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Project Management Software is (Still) Broken

March 2, 2015

 

TL;DR: The “industry standard” for consulting and agencies is to invite clients into project management software. The software isn’t easy for these clients to use, doesn’t present the right level of information, and is an overall poor client experience. This process is broken.

 

This post is a response to Matthew Lehner’s Project Management Software is Broken. Definitely check out his article that was written back in November 2013, but still resonates well today.

 

Whether you’re a project manager or not, if you work on projects and use some sort of project management software (app, SaaS, etc.) to manage the project, then you’re participating in a broken system. Whether you’re using a mega-successful app like Basecamp, a new and innovative app like Asana, or feature-rich large-scale app like Jira, the way you [and your team] run projects is likely still broken.

 

“But my team can share their tasks and track their time in my PM app”, you may say. Or “My colleagues and I can pass tickets back and forth until they’re completed, reviewed, and approved” might be your response.

 

But what do those 2 phrases have in common? They’re both focused on tasks. Projects have tasks, tasks need to be tracked to completion, and managing teams of people in projects requires task delegation. So far, we agree: task management is critical to good project management.

 

However, task management is only one third of project management. 

  1. Project Planning
  2. Task Management & Execution
  3. Project Status Communication

 

And this is the #1 reason why project management software is broken: Project management apps that exist today only take care of the middle third of the project management lifecycle and so few are trying to improve the other two parts. In addition, these project management apps are focused on improving coordination and communication within the project team, not on improving communication with the client.

 

I’ve experienced this void in the project lifecycle when I was a consultant. When working with clients, I prided myself on a great client experience during our time working together. And in my opinion a great client experience is one where clients felt listened to, they were confident that I was the right person for the job, and they saw I was taking full responsibility for completing and delivering the defined work. However, this meant I spent loads of time emailing project status updates to clients, which really didn’t allow me to do as much actual work as I needed to do.

 

In other words, project status communication (my “3rd part of project management”) was a real time-sink for me and I didn’t believe my clients were getting the best experience they could. Since there was no app for this, I decided to build one: ProjectPulse.

 

Matthew Lehner lays out several insightful critiques of what’s wrong with project management software in his post, Project Management Software is Broken. In essence, he’s also asking for project status communication tools and features. He points out that project management software that’s used today is probably most useful for the project manager. I’d add that it’s useful for the people doing the tasks as well, but Matthew’s major point is simple:

 

“Your client doesn’t care about your project management software… basically, they just want to get some kind of progress report and be kept in the loop.”

 

In essence, your clients don’t care how many tasks you completed this week or will complete next week. They want to know whether the project they’re paying you for is on time, what the next major milestones are, and what, if anything, they need to do along the way to unblock the project. This is exactly why project management software is broken – project management software is only task management software.

 

So what types of features does Matthew say would fix some of the existing software?

 

“Just stop making me log in”

 Logins are a pain and a roadblock to an excellent client experience. So we’ve done away with them. ProjectPulse’s private status pages have a common passcode, but your clients aren’t required to register an account and login to view the status page.

 

“Send me really nice emails” and “Don’t make me leave my inbox”

 You bet. People still live day-to-day in email, so ProjectPulse incorporates email features where clients get email with just the right amount of information in a format that’s clean and readable, and action-oriented when necessary.

 

“Remind me if I’m supposed to do something and I haven’t done it”

 Status page “Todos” feature is a client-reminder for project blockers. Keeping a simple list of things you need from the client in a shared, consistent format is vital.

 

“Keep track of time for me”

 Ah, the beauty of milestone-oriented timelines. The central focus of status pages is a timeline of milestones, each with a due date. They’re easy to setup and update.

 

Conclusion

 

These critiques of current project management software by Matthew are exciting because I feel that ProjectPulse is hitting the nail on the head with existing features, and a clear path for providing enriched features over time. There are two things I’d add to Matthew’s post:

 

  1. Clients should be communicated with in a milestone-centric way because consultants are task-oriented, but clients [should] only care about milestones.
  2. Clients should only need 1 place to go to understand a whole project from start to finish. They should always have a perch from which to see the macro view of the project’s plan and progress.

 

Coming soon, I’ll dive deeper into these two points, because I believe they’re critical. When the post is ready, it’ll be linked to here.

 

Matthew’s plee: “[Are these features] too much to ask?”


I have good news for you, Matthew. ProjectPulse is the missing piece to your project management workflow and I invite you and anyone else who’s feeling the same pains we both see in project management, to come be an early adopter.