Next Generation Project Management Software

Digitalisation and Collaboration


Head of Change & IT Strategy Business Unit, Nexen Business Consultants

Director, Otobos Consultants Ltd.

Project Director, Nexen Business Consultants

Demand Director, INAIL

NEXEN Business Consultants

Digitalisation does not necessarily equal higher productivity and corporate success. The emerging Project Management Office (PMO) software market lacks a cohesive approach to standardisation and interoperability. Practitioners are increasingly at a loss to understand the plethora of available technology and how this will help in their job. In addition, once tools are selected, they are often poorly implemented without due consideration for the existing project management environment, both in terms of the individual users and the project and portfolio management (PPM) tools currently in use. This paper posits that a holistic view, led by a digital strategy, using tools that integrate without requiring corporate standardisation, is the best approach in the current marketplace.

Keywords: PPM software, digitalisation, project management tools, cloud software


The project and portfolio management (PPM) software market is changing. It is changing so fast that it's hard for practitioners to keep up with the latest offerings. In this paper, we look at emerging software in the PPM space and discuss how its selection and implementation needs to be done in line with an overarching digital strategy. We'll show how this holistic view delivers a greater chance of success and increases buy-in from end users.

First, let's look at the plethora of tools available to PPM practitioners.


“Big change driven by digitalisation is prompting PPM leaders to rethink their approaches to IT PPM, including the tools they use to support them,” Gartner reports (Gartner, 2015, Summary). However, at the same time Gartner concludes that many traditional on-premises PPM application vendors are now offering fixed-price and fixed-scope cloud-hosted deployment of their applications with relative success (Gartner, 2015, line 20). In other words, the market is confusing: Stick with what you know but host it in the cloud, or move to a new digital offering?

Project management practitioners are looking for new lean and agile project management tools to support their day-to-day work and often seek them outside the tools that their organisations offer them. In parallel, organisations demand greater project collaboration capabilities to deal with more challenging projects and improved portfolio analytics to better manage portfolio risk but cannot find an all-in-one tool to satisfy all their needs.

Analysts conclude that the PMO software marketplace is still emerging and they feel uncomfortable in showing the right way, pushing organisations towards the use of only one project management tool. They suggest practitioners should use tools on a project-by-project basis, avoid standardisation for now (Gartner, 2011, slide 20).

This clear message is at odds with the reality of working in a project environment and requiring a set of standard tools to do a job. We observe that there is a persistent request coming directly from project management practitioners: They repeatedly look for alternative tools and ask for information on project management tools tagged as agile, open source, web-based, or cloud. We wonder whether this desire to investigate and move to new technology comes from this new project management tools market configuration or it is its cause.

Aiming to offer project managers direction and information on how to approach emerging project management tools and to explain what they can do with and expect from each of these tools, Maria Cristina Barbero and Niccolò Siani started a research project under a partnership between The University of Rome “La Sapienza” and the largest Italian IT services firm, Engineering Ingeneria Informatica Spa (, which acted through its 100% controlled management-consulting firm, Nexen Business Consultants Spa.

It's easy to find technical information online about each project management tool, and we have evidence that they are often compared against each other on the basis of technical and contextual aspects. Instead of taking that approach, the research focused on proving the functionality of tools through the use of a real case study that required the use of the most relevant project management and team collaboration functionalities.

From an online search and consulting with a group of Italian Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holders (>400), we built a list of around 90 emerging project management and collaborative tools. We were able to try the case study on 48. The research assigned the software product a global rank based on the ability of the tool to support the chosen functionalities.

The value of this independent analysis is in (a) the seven-page case study we wrote to identify requirements and verify tools’ functionalities, which interconnect tasks, resources, planned values, actual values, baselines, performance measures, forecast techniques, timesheets and (b) the ranking model to evaluate tools.


Exhibit 1: Emerging software tools compared.

Exhibit 1 offers a sample of the research results: Every “Yes” and “No” is the response to one of the 23 questions asked during the case study test and each star and half star is a qualitative weight related to one or more of those questions.


Moving from traditional to contemporary approaches to project management activities, companies that adopt a linear, phase-by-phase, project management style will probably decline in favour of faster, more iterative and lighter approaches that are driven more by results than processes.

This fact also implies a change in the adoption of project management tools: Worldwide, project managers will probably need to manage a diversity of software tools, with different deployment styles and maturity of use, because single-platform convergence will be difficult to achieve. Therefore integrating traditional tools with emerging ones is going to be the norm.

The key elements and requirements which drive the configuration of an integrated Project Management Information System are (PMIS) in our opinion: (a) enterprise tools, (b) people culture, (c) existing contracts and agreements, and (d) the desired level of monitoring and controlling. The research team built a template to discover the best configuration of integrated tools that combines (a) information on the several stakeholders who need access to project information, including the permissions they expect to have, (b) composition of the team (internal professionals, external professionals, vendor organizations, internal departments), and (c) the level of monitoring and controlling the project manager intend to have (only time; time and cost; time, cost, scope; and others).


We work in a digital environment, but we are not digital. People using our digital systems are not digital and the usage of what we decide is good for them is not granted. So we need an implementation strategy and we need a holistic view.

The implementation strategy requires having a plan with the final objectives defined. It also means considering the change management activities to support our digitalisation project as communication, processes, and training are critical for our success.

Sometimes this implementation strategy doesn't happen: We add digitalised applications to the existing situation without a defined improvement path. Organisations can be attracted to the latest cool application, with the potential to jeopardise the software environment. This could be a reaction to old structured and inflexible systems but pushing an agenda of continuous innovation without a tangible, declared objective could be even worse.

A simple solution is a digitalisation strategy definition. Defining final objectives and benefits allows companies to be flexible regarding what they want to achieve. Flexibility in a defined direction is what is needed in the digital space. This will also help the change management effort as after the definition of the direction and the benefits, the implementation path will be shaped taking care of the existing environment.


The existing environment includes the employees that must be involved in the process, but also refers to existing digital applications that must be integrated or terminated. Old digital tools could represent a value and not only a problem if we decide to use them as negotiation items with our employees. Taking for granted that massive centralised PPM systems are not the trend of the future and that we'll use many applications wisely integrated, old applications that employees find user-friendly could be improved and used to minimise the organisational stress of a too wide digital-change.

What should not be forgotten is that we are really digital only if we have a holistic view of our digital environment. The challenge of several available digital tools (old and new) is not the fact that they are heterogeneous, but the fact that they are not integrated or integratable. If the accounting system is not integrated with the project management system, that demonstrates a disconnection from the model in use to select our initiatives through portfolio management processes that utilise metrics and data from both.

In other words, business could be very digital but at the same time not efficient. Without digitalisation, it is very difficult to operate effectively in the economic market, but digitalisation doesn't automatically mean integration and unqualified success.


Our research discovered that monolithic IT systems are unfriendly and inflexible. To operate, compete and survive, businesses have “created” bottom-up systems combining several personal preferred, but not integrated, tools. Apps, clouds, and the availability of free tools are pushing consumers and corporations in the direction of a free digital tools republic where it is no longer effective or appropriate to be chained to a “corporate system” that will never be able to be up-to-date with what happens around us.

Centralised systems, possibly in the cloud, will be where all the data is stored, but they will not really help us in our job.

This continuous digital evolution inside and outside our organisations, is a digital storm that must be controlled with a flexible digital strategy managed by a digital strategic team that, in the coming years, will supervise the merging of new and old tools with the aim of creating a fully integrated and holistic PPM approach.



Elizabeth Harrin is the author of several project management books, including Collaboration Tools for Project Managers (PMI, 2016). She writes the blog and regularly reviews emerging software tools online.


Luca Romano has more than 20 years of international experience in business consulting, project management, portfolio management, organization, operations management, and training. He is a senior manager in Nexen Business Consultants as part of the Engineering group. He is a professor of international project management and operations management at the European School of Economics, a professor of project management at MiNE Master–Cattolica/Berkeley Universities, and an assistant chair at the Engineering School of Roma Tre University in two courses: Organization and Project Management.


Since 2005, Maria Cristina Barbero, PMP, PMI-ACP, SMC® has been the Director of the BU Change and IT Strategy of Nexen Business Consultants, the consulting company of Engineering Group ( She graduated in Mathematics and with an MBA in Global Management. She started her career as a software developer and is now an experienced consultant in organizational project management, especially dealing with IT organizations and software projects. She leads a group of 35 project management consultants and supports relevant Italian clients in all industries in dealing with their largest projects. She teaches project management at University of Padova and has been a PMI volunteer since 2007. She helped 400 Project Management Professionals (PMP)® to pass their exam. She is one of the six members worldwide of the PMI Standards Member Advisory Group.


img    elizabethharrin Maria Cristina Barbero    |    img   @pm4girls            |   img   Elizabeth Harrin

img    Girlsguidetopm Email [email protected] |img   +ElizabethHarrin

Gartner. (2015). Magic Quadrant for Cloud-Based IT Project and Portfolio Management Services Worldwide. Accessed April 4, 2016 and available at

Gartner. (2011). Gartner Special Briefing for ENI University. “Why Should Anyone Be Led by a Project Manager?” Accessed April 5, 2016 (page 19)

Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.

© 2016, Maria Cristina Barbero, Elizabeth Harrin, Luca Romano, Francesco Colasuonno, Niccolo Siani
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain



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