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Why a New Project Management Tool Won't Fix Poor Technique

Don't rush headlong into buying software tools; they're just one piece of the puzzle.

Sometimes, executives try to buy project management success by simply purchasing an expensive enterprise project management (EPM) tool. But rushing headlong into buying an EPM tool is like buying a powerhouse golf driver when what you really need is a lesson on fixing your swing.

So why do so many executives shortcut process improvement and go straight to the purchasing stage? Because they don't have the patience to track how projects are managed.

We've helped many companies with project management after they paid big money for an EPM tool that didn't yield the expected results and that sometimes made things worse. For example, some companies purchase a pricey tool and then use it only for time management activities. In other cases, project managers lack training in best practices, so they don't use best practices in their scheduling tasks. In still others, project managers end up using MS Project on their desktop while keeping a shadow schedule in an EPM tool because they consider the tool too difficult to use.

If your organization has these kinds of project problems, now is the time to step up and show these project managers how a good project is planned and executed.

The Three-Phase Approach

We recommend a holistic approach that breaks improvement into three phases; a phased approach allows you to assess your capabilities before jumping headlong into a purchase.


  2. Assessment. Conduct an assessment that considers your project managers, the project management processes and the use of project management tools. Depending on your organization's size and complexity, this assessment should take four to eight weeks.

    The assessment involves rating your project management skills and capabilities, measuring the maturity of your processes, measuring how fully you use project management tools, and creating an executive report that summarizes all this information.


  4. Improvement planning. This planning phase should provide a visual representation of the planned activities, a detailed statement of work that describes how the improvement will take place, a detailed project plan that sequences the work and describes the resources required, and an executive presentation that summarizes all this information. After we performed this planning phase for a client, the director of the project office said that the translation of activities into a visual map helped guide his team on where to go next. "The information provides everyone, from the project managers to the executives, with an easy-to-understand picture of how we are going to make the improvement happen."

  6. Execution. Execute the improvement project using project management best practices. We have found that this phase offers tremendous value by allowing project managers to participate in the improvement project as team members and stakeholders so they can observe the experienced project manager run the project correctly.

If your organization is planning a project management improvement effort, has purchased an EPM tool that isn't being fully leveraged, or is planning on buying an EPM tool in advance of adopting best practices, consider performing an assessment. Then create a holistic improvement plan that considers all three aspects of improvement: people, process and, of course, tools.


Michael Vinje and Michelle Burke are principals at Trissential, a management consulting firm based in Minneapolis. Write to them at

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