Project Management Tools: How Can They Help?

Project Management Tools How Can They HelpTo understand which project management tools would suit you best, you should first know what project management is. The project management methodology is quickly picking up attention due to its huge success in business. Segmenting everyday business operations into smaller progressions makes it easier to keep track of these operations. The segmented or smaller tasks are managed by one team; this helps identifying responsibility within a large corporation. These smaller tasks are often referred to as projects.

Projects are temporary endeavors conducted to create a unique product or service. These projects usually have a single definable purpose, are unique and have certain time and budget constraints.  Generally, it can also be said that projects are planned activities characterized by complexity, uniqueness, clarity, creativity and innovation. These projects work by using modern methods and different project management tools to improve their planning within the specified constraints of time, cost and resources.

Project phases from initiation to finalization are supervised by one manager. This eases the accountability factor (who’s in charge of what) within companies. Managing projects might seem easy from the outside: just following instructions and doing regular everyday work until project completion. However, most of these projects are relatively complex, meaning that a single project involves multidisciplinary teams and uses skills and talents from multiple professions & organizations.

Any project’s objectives are characterized by the acronym S.M.A.R.T, meaning:

S: Specific and clearly defined goals.
M: Goals and objectives of any project should be easily “Measurable.”
A: Goals of the project should be ambitious but not to the point that they are not attainable.
R: Objectives should not be pie in the sky ambitions, rather they should be more “Realistic.”
T: A project’s goals are time bound, meaning that they are limited to a certain time frame.

Project Management: It’s Not as Easy as It Looks

Average Joe businessman hears a trending new word “Project management,” says to himself “hey, I can do that,” goes into his company and conducts an early meeting. He starts by breaking down his company’s operations into smaller projects which proves that he at the least read something relevant. But that is is when it all goes out the window because this is obviously how far he had read. He starts handing out small projects: One to the human resources department, another to finance, one for manufacturing, marketing, sales etc.,.  All until he’s out of projects and employees to give projects to. A week later, Joe walks into his place of business and it is pandemonium. No deadlines were met, departments were at war with each other and less than 25% of the work was done.

Average Joe taught us a few valuable lessons about Project Management. The first being like the intro said: that project management tools are a complex undertaking. Secondly, a project requires talents and skills from different departments, backgrounds and professions. You don’t just lump pre-existing departments together.

Now we can talk about the right way to manage projects; but first we need to know what project management actually is. In simple terms project management is the science and art of solving the problem within predetermined time and resource parameters. As we said before, projects are given hard budget, time and resource limitations. A successful project manager should not only be able to complete the tasks, he/she should complete the project on time, within the budget and with respect to the resource limits.

A more technical definition of what project management actually is is: the methods used by the project manager and project team to initiate, plan, execute and control the project to reach a specific set of pre-agreed upon objectives and missions. This is done under a strict budget, time and resource limit. Herein lies the challenge: reaching the project’s goals while abiding by the  constraints set by upper management.

The four p’s of Project Management

Recent talks about the 4 P’s of project management have been rising. The 4 P’s attempt to describe the culture and environment of any Project and the way it’s managed.

  • The first P is for plan: Any actions conducted by the team that includes either forecasting or planning represent the first stage of any project; the stage where nothing tangible has materialized yet.
  • The second P is for processes: the word Processes here is used to describe all activities done by the team, the project management tools used and predetermined/well-structured tasks.
  • The third P is for People: The first and most important building block of any project is its team members. The most essential component of any endeavor and the heart of the project.
  • The fourth P is for Power: Power is represented through the management. The word power here represents the conclusive force, decision makers and all other chains of command.

Project Management Tools: What Are They?

If you’re reading this article and wandering “what are project management tools?”, then you’re in the right place. Project management is a complex endeavor with many challenges and complex procedures. Fortunately for project management enthusiasts, there are a number of tools that make life easier for all project managers and their teams. So what exactly are project management tools?

Project management tools are techniques or aids that simply help the project manager schedule, organize and evaluate the tasks at hand. Some require computer software, while others are simply scheduling and collaborating techniques that make workload division easier. Down to what’s important here, what are the different project management tools one can use

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The work breakdown structure provides a common outline for the development of the overall planning and control of a Project. WBS is also the source used for dividing the full work load into smaller and more definable increments. It is also used to make the schedule, cost, and labor hour reporting. It is an essential element in assessing the quality of a plan.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can take a variety of forms that serve a variety of purposes. It often appears as an outline with tasks. Think of work breakdown structure as a picture of the project; subdivided into hierarchical units of tasks, subtasks or work packages to make working on a project easier.

The WBS is an important document and can be tailored for use in a number of different ways. So what exactly does it help a Project manager do?

  • Think of Work break down structure as dividing a picture into a puzzle; the smaller puzzle pieces give you the big picture in the end. It shows how each puzzle piece contributes to the final picture in terms of performance, schedule,budget and responsibility.
  • A  large project will likely include dealings with various vendors or subcontractors.For easier responsibility assigning, the work breakdown structure lists all tasks assigned to those dealings.
  • It also helps in making close to accurate cost and time estimations.
  • It may also be used to document that all parties have signed off on their various commitments to the project.

One of the most important project management tools, the work breakdown structure technique is a great aid for assigning responsibility fairly and easily. How would one use the WBS technique to divide workload? Below are 6 easy steps to follow for an easier and more organized project management experience.

  1. From the bottom up and with the preliminary plan as a reference, break down all tasks required with enough detail to be able to monitor, budget, schedule and evaluate them separately.
  2. By listing all personnel or departments responsible for each work package, it will be easier to identify who’s doing what and when during the coordination of the project. Later when evaluating the overall success of the project, any mistakes or problems can be easily tracked back to their source.
  3. After dividing responsibilities, the work assigned should be reviewed and discussed with the persons or teams responsible for each work package.
  4. With your whole project plan divided into smaller tasks, it is easier to estimate cost, budget and time for each of them.
  5. The project manager can examine actual resource use, by work element or task.
  6. The project manager can also identify problems, confirm estimates, and make sure that any problems have been corrected before any actual implementation.
project management tools
An example of a project breakdown into smaller work packages. A work Breakdown Structure template.

Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are among one of the tools that are regularly associated with project management. It originated around 1910 when an engineer and business consultant designed it to help production supervisors schedule and oversee production stages and tasks. Today it is not only used for manufacturing and production; this was just the premise it was built for.

Gantt charts work by conveying data on a visual scale. It outlines all tasks linked to the project and is sorted chronologically. Using Gantt charts gives you an outline of all the project and its different tasks. Rather than spending time reading reports packed with information, Gantt charts give a brief visual review of all the relevant data. Gantt charts are an efficient, easy to read tool that shows the current progress of all work packages. It can help project managers effectively supervise the project’s progress and plan accordingly.

Why Use Gantt Charts

  • Gantt charts preview a great deal of information in a simple and easily understandable fashion.
  • The charts are easy to build.
  • They provide a clear and comprehensive view of the project’s tasks.
  • Gantt charts allow the project managers to allocate resources efficiently
  • They show the progress of the project and help the managers plan according to actual and real time developments.

    project management tools
    An actual Gantt chart showing different tasks and work packages.

The Critical Path Method And Program Evaluation Review Technique

A common approach to hands on scheduling and task management, CPM and PERT are two indispensable tools when it comes to project management. The Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT for short) was developed in the 1950’s by the US navy to help manage large scale defense projects. Around the same time the Critical Path Method (AKA CPM) was designed for the private sector.

PERT and CPM charts graphically show tasks and work packages in a sequential order. The aforementioned charts are sometimes preferred over the Gantt charts because they show the relation between tasks in a project. When a task precedes or follows another, PERT and CPM charts clearly and effectively identify the relation between the different work packages. PERT and CPM charts are quite similar and are frequently combined for presentation purposes.

project management tools
In PERT/CPM charts, tasks are usually represented as nodes.

Project Management Tools: What Can They Do For You

As mentioned, project management is one of the most efficient ways to conduct business. Larger project oriented companies rely on the above-mentioned tools to conduct everyday transactions. There is no doubting the importance of project management tools. Those were just some of the most commonly used techniques used to conduct large scale projects. No tools are without disadvantages; however, it is up to the manager to choose the way business is conducted.