Part 5: If projects are like gasoline – PM Tools with Hybrid Octane

In the past four posts, I have talked about project management tools and requirements for various size projects, from small projects, supported part-time by three or four people, to large complex efforts involving 10’s to 100’s of people. The metaphor I choose to talk about the different project management and tool options was “gasoline for cars with the octane contained in different types of gasoline”. Higher octane equals more power and greater cost.  I can say that the choices and number of products on the market is huge in 2012 – it is like going to a gas pump and seeing 5 or 6 choices of octane not just 3!

In this final post of the series, I would like to talk about a hybrid approach to tools for organizations.  Organizations usually have multiple types and sizes of projects, each having unique needs for capturing requirements, monitoring status and reporting — noting that all projects need support for communication and artifact storage. For organizations with multiple types of projects, I would recommend a collaborative tool suite that can handle all sizes of projects without a lot of training.  I prefer Microsoft® SharePoint® because it works equally well with all types of projects.  It also works well with small project management tools, like Excel, and with complex tools for large projects, such as Microsoft® Project Server.

Although I appreciate SharePoint’s flexibility and scalability, I find the major value addition from this server-based software to be its support for collaboration among team members and across projects or portfolios of projects. Besides working transparently with dedicated project management tools, SharePoint provides a content management system that supports a web-based collaboration environment and a way to capture and process data in lists and forms.

For example, SharePoint® facilitates team-level information sharing using a web-based browser for communicating between or among team members as well as keeping all project documents immediately available. With the addition of content management systems, project documents can be searched and controlled intelligently for the right piece of data or problem resolution guidance contained in the project or organization-wide document library.

Another feature of this type of “hybrid tool” is that you can create project team sites to allow easy access to critical information using no more than a web browser.

Because the project information is housed on a shared server, access can be controlled to provide individuals with only the information they want or need to see. Therefore, the project management office or portfolio manager can view summary of information on projects, while the project manager can drill down to the detailed information needed for day-to-day management.

Of course the addition of a project tool like MS Project or Microsoft Project Server can add additional functionality to a project, but those tools can still allow for the basic collaboration being done inside of SharePoint and office tools.  Therefore smaller projects can use the basic collaboration without the rigor and overhead required by most complex project management tools.

So let’s summarize this hybrid tool:
Pros for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. Uses Web browser (Everyone can access)
  2. User training minimal – ease of use
  3. Central repository for all information – can allow sharing of information across all projects
  4. Works well with other tools (MS Office, Project, Project Server)
  5. Permission based access – can manage who sees what information

Cons for Microsoft SharePoint:

  1. More cost  than just purchasing desktop tools (Initial setup and on-going administration required)
  2. No central resource pool – unless you add a tool like Microsoft Project Server you don’t get a picture or forecast of staff/resource requirements in a central database
  3. Requires more infrastructure – network, server, SQL database

As I finish this series of Fear No Project posts on tailoring project management tools to the size and complexity of the project, I want to express my appreciation to all of those professionals who commented on their experience and recommended the tools they use successfully. We all get up the project management hill a bit faster with the support of knowledgeable peers.

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