In 1979, spreadsheets changed the world. VisiCalc (for “visible calculator”) was the first spreadsheet computer program for personal computers, originally released for the Apple II. According to Wikipedia, it’s often considered the application that turned the microcomputer from a hobby for computer enthusiasts into a serious business tool. VisiCalc sold over 700,000 copies in six years, and as many as 1 million copies over its history.
Over three decades later, the spreadsheet remains prevalent as a valued tool in the project manager’s toolbox even though its widespread use leads to as many problems as it solves. Due to duplicated information, arguments about whose data is most accurate and the challenges of distributed teams, fit-for-purpose tools are growing in appeal.
Jones offered guidance on some of the options available to project managers, and started with a bit of education on the PPM market itself.
Welcome to the PPM Age
Project Portfolio Management (PPM) is the centralized management of the processes, methods, and technologies used by project managers and project management offices (PMOs) to analyze and collectively manage current or proposed projects based on numerous key characteristics.
Within this discipline, however, you need to know exactly what you’re working on in order to identify the right tool. For example, Jones defined a “project” as a temporary endeavor designed to achieve a particular business outcome, a “portfolio” as a group of projects that are related in some way, and a “program” as a group of projects within a portfolio (CRM, etc.).
Selecting the Right PPM Solution
Before undertaking the selection process, it’s key to understand that PPM tools aren’t perfect. Jones cites several challenges, including that some tools can’t report the most useful information, and others are too complex or not complex enough. Some have inefficient cost models, while others have poor usability.
Given that there is no Holy Grail that will be all things to all organizations, PPM software selection begins with gaining a comprehensive understanding of your company’s requirements. Who in your organization will use the tool, and what do they need the tool to do? Jones said that PPM solutions provide a combination of actual work activities and reporting, but features differ.
A program manager, for instance, may need a tool with more strategic analysis capabilities, while a project manager will likely need a central dashboard. Usually, as the level of manager interaction with a tool goes up, the number of employees accessing the tool goes down.
For guiding questions on how to select the right post-spreadsheet tool, visit the QuickBase Fast Track blog.