Selecting a Project Management Tool

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Selecting a project management tool

Selecting a project management tool or a PPM solution can affect how it can be used and the type of problems you will need to address.  There are 3 basic approaches; buy a package, build a solution or use the tool set you already have.   There can, of course, be a successful blend of the 3 different approaches.  But the time has come where it is not an effective option to run the PMO with no automation.

Building a tool in-house

Where you have a technical team or keen amateurs it can be very attractive to build your own PPM solution.  After all no one from outside your organisation will know all the features and processes you wish to control and enable.

The major benefit of building a solution is it will be an exact fit to your need.  Coupled with that, you will have complete control over how it is amended.  But on the down side it will take some major effort to build.  The solution built will be an ongoing headache to maintain.  The core team that built it can easily help maintain it.  But will this team remain in place; often this type of solution depends heavily on one or two individuals.  The total life cost of an in-house solution can quickly exceed a buying off the shelf approach.

The resulting solution will flex to your needs. Assuming you have the right maintenance process in place the solution can serve you well.  Even if you manage to retain the core PMO and project staff that developed your toolset, you will still be faced with training new staff to use it.  And continuing its development to stay up with project trends and developments in methods, will be an overhead on your team.

Buying a ready made solution

Buying off the shelf might seem to be  a good option to this situation when you look closely at building your own solution.  But it will bring its own set of challenges.  If may not be a perfect fit to your needs, and could need some customising.  If you do end up customising too much you might have been better building your own tool.  But assuming you can limit the customisation, it will be easier to maintain than an in-house solution.  The provider should be developing the tool for new concepts and methods and although this could involve upgrade costs, with a good quality tool this should be less hassle than your own team needing to maintain it.

The life cost of a bought in solution should be easier to calculate than your bespoke home built approach.  You will have the added bonus of recruiting new staff who already have a working knowledge of the tool and can quickly adapt to your use of it.

A pitfall to avoid in buying a package is over engineering customisation.  This will make the package less flexible and delay the effective use of your solution.  Your stakeholders will all be keen to have input.  But the more changes and tweaks that are made the longer it will take to have a fully functional solution.

Adapt existing Toolset to your needs

An overlooked option is to adapt what you have.  Most organisations have a good basic mix of general tools.  So a good alternative the building the complete offering or buying a tool set might be to use the tools you already have.  Many organisations have a good project planning tool, like Microsoft Project or Primavera.  You might also have a collaboration tool like SharePoint that can be adapted to provide much of the data needed.

Adapting will need some skills and take a little time, but be less of an overhead than building a complete solution.  It might not seamlessly fit all the processes.  There is a risk of it being over engineered to provide a 100% fit where 80% covers all that is needed.  Trying to adapt your existing toolbox to automate all steps is not a sensible approach.

Adapting your existing project management tools has the drawback of ongoing maintenance. But should be less complex than a solution built from scratch.  Adapting your current base is a good starting option that will allow your PMO to analyse the real needs and serve as a good foundation for a more comprehensive solution.

Selecting a project management tool is never easy, and no approach is perfect.

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