In 1992, I was a manager in a software company. Our project was behind schedule and over budget, and we were suffering a series of other setbacks. Since it was my job to tell people bad news, I was having trouble doing that gracefully. As my superiors told me what was going on, I wondered why they had allowed the project to get so far behind. They said they had given a lot of thought to the problem, and that they had concluded that we should have managed it differently.
After they left, I looked at their notes, and the explanation they gave me made sense. They didn’t say, “We should have done more planning.” They said, “We should have been doing less planning. “Finally, I understood. The problems that were costing us time and money were the result of our having underestimated what it would take to do the project. The trouble was that when we made the initial plans, we were thinking in terms of months, not in years. We assumed that we could do all the work in six months, and that after that the project would be easy, because we would finally get to use many of the things we had already done. We had assumed that we could pretty much keep our plans, and so had underestimated the costs of learning something new, and the cost of changing our plans.
Late in the project, we suddenly realized that the way we had planned was flawed. We had planned to make software that could be used by lots of people, and it turned out it had to meet the needs of only a small number of people. We realized that we had spent a lot of money on stuff that people didn’t need, and that we had wasted a lot of time making something that people didn’t need. The experience taught me something: Don’t plan to do a complicated project quickly.
The lessons of that project are valuable even when you don’t manage a project. If you are planning to do something complicated, and it isn’t obvious, you need all tools that can help you do better. That’s where project reporting software comes in. There may be many tools that fit different use cases but for me, I used online PMS tools, which could suffice the scope of my work.
project managers can do better when using project reporting software tools
Projects, by their very nature, are uncertain. “Whenever you build a project,” says project management guru Peter Drucker, “you are betting that the project will add value to your operation.” The bet pays off only if the project turns out as planned. To succeed, projects must be planned, managed, and evaluated. But most people aren’t good at planning and managing, and most people don’t understand how to evaluate a project’s success. Project management is neither art nor science, but a mix of the two. Most projects succeed or fail by the simple virtue of being done right. And most of what we do well or poorly is not based on any hard science, but on intuition, experience, and common sense. Project management is a skill, and like any skill it can be taught. Unfortunately, people don’t learn much from books, and much of what they pick up from books gets forgotten. The best way to learn is by doing. The basic principles of project management are not difficult to learn. The hard part is getting past the fundamental misconceptions most people have about projects. The better you get at managing projects, the easier it gets.
What does success in projects really mean?
The most accurate thing you can say about a business project is that it was successful. A project that was 50% successful would have produced 50% of the desired results. But did the project really achieve 50% of the desired results? Maybe it achieved more than 50%, maybe less.
So, for project management, success means more than producing results. It means exceeding expectations. And for exceeding expectations, the measure of success is not whether the result fits a predefined plan, it’s whether the result meets the customer’s needs. Software projects are often compared to construction projects. In construction, it’s customary to bill by the hour. If a construction worker spends 3 hours per 1,000 square feet, you might think it’s reasonable to estimate the cost of a 2,500-square-foot house at 10,000 hours.
But most projects don’t work that way. a long term project development is more like building a house using the plans an architect makes. The customer needs a set of requirements, and you develop software to meet the requirements. You don’t get credit for the time you put in. You get credit for meeting the customer’s needs. The way to measure a project’s success is not by comparing it, after the fact, to some arbitrary goal. It’s by comparing the customer’s goals to the final project. Suppose a customer wants a calculator that can do arithmetic, and it can also do trigonometry and calculus. Hence, using the right PMS tools may help you achieve a higher success rate in projects.