are likely to result in differing levels of success.

If a team is completing your project, understand the team dynamics and look for a tool that your team will enjoy using.

What kinds of communications are important? 
Not all organizations or people view communications equally. Some value frequent, effective and robust messages.

At another extreme are project managers who avoid communications because they might reveal ineffectiveness or scheduling delays.

In non-profit work, when teams are relying on volunteers, it can be challenging to get folks to even read e-mails.

And on some projects, secrecy may be paramount.

Defining the communication needs of the different stakeholders on a project is a basic project management requirement, but what should be done with that information? How might early estimations involve your selection of a project management tool?

Too often, stakeholder communication requirements, if discovered, are not stored in a fashion that is usable during the execution of the project, resulting in communication problems that distract the team or worse yet, sideline the project.

Generally speaking, project tools that provide open communications improve accountability and effectiveness.

Project tools that provide open communications improve accountability and effectiveness. Share on X

Is the project predicable and linear?  
Bridge construction is not a new phenomenon and the individual activities are essentially predictable and linear.   Constructing a schedule, in the form of a Gantt chart, is relatively achievable, and the finished project schedule is manageable.

But what happens when the activities on your project have never been done before, or at least, haven’t been done with your team? How can one estimate reliable durations when no one knows how long the activities will take? How does the need for flexibility impact your effort?

Managing a schedule that is developed for such a project is largely an ineffective use of time. When flexibility is important, empowering a team to function effectively will likely be more cost efficient than time spent managing to an unreliable schedule.

No one tool will work for every kind of project. But that shouldn’t stop any organization from assessing its project portfolio, and investing in a tool that will effectively support most of its projects.

The value from having all projects managed in one tool, particularly if it is designed to manage the kinds of projects that are routinely undertaken in the organization, outweighs the disadvantages of using multiple tools, and depriving the organization of a project portfolio dashboard.

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Photo Credit; Santa Claus by Keith Allison; CC BY-SA 2.0;