boon or bane?
Software applications are considered an indispensable item in a project management information system. All major applications provide standard and customizable process tools that are widely deployed across the globe. In this paper, we present the results of a study carried out to assess the effectiveness of software applications in managing increasingly complex projects.
During this study, a group of 100 project managers, from the EMEA region, was asked about their experiences using software applications to manage their projects. Project managers were asked to rate the tools and features they find most useful as well as list the shortcomings of systems they have used. They were also asked to provide a wish list of features or process tools that they would love to see added to the systems available in the market.
This paper reports the top 10 widely used features, the top 10 shortcomings, and top 10 items on the wish list.
The PMBOK® Guide – 5th Edition defines a Project Management Information System (PMIS) as:
An information system consisting of the tools and techniques used to gather, integrate, and disseminate the outputs of project management processes. It is used to support all aspects of the project from initiating through closing, and can include both manual and automated systems.
While every implementation of PMIS differs from others in terms of scope, design, and features, software applications are considered an indispensable component of each implementation. The optimum utilization of a PMIS depends heavily on the manner in which critical information is made available to all stakeholders and the level of process automation. Many project managers are apprehensive about the effectiveness of their PMIS, in part because of wrongly configured software, and also because of ROI concerns. The purpose of this study is to explore and report the perceptions of project managers about software applications that form the integral part of their PMIS implementations.
Current PMIS Landscape
Organizations around the globe are increasingly relying on software applications to automate project management processes. A lot of emphasis is also placed on improving the accuracy of data based on which key performance indicators and reports are generated. Major project management responsibilities, like maintaining different registers and documenting the lessons learned, get a lot easier to fulfil by deploying a suitable application. The following sections provide an overview of the current PMIS landscape specifically in the EMEA region.
The project management software market in the EMEA region is characterized by fierce competition between Microsoft, Oracle, Meridian, Autodesk, Aconex, RIB Software, Huddle and few others. While some organizations still rely on spreadsheet applications and basic electronic calendars, most organizations have invested in more robust applications to streamline their project management processes. An ever-increasing number of iconic projects like Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building to date, are being showcased in case studies of companies whose solutions were used on these projects.
While some software companies offer a single application to manage different aspects of projects, others provide a suite of specialized applications that complement each other and can also be integrated with other ERP implementations.
Industry Specific Systems
While some of the project management software applications are suitable for any industry, others contain templates and features appropriate for specific types of projects. Pricing and operational costs also play a role in limiting the use of certain applications to certain industries. Major industries and applications popular in them are shown in Exhibit 1.
Exhibit 1 – Major industries and applications.
Methodology Specific Systems
Many organizations in the EMEA region are developing their methodologies based on PMI standards. In some sectors, PRINCE 2 is also popular particularly in parts of Europe. In a recent trend, an increasing number of organizations have also started experimenting with agile methodologies like Scrum, Lean, and Kanban. It has been observed that some software tools are not suitable for agile practices while others are not suitable for more extensive methodologies. Exhibit 2 enumerates the common tools used with popular methodologies.
Exhibit 2 – Tools for specific methodologies.
Apprehensions about Software Applications
Though there exists a consensus between project managers that an effective PMIS is crucial to meeting their project objectives, many apprehensions are raised about the efficacy of software applications being deployed to implement the PMIS. The following sections describe the manifestations of these apprehensions, which subsequently lead to dissatisfaction.
Price tag and operational costs of maintaining specialized project management software are often quoted as a major concern by many project managers. The selection of a particular application is quite often dictated by the project owners while the bills are paid by the contractors. Project managers employed by the contractors frequently question the return on investment for deploying an expensive software application.
The infrastructure and resources required to maintain software applications also cause apprehensions. Depending on the size and scope of the project, self-hosted applications require specialized facilities and enclosures that inflate the overheads in terms of finance, manpower, and effort.
The time and effort needed to learn the intricacies of specialized software applications also factor among the concerns often raised by project managers. A PMIS that lays more emphasis on automation, using software, will in turn necessitate that all project management team members and many project team members are trained in the use of software.
This study was carried out to explore and report the perceptions of project managers in the EMEA region. This study aims at achieving the following objectives:
- Understand project managers’ satisfaction of current software systems.
- Understand the relative importance of common features and tools.
- This will enable project owners to select suitable tools based on inputs from project managers.
- This will also help software companies to plan product upgrades and add or remove features.
- This will also help project managers in preparing effective training programs to minimize the learning curve.
- Understand the shortcomings of software applications.
- This will help software companies to plan upgrades aimed at increasing customer satisfaction.
- Understand the wish list of project managers who hope to enhance the efficacy of their PMIS implementations.
- This will help software companies to plan upgrades and add suitable features.
- Educate project managers on possibilities and limitations of software applications.
- This will help project managers and PMOs in optimizing the level of automation.
This study was carried out using a survey in which 100 respondents were selected from all over the EMEA region ensuring representation of all regions and industries. Respondents were given a list of common features and tools found in most project management software applications and they were asked to order the list based on relative importance of items. Each respondent was asked to select the features or tools used most often as well those used least often. Respondents were also asked to list the shortcomings in their own software applications as well as provide a wish list of features or tools that are likely to facilitate effective utilization of their PMIS. Respondents were also asked to indicate their level of satisfaction from the software application currently in their use.
The survey was carried out during the months of September and October of 2012. Findings were processed and compiled in November 2012. The demographics of respondents are given in Exhibit 3.
Exhibit 3 – Representation based on geography and industries.
List of Features/Tools
The partial list of common features and tools that was rated by the respondents is given in Exhibit 4.
Exhibit 4 – Partial list of features/tools.
Findings of the Study
The study yielded some interesting findings that are being summarized in the following sections.
The satisfaction level of project managers is reported in Exhibit 5.
Exhibit 5 – Satisfaction scores.
Features/Tools Used Most Often
The top 10 features and tools used most often, based on the aggregate ratings from all geographies and industries, are given in Exhibit 6.
Exhibit 6 – Features/tools used most often.
Features/Tools Used Least Often
The features and tools used least often based on the aggregate ratings from all geographies and industries are given in Exhibit 7.
Exhibit 7 – Features/tools used least often.
Top 10 Shortcomings
The top 10 shortcomings, based on the aggregate ratings from all geographies and industries, are given in Exhibit 8.
Exhibit 8 – Top 10 shortcomings.
Wish List of Features
Very few features were identified by respondents as items on their wish list. Features requested are enumerated in Exhibit 9.
Exhibit 9 – Wish list.
The findings of this study do provide some interesting insights regarding software applications used widely across the EMEA region. Based on the results shared in the preceding sections, it is recommended that:
- Software companies work closely with their customers to explore reasons for having low satisfaction scores.
- Software companies plan their upgrades by including features listed in Exhibit 6, if they are not already there. They should also try to overcome the shortcomings and include items on the wish list as early as possible.
- Project owners evaluate the software applications based on the features used most often and those used least often. They should not invest in an application that misses out on the features needed most by project managers. At the same time, they should not pay a higher price because a system includes features that are of least importance to project managers.
- Project managers prepare their training outlines based on items identified in Exhibit 6.
This paper reports the satisfaction of project managers with commonly deployed project management software applications. It provides insights on features used most often and least often. It also reports the top shortcomings as well as items on the wish list of project managers. This information can be used by project managers to effectively plan their PMIS implementations. The findings can also help software companies in improving their offerings and enhancing customer satisfaction.
©2013 Muhammad A. B. Ilyas, Mohamed Khalifa Hassan, Muhammad Umar Ilyas
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Istanbul, Turkey