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Problem with project management software basics

What drives project success or failure? According to Standish Group, success and failure is driven from these top five factors:

  1. Executive support
  2. User involvement
  3. Experienced project managers
  4. Clear business objectives
  5. Minimized scope

Why do most project management software focus on things like who has what task, when are they due, and what's been done? What is project management? In my book, the top five factors above seem to be a good place to start. Notice none of the factors are related to "clear due dates" or "task assignment". In fact, they don’t even cover collaboration. Don't get me wrong, these project management tool features are important. I assume the organizations researched by the Standish Group already practice the basics such as task list scheduling and people assignments. They probably use project management tools from big vendors.

The problem with project management software is that they miss the opportunity to ensure success with the top factors. First of all, there’s little guarantee that the project management tool will contain the top five factors in a project's task list. Secondly, even if they did contain this list, there’s no way to ensure they will be executed perfectly for success. For example, look at the Executive Support factor. It’s easy to have this as a task item, and it's straight forward to get a nod from the sponsor and mark this task done. Even an official sign-off isn't hard to obtain. The hard part is to draw out the expectations for Executive Support. Maybe the expectation contains the executive’s view point on the ultimate value of the project deliverables. Or maybe it's an understanding of how and when the executive will be updated. Think about how to get this task done right. It should be done so correctly that the executives will guarantee they will do their part to ensure the project will be a success. This how-to example is what I call a best practice step.

The idea of best practices is about turning the top five Standish Group factors into a set of process steps on how to accomplish them the best ways for success. These types of processes need to be correct, clear, and simple enough for any project lead or team member to execute.

Imagine a project management software platform including best practice execution and governance as a core basic feature. I would be pushing it by calling this the “killer app”. But, would I? If a project management software had killer best practices with complete how-to steps, image the power of success. Now go down the line with the other top factors. Imagine a proven best practice for ensuring correct user involvement. Imagine junior project managers having the know-how at their finger tips. Image the process driving us to what it means to have clear business objectives. This is power!

Task list? Check. Due dates? Check. People assignment? Check. Execute. Execute how? Best practice? Check. Execute. Got it.