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What’s in your Project Management Toolbox?


Every profession has its “tools of the trade” and project management is no different. The project management toolbox consists of tools required to initiate, plan, execute, control and close projects. Generally speaking, the “tools” are templates for documents that will be produced throughout the life of the project. At the end of a project, the project manager will have a binder (figuratively speaking) that describes the project.

A quick search of the internet for ‘project management tools’ will literally produce thousands of hits for templates, documents, methods, techniques and software, so it should be easy enough to fill the toolbox. However, having the tools is only one piece of the puzzle. Another important piece is the process – the project management methodology – that directs which tool is used and when (and by whom). The project management methodology standardizes the process and the tools need to be aligned to the process to ensure consistency across projects.

Defining a project management methodology and tools provides the foundation for a framework. Again, there are lots of references for project management methodologies and frameworks on the internet and two of the most well-known ones are PMBOK and PRINCE2. Each provides guidance with how to structure and deliver project management.

With all of this information so readily available, the challenge isn’t finding resources and references; it’s being able to establish a framework – tools and methodology – that works for you and your organization.

Step 1: Conduct an assessment

This will help you establish where the issues and gaps are with respect to project management within your organization. Engage your peers, key stakeholders, and staff in the process to ensure all sides are considered. Understanding what works well and what doesn’t will help you determine where to focus your efforts to fix the issues and close the gaps. For instance, senior management may be expecting updates that provide a status and overview of the projects. In this case you may need to create an ‘executive dashboard’ that provides a snapshot of the projects with key indicators. Project Sponsors should have progress updates so a standardized project status report would be implemented.

Step 2:  Define the Methodology

The key here is to develop a methodology that fits the organization. PMBOK defines five process groups and nine knowledge areas and is an excellent start, however the conversation inevitably turns to what the sequence of activity is, who is responsible for each step (activity), who needs to be involved, when it occurs, what tools are required, etc. For instance, do you require a detailed project charter or can it be a high level document because a more detailed scope document augments the detail in the project charter at a later step? Is the Business Requirements Document a document owned by the Project Management Office or the IT group? Who owns the business case template? All of these are examples of tools that are part of the business process and these may reside within the Project Management Office and be part of the Project Management toolbox or they may be inputs into the project. There is no right or wrong answer; however, it is best if you define a methodology that fits the needs of the organization. It’s important not to “over engineer” this otherwise you run the risk of creating a bureaucratic process and will inundate project resources with additional workload. Applying the KISS principle here is a good idea as is considering the use of automation and electronic tools. More organizations are moving from merely using MS Project to manage project timelines to tools such as MS Project Server to manage and track all projects in a centralized repository.

Step 3: Communicate

With the project methodology and tools in place, communicating this to your peers, stakeholders and staff is critical for buy-in and compliance. Providing training is essential for staff to ensure they understand the process and how to use the tools. Failing to do this can result in poor quality and missed targets. Follow through is also critical. If you are finding people are no longer using the tools or are straying from the methodology, it becomes necessary to reinforce the importance of sticking to the originally chosen path.

The Take Away

These three simple steps go a long way to ensuring that you will have buy-in and support from across the organization. It’s easier to deliver projects if the organization is on board and complying with the project management methodology rather than resisting it… And your project management staff will thank you.

  1. Conduct an Assessment to get a firm understanding of what the issues and gaps are.
  2. Define the Methodology so that expectations are clear and it’s aligned to other processes within the organization.
  3. Communicate the changes and processes to your stakeholders. Tools and methodologies are rendered useless if nobody understands how to use them.

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