Automated Project Management Tools


Why, What, How?

There is an ever-expanding market in tools designed to help in the planning, support, management and control of projects. Functionality has increased enormously with the common availability of network connections and web access. There is now a wide range of applications. Most Project Office functions are supported by tools. Team members can also participate collaboratively using such tools.

Here are some types of functionality to look for in project management tools:




Process Management Optional Manages template plans so that a library of best-practice approaches can be maintained and re-used. A first-cut plan for the specific project can be created based on template plans plus various heuristics about the current situation. Templates would normally be managed centrally so that all parts of the organisation use compatible approaches.
Project Planning Vital Creates and manages the project plan including tasks, resources, dependencies and costs. Allows the creation of a high-level plan which can be exploded into detail. Allows for the consolidation of several plans to deal with scheduling and resourcing across a number of sub-team plans or for a multi-project programme.
Resource Scheduling Optional Supports or automates the process of assigning staff to projects. Tracks the characteristics, capabilities and availability of individuals so that staffing for projects can be proposed.
Timesheet Collection and Processing Very useful Gathers timesheet information from all participants. Preferably it would prompt the individual to complete the timesheet and assist by pre-filling starting figures, budgets and expected work items. Controls should identify missing or invalid timesheets.
Progress Tracking Very useful Processes timesheet and other progress data (eg milestones passed) against the detailed project plan to provide detailed progress information. Should be capable of dealing with consolidated project plans and tracking information.
Progress/Status Reporting Very useful Generates detailed and summary reports on project progress. Consolidates multiple projects where required. Preferably, controls and effects distribution using electronic media such as a project website or EMail.
Portfolio Management As required Provides the ability to manage multiple projects as part of a portfolio or programme. Plans, resourcing and progress may be viewed across the portfolio, allowing the overall manager to identify problems, consider priorities, and adjust resourcing. Portfolio management will be linked to the planning and tracking tools with which it needs to share data.
Team Communications Very useful Easy electronic communication to all participants. Allows specific circulation lists to be used. Monitors whether messages have been read. Allows for replies.
Issues Collection and Management Very useful Collects issues and controls their resolution. Logs progress, status, responsibilities etc. Preferably prompts those concerned automatically using EMail or an alternative messaging system (eg project website).
Change Request and Control Very useful Collects change requests and controls their resolution. Logs progress, status, responsibilities etc. Preferably prompts those concerned automatically using EMail or an alternative messaging system (eg project website).
Scope Change Control Very useful Collects scope change requests and controls their resolution. Logs progress, status, responsibilities etc. Preferably prompts those concerned automatically using EMail or an alternative messaging system (eg project website).
Configuration Management Very useful Controls versions and release status of deliverable components.
Risk Management Useful Records identified risks along with their impact assessment, actions, contingency plans, responsibilities, etc. Provides status reports. Prompts when action is required. More advanced systems may provide sophisticated risk analysis features.
QA control Useful Records all specific quality control checks that are required. Tracks status of those controls. Provides exception reports. Controls status of corrective actions.
Document Management Very useful Registers all formally controlled electronic documents. Controls access to those documents, both for update and for information. Allows documents to be checked out for update (by one person at any one time). Allows updated documents to be checked in. Reports on the status of all controlled documents.
Project Accounting As required Monitors all financial dealings and forecasts for the project. Controls and reports upon expenditure. Where appropriate, controls sub-contractor payments due and/or made. Where appropriate, manages the positions of joint venture partners.


The ideal suite of project management tools would provide fully integrated functionality such that:

Tools providing such integrated functionality will typically have different components for different purposes. Since they share data there needs to be a central database server. Users may have differing tools depending upon their needs, all of which link to that central server. For example, the Project Manager will need access to the full planning and scheduling component, whereas ordinary team members only need to see parts of the resulting plan that concern them. The Project Office manager will need full access to the issues, risk and change management data while other participants only require to view the information and submit updates.


Putting project tools in place

Most projects use automation tools to support at least some of the Project Office functions, although there is still an alarmingly large number of projects doing everything by spreadsheet. It is easy to see why spreadsheets are still so common. Having an integrated set of project management tools in place and operational takes time and effort. That effort inevitably coincides with the launch of the project when everyone is focused on mainstream activities rather than supporting functions. By the time the project management team has time to look for a smart toolset it is too late to displace the ad hoc spreadsheets that have sprung up. The project management toolset either needs to have been invested in prior to the project, or dedicated resources need to focus on that area while the Project Manager and team are engaged in the mainstream priorities.

It will take time to select and install a new suite of project tools. As with any other software selection, the functional, technical and support requirements or preferences should be matched against the capabilities of currently available software applications. As well as the selection process, it will take time to finalise the purchase, install the applications and train project team staff. It is best for these things to be in place before a project commences.


On-going use of tools and data

Some of the project tools will be wound up at the end of the project. Final status reports should be produced. Data should be archived for any future reference. Heuristic information should be captured for future use in project planning and estimation. Re-usable knowledge and materials should be transferred into knowledge management systems as appropriate.

Some data and tools may be required for the on-going support and maintenance of the system, eg user and system documentation, configuration management, issues management, change requests, etc. This may require:





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