Project Management Online – Good Idea or New Fad?

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Project management itself is an interesting term. Does the all encompassing term ‘project management’ include the more specific activities of ‘project planning’ which, would by definition involve allocating resources to tasks, probably linking them to milestones and invariably producing calendars, schedules and most likely Gant Charts.

There certainly are some online systems that will attempt to match resources to tasks and  represent them graphically, but the all-encompassing term ‘project management’ really relates to the more general concept of ‘managing’ projects rather than simply defining what should be done by whom. You could say, an online project management tool shouldn’t simply tell you who should be doing what but rather help you make sure that they do it, and that they do it on time!

Having taken this on board, many organisations now take advantage of online project management systems, typically having been won over by the idea in principle and recognising the benefits. After all, being able to publish project information online and make it readily available (shared if you will) to contacts, team members and even clients makes for one smooth communication channel, with everybody being automatically kept abreast of project progress, changes and updates. This is surely a good thing!

So where exactly are the savings and why bother?

There will be obvious savings made, with all the information available online there will be less printing, less paper, less ink and less postage. In time you may be able to free up some space and throw a few filing cabinets away, maybe even move to a smaller office, but if this is where you think the biggest savings are to be made you’d be wrong. Such ‘hard’ savings pale into insignificance when compared against the real benefits of managing your projects in an open and shared online environment.

The real savings and effects of using such systems can be found in the reduction (or hopefully removal) of mistakes and consequently missed project milestones. The cost of having to backtrack, rectify and make good is devastating to any existing project plan.  Affecting as it does both your own timescales and those of the other contributors/participants in the project. Considering the knock-on effects alone of unforeseen changes to project timescales should be enough to make sure everything that can be done to avoid this disruption is done.

Therefore, an open approach to sharing and publishing all aspects of project documentation becomes an obvious course to take. Apart from anything else there is an immediate involvement of all parties, by openly publishing documentation and content companies are effectively freeing themselves from unique blame if any aspect is incorrect. In old-fashioned terms it’s a CYA policy (cover your ass) for those who are not familiar with emerging American terminology.

There is a flip side to this approach of course; modern systems come with comprehensive audit trails, clearly stating who did what and when. Incorrect or inaccurate information can come back to haunt you.  But despite this, most companies recognise that openness and clarity is the best long-term policy.

Interesting stories have emerged from companies who have embraced such solutions  for their own internal projects as well as external ones.  Conventional wisdom would argue that individual users would be reluctant to share their own personal content with colleagues, but would rather be protective of their own ‘intellectual property’. In fact, companies have reported that exactly the opposite is true. If a user has developed a useful spreadsheet, calculation or document, the kudos gained from sharing that content with a rest of the group far outweighs any selfish advantage gained by keeping their content private. User ‘buy in’ becomes rapid and in most cases universal.

A similar story emerges when online management tools are shared with contacts outside your own organisation.  Clients for example feel trusted, involved and appreciated. There is no better way to build long-term relationships and of course if the project is completed on time and within budget, there’s another reason for the client to be happy.

Project management almost by definition involves communication and sharing ideas and objectives with a team. The old-fashioned way was meetings, minutes and correspondence. Things then moved on to include telephone and e-mail and now they have moved on again. Modern project management naturally embraces the modern tools available and these now include workspaces, task lists and project calendars, all shared online. 

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