10 Most Effective Ways to Use Project Management Tools

Project managers use information to manage projects, their stakeholder’s expectations and the work of their teams. Professional organizations, companies and project management offices (PMO) have developed a vast array of methodologies, tools and techniques to successfully lead projects and programs.

Adequately Using Project Management Tools

  1. Customize views: Many applications from simple spreadsheets to more sophisticated project management tools allow the user to customize views. This can be a powerful and effective way to control the flow of a meeting making sure the focus remains on what is important. If the objective of a client meeting, for example, is to demonstrate the need for technical input in a timely manner, customize the view so the impacts of that dependency are highlighted. The activity bar representing the client input can be colored red and the arrows of the dependent activities can be made larger or bolded. Expanding this example, the project manager could show one Gantt Chart showing a timely input followed by a second showing the impact of a late input. Allow the customized view to speak for itself.
  2. Embed in reports: Project managers have action items, risk events, personnel issues, meetings and reports. There never seems to be enough time in each day for everything. An effective use of Project Management Tools is to multiplex it. In other words use the application to do multiple things concurrently to save you time and effort. If you have to submit a weekly report to your client or the Project Sponsor instead of sitting down and writing a narrative simply cut and paste different views from the software. Part I of the report may show progress and be a paste of the Gantt Chart view, Part II may be the financials and be a paste of a cost or budget view, Part III can be a paste and effectively a report of the resources via a resource view and so on. The best way to accomplish this is to develop a sample and distribute it at the external kick off meeting. If the sample is acceptable, from that point on, your workload has been reduced and let the project management software do the work for you.
  3. Promote accomplishments: Project managers oftentimes compete for resources and funding. One factor that helps secure human resources and dollars is success. Success breeds loyalty within the team and helps retain a solid customer base. Use project management software to promote accomplishments. An easy way to do this is to insert completion activities in the schedule. For example, if there are a set of activities associated with writing a module of code or constructing a portion of a building, add an activity to verify that the module or building portion has been done. Review the schedule and insert the completion activities in a way that allows you to demonstrate consistent progress as the team moves towards the finish line. Each time this type of activity line reaches 100% send out a short and quick email communicating the accomplishment. With time people will note a pattern of accomplishments associated with your projects.
  4. Manage expectations: A key part of what a project manager does is expectation management. An effective way to use project management tools is to use them as an aid to help manage those expectations. One way to do this is to find out which milestones are important to your client or project sponsor. Once this is known set the display so that the milestones that are important to your client or project sponsor are the ones shown. This will demonstrate that you are responsive to their concerns and are sensitive to what is important to them.
  5. Post results: An effective technique to manage the project team is making sure they are informed at all times. Printing out progress reports and displaying those in a place that team members can see will be appreciated by all the team members and workgroups associated with the project.
  6. Mentor while inputting: Younger team members seek mentors. Being a mentor shows that you are concerned about their professional development and this, in turn, solidifies your ability to lead the team. A good opportunity to mentor is when the project management software is being set up and the initial deliverables are being typed in. Use this time to explain what you are doing, why, the reasons behind it and so on. This will naturally lead to further mentoring.
  7. Use for buy in: Under the project manager’s leadership team members are kept informed and this aids in securing buy in. Importantly the project manager can selectively use different reports to move the team in the needed direction. As the team’s efforts shift and the results are seen buy in increases.
  8. Leverage software to identify risks: The project management tools can be used as an effective tool to identify risks. As each deliverable or activity on the schedule is discussed the team can be asked what they believe can be delayed or what they are concerned about. Their responses can reveal hidden risk issues.
  9. Advertise project management: Project management can highlight the professionalism of their work by communicating their plans and progress in a professional manner. Project management software can facilitate this. Use the reporting functions to produce and output professional looking reports and allow them to demonstrate the professionalism of the project management team.
  10. Use graphics: There may be customers or project sponsors who do not have a technical or project management background. Terms such as deliverables or milestones are well known to project managers but be new or strange to some stakeholders. In cases like this simply use the graphics of the project management software. Create a symbol to highlight the importance of a milestone. Bold a deliverable. Leverage the application and its graphics to help communicate key information.