The list of qualities the perfect project manager absolutely must have is getting more intense every day. But you can't be expected to demonstrate consistent leadership, empathy, pragmatism, and organization if you're working with terrible tools. The problem is, many of the project management tools and apps available are more complex or time-consuming than the projects themselves. Most PM software is designed for mass-marketability; that means it hasn't been customized for your exact needs. The chances that a ready-made tool will be able to do precisely what you need it to do are slim.
Let's take a look at the top challenges facing PMs, and explore some ways of solving each issue.
1. You're spending too much time searching for project assets and documents.
Time lost is probably the most common and troubling problem. But where is all that time going? Project management involves generating a massive amount of files (emails, lists, reports, deliverables, proposals, etc.) Keeping all your information in the same place isn't worth it if you can't find anything.
Solution: use an app that will allow you to perform powerful searches. If you're using an application that allows storing information in a structured form, defined in fields and properties, you're allowed to perform searches with multiple filters. You can drill down and filter through all of your assets including action item lists, issues, deliverables, and documents attached. You should not be wasting time trying to search with a keyword. Something else that will be important here is the ability to collaborate on your key documents, which leads us to your second challenge...
2. Your team is all over the place (literally).
Forbes estimates that 30% to 45% of employees are working remotely and the Wall Street Journal reports that 13.4 million people worked from home at least one day a week in 2010. More and more workers are choosing to work from home (it may even be advisable for them to do so). Also, there's no real guarantee your own team will all be based out of the same city anymore. The problem is that popular desktop applications that people use for project management (like Excel) don't deliver the collaborative features that you'll need in order to keep everyone informed. Breakdowns in communication can result in a lot of wasted time and a lot of unnecessary stress.
Solution: embrace a web-based tool with mobile access and strong collaborative features. Having a digital 'hub' where all your pertinent information is stored and shared will save time down the line because no one will have to request (and then wait for) information. Collaborative capabilities also mean that everyone has easy access to the same documents and can post comments and updates, keeping everyone in the loop. Mobile access means everyone will be updated immediately, and can stay abreast of the project even if they're out of the office.
3. Your priorities are shifting and no one can keep up.
Here's a list of all the key factors of a project that could experience rapid change throughout the course of a day: project goal, deliverable, budget, timeline, changes in scope (resulting in the dreaded scope creep), and loss or reallocation of resources. If you're managing multiple projects at a time, one project may be prioritized over another that took precedence just yesterday. A new service or strategy may be implemented that will accelerate or slow down the pace of your project.
Solution: embrace a PM tool that has a Kanban view (this will also help with scope creep). This way, everyone has a strong visual representation of the most up-to-date project progress, assignments and timelines.
4. Individual team member goals aren't clear.
It's pretty difficult to keep everyone up-to-date and focused (especially given those shifting priorities we just talked about). Plus, without knowing what other team members are accomplishing or what the current project goal is, it's easy for individual members to accidentally waste time completing a task that is either irrelevant or redundant.
Solution: make use of individual to-do lists and workflows. Being able to define personalized to-do lists for each of your team members (and allow other team members to view them) is going to go a long way toward eliminating confusion. An app that lets you create workflows for each team member that can be shared with any other collaborators will eliminate the need to stop everyone to join a meeting, if your team is remote or working out of office, you can communicate to-do lists and checklists updates through the app as well.
5. You're using the wrong tool(s).
Project managers (and their team members) often fall into the habit of using several different applications to complete or manage tasks piece by piece. You could easily end up using a separate to-do list app, calendar app, and note taking app in addition to a number of spreadsheets as well as some other PM-specific software. The result is that syncing your information with the rest of your team eats up way too much time.
Furthermore, even a lot of unified tools are horrible for project management. Let's face it; Excel sucks. On a recent list detailing major project management challenges, relying on Excel spreadsheets came in at number two. If your software is not user-friendly or collaborative, there is no way you'll be able to manage projects effectively, no matter how good you are at organization.
Solution: one platform that allows you to build your very own processes. If you design your tool to suit your workflow and your team, you won't have to piece together a bunch of different applications (you also won't end up paying for software you don't need or won't ever learn how to use). With some platforms, you can get smart searches of your data, mobile access, collaborative features, Kanban views and individual to-do lists to streamline and clarify workflow and you will never have to look at another spreadsheet ever again. Sounds good, right?