7 Tools You Need to Be a Successful Project Manager


project managerEvery successful project manager appreciates the importance of deploying knowledge, skills and tools to meet his/her objectives. Of these invaluable ingredients in project management, tools are mostly overlooked and this is one of the major pitfalls for project managers.  There is no gainsaying the fact that there are myriad PM tools in use and more keep being developed.

Nevertheless, there are those that have been used over the years and still remain relevant. To run your project successfully it is important to have an idea of some of these management tools in order to get the most out of them.

Avoiding Project Failure

To appreciate the reason you need to leverage tested and proven tools in your project you just need to look at some of the numbers in the industry. A Harvard Business Review study shows that 1 in 6 IT projects overrun projected costs by 220% and 70% fail to meet their schedule. It gets worse; a Gallup Business Review shows the U.S economy loses between $50 and $150 billion annually due to failed projects.

A report by KeyedIN on the other hand shows 50% of all new PMO offices fail within three years of launch. In essence many project managers face a herculean task pulling off successful projects. Luckily, those who are successful also share their secrets and you must capitalize on these gems to make a mark in this competitive field.

So, here are the 7 tools you need to be a successful project manager:

1.The Budget

It might sound obvious but most project managers take the budgeting process as a means to an end.  In fact a budget needs to be used as an effective tool to guide your project to fruition though a participatory approach. Your project’s budget must be a quantified plan of action and not a one-off process to get the project underway.

The plan needs to itemize the project’s income and expenditure, variances and deviations. As a tool your budget comes in handy in:

  • Communicating objectives
  • Authorizing expenditure
  • Coordinating operations
  • Evaluating performance and rewarding the same
  • General planning

The budget as a project management tool can be simplified using this acronym: PRIME which stands for Planning, Responsibility accounting, Integration, Motivation and Evaluation.  Every successful manager must thus leverage the power of this accounting tool in order to meet the project objectives.

2. Project Management Software

Modern technology has revolutionized the way project managers work. By increasing efficiency and productivity these tools have revolutionized this discipline.  There are hundreds of mobile apps and software that you can leverage to optimize your project management. These tools come in handy for collaboration, evaluation, task allocation, time management, project tracking, budgeting among other areas.

You can choose from some of the best apps including Asana, Clarizen, ClientSpot, Liquid Planner, Basecamp among many others to streamline your operations. These tools easily integrate with document management software such as Google Drive and QuickBooks. They come in different packages depending on the size of your project and they are scalable in case the size of your project increases.

3. Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

Like the name implies this is an invaluable tool in simplifying huge projects into more manageable tasks. These smaller units of work are then allocated to your team and a time guideline is also given. WBS goes further than task allocation as it also includes resources planning to ensure every allocated task progresses more efficiently towards the set goals.

When a Work Breakdown Structure is effectively deployed it helps you delegate responsibility more efficiently. It also helps enhance productivity in your operations while also optimizing on available resources. In addition, WBS is important in risk management as an ongoing tool for monitoring your project.

4. Gantt Charts

This is an invaluable time scheduling tool that has been used for decades in project management. It is named after Henry Gantt a U.S. engineer who came up with the device in 1917. The charts are used for budgeting, scheduling, reporting, communicating and presenting progress reports for a project. The horizontal bar chart is a favorite with successful managers because it enables real-time recording of actual performance by your team.

The planned deadlines are compared to actual performance to measure completion rates. The versatile tools can thus be used for myriad purposes including planning the time scale for your project, estimating required resources, showing a schedule of pending tasks, planning and coordinating specific tasks for a project and much more. In essence Grant charts are invaluable when it comes to completion of tasks within a given timeline.

5. Critical Path Analysis (CPA)

If you have a complex and long running project Gantt charts might not be your best tools. Instead you should opt for network analysis also commonly called Critical Path Analysis (CPA). It might sound like a complex tool but in fact CPA is one of the easiest tools to deploy in project management. This is simply a flow chart diagram in a linear version which helps track your project against a timeline.

Where there are many interconnected tasks a Project Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) is used to show interdependent factors in a visual manner. Through a logical display which also indicates interdependencies you are able to concentrate on what is more critical to keep the project moving.

CPA is popular with successful managers because it allows better visual communication, arranges tasks in an optimal sequence, allows for calculation of elapsed time, highlights critical areas and also enables a manager to estimate float times for all tasks.

6. Communications Protocol

Many projects fail due to communication breakdown.  As a project manager you must define the communication tool that will be used in all official communication. In most cases the email is the preferred tool but with time social media and mobile apps have made collaborative tasks easier to coordinate. There must be clear cut communication protocol in place to enhance productivity within your team.

7. Project Reports

Every project starts with a project initiation document (PID) which is akin to a proposal. This document justifies the existence of your project. It also entails project scope and goals, cost and time estimates, risk mitigation strategies and stakeholders’ input. Another critical tool which falls under reports is the project planning document (PPD) which details resources, quality control procedures, risk analysis, timelines and deadlines and team organization. Other reports needed include progress and post-completion reports which evaluate the performance for the entire project.

Final Thoughts

Project management is all about getting things done and if you find yourself stuck there is something you are not doing right. It is important to leverage tools that have been successfully used time and again in order to get your project going. It is also crucial to capitalize on modern technology while also looking for old trusted techniques such as Gantt charts.

Additionally you need to be on the lookout for emerging apps to help you manage on the go. These come in handy when you have teams scattered across the globe. Remember project management tools make brainstorming, file sharing, communication, risk management and task tracking more efficient which are essential for the success of any project.

Image: NashvilleCorps via Visual Hunt

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