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How to select the best project management tool for a consulting company?

MINDSPIRE BLOG

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We spent quite a time evaluating and selecting the ideal Project Management tool for MINDSPIRE.

In our post we share our experience and the lessons learned from the evaluation process.

Honestly speaking, when we were assigned to the task of selecting the best project management tool for a consulting company, I assumed we were going to have some boring weeks ahead.

I actually had to tune in to the topic and this lasted longer than the work itself. There was some consolation in it though, namely that I was supposed to work with colleagues whom I really loved working with on former projects. They are smart, sharp, creative young fellows and I picked up their enthusiasm. My gratefulness grew day by day, and at the end I had to admit that I clearly benefited from this duty.

What was the task that we were appointed to fulfil?

Time and again we come across situations, when asking, what kind of toolset we may or can apply for project management support? Shall we utilize an available and well-known method, or due to the characteristics of the actual project should a new series of actions and innovations be implemented?

Éva Besze-Rábay

Éva Besze-Rábay

Senior Consultant, Project Manager and PMO expert

Éva is a senior project manager, with the capability of leading several parallel projects. She has worked in different areas, e.g. system implementations, business development, change management and facility establishment.

In addition to the financial sector, she has successfully led projects in other industries. She is a member of MINDSPIRE’s PMO expert team.

One of the lessons we learned at the end of a very complex, important and thoroughly evaluated project was that the dozens of spreadsheets generated for data collection and reporting purposes or merely maintaining information were boring, hideous, and sometimes too complicated. It was simply annoying to click a dozen times to get to column „AX”, where the relevant information had been recorded. Another disadvantage was that only one person at a time could use the platform reliably, without overwriting, thus deleting pertinent data. Not to mention the constant puzzling to find out which one could be „the current version”.

So we called for help from the World Wide Web and initiated a targeted research to assess the proper currently available applications for project management and project administration.

We suddenly found ourselves in a sort of a confusion of abundance. Really. Just try to enter „Project Management Tool” in your browser and you will get an unexpectedly large number of results.

We clicked, viewed, read, studied and considered a lot of solutions, as there are indeed plenty to pick from.

On some occasions we experienced ’Wow effects’ and we also found solutions which were immediately rejected. Some of the dismissed ones we revisited later during the evaluation process.

But what were we exactly looking for?

There was one thing we were all sure about, namely: the tool should be adequate for literally every kind of demand. But what „every kind” should really mean? This was the beginning of our quite long brainstorming session.

A criteria register has been created, specifying all parameters the preferred tools should meet. Other than hard facts as core features, we listed some soft criteria as nice to have features too, then we started sorting them out, and finally we came to an agreement. 

How to select the best project management tool

Our set of criteria was the following:

Project Management Features:

  • Project planning with resource, milestone, duration
  • Create dependencies
  • Indicate status
  • Proper task hierarchy
  • HR planning, timesheet
  • Budget tracking
  • Risk and issue registry
  • Change management
  • Project portfolio management

    Visualisation, reports:

    • Dashboard, reporting, advanced analytics (tailor-made solutions)
    • Visualization (e.g., Gantt-chart, critical path)
    • Calendar view

      User-friendly solutions:

      • Export to other file formats (xlsx, pdf etc.)
      • Import data from different sources
      • Track changes function, log, history
      • Mobile application
      • Templates
      • User-friendliness, flexibility
      • Speed

        Communication, collaboration:

        • Communication platforms
        • Roles and responsibilities, authorization
        • Involvement of external users
        • Status reporting by externals
        • File management, attachments
        • E-mail/SMS reminder
        • Real time modification
        • Cloud compatible

          Customisation:

          • Integrations
          • Color-coding options
          • Scalability, tailor-made versions
          • Workflow

            Other (Technical):

            • Helpdesk, customer service
            • Software update
            • Version follow-up (retrieving formerly input data)
            • Compliance, data protection
            • Size of data storage
            • Software fee

            Based on our common consent finally a viable registry of relevant tools was created, and we could start the assessment of the various applications.

            The evaluation was a plain scoring of the weighted hard and soft criteria, then the final ranking of the tools – including the already well-known ones which we have used on our previous projects – was a simple maths exercise.

            In the course of this activity, we often coordinated about the experiences and observations we made while actually trying out the various tools. We have subscribed for demo versions and when the subscription expired, we asked for prolongations from the sales departments, thus we were in daily contact with their associates. This actually led to a conclusion that the responsiveness of the sales and customer service departments also needed to be scored.
            Some of them seemed to be too proactive, which was sometimes annoying. Others have offered as much as was really essential during the work.

            In one instance it happened that the 30 days free period had expired, although it was still necessary to spend some time with the evaluation and we were granted additional terms with no extra charge.

            Of course, MINDSPIRE was a prospect for these enterprises and the sales guys had seen the business opportunity. Nevertheless, we felt privileged that companies from the renowned Silicon Valley, even if registered merely under a P.O. Box number, were that communicative with a handful of people contacting them from *.hu e-mail addresses.

            The outcome of the evaluation

            After all, our efforts paid off and we dared to announce that the work had been done as we shaped a 10+ list of probable candidates. Our own “Magic Quadrant” had also been created to confirm and demonstrate why and how we got to the final order.

            As a matter of fact, though at that point we got puzzled. Even though our ultimate goal was to find something better to replace the tools we had been using so far, as the message of the lessons learnt was obvious and straightforward, according to the criteria register, it turned out that the formerly utilized applications could not have been ignored at all.

            The next step was to share the findings and results with others. The fabrication of PowerPoint slides started, and we spent several hours aligning the content of the presentation and our uncertainty grew day by day. Meanwhile the sales people, I mean those active ones kept on calling and mailing us asking when we were going to make an order for 500+ licenses.

            The result was a good-looking presentation for the Management. Their response however, had devotedly reflected the ambiguity we had been struggling with. Namely, the new tools we evaluated looked promising, their features seemed to be adequate and meeting the expectations, however the formerly utilised applications did not turn out to be less valuable or even to be skipped and changed.

            Based on our scoring and evaluation, every single tool we listed as a potential support for our upcoming projects was more than acceptable, located close to the right, upper corner on the scatter chart.

            Still, there remained a question: do they really offer more than those we have already been using for ages?

            We drew the consequences, and we would recommend that the decision whether the newly discovered and evaluated software would grant better opportunities should be made by the actual users. Same, same, but different, as some Asian people would say, and finally I can understand what they actually mean by that.

            What we can surely say is that even though the “usual” tools we have been working with have the same capabilities, the features of the new platforms are mainly different when it comes to visualisation, customisation, and automation.

            These are our short summaries about the evaluated project management tools:

            • Microsoft Excel is a well-known, continuously developed product with limited functionalities for project management purposes.
              • Microsoft Excel is currently in use for task lists follow-up on our projects. General functionalities are well-known among the customers, very handy for collecting inputs in a timely manner thanks to its flexibility. Wide range of charts and statistics can be generated.
              • However, it is important that Excel itself cannot replace a dedicated software for Project Management since basic PM features are missing. Neither proper Gantt charts, nor dynamic dependency settings and milestones are available. Simultaneous work is not possible; due to the lack of activity log, follow-up of the changes might cause confusion. Write and read-only access with possibility of locking sheets and ranges is possible but limits the collaboration.
            Excel screenshot
            monday.com screenshot
            • Monday.com is a flexible and easy-to-use tool with a high-level of customization and automation. Good visualization of tailor-made reports.
              • Monday.com reports can be customized on high level; coloring allows easy tracking.
              • Default list view with its user-friendly functionalities makes the tool ideal for topic and task list maintenance.
              • Not suitable for managing complex projects as task hierarchy is limited; only 2 levels can be generated. Furthermore, only level1 tasks can be visualized on Gantt chart. Even the reports work with level1 tasks only.
            • Celoxis is an easy-to-discover, self-explanatory tool, very flexible, nice visualization useful for PowerPoint presentations.
              • For medium or large organizations Celoxis is a complete project management platform.
              • It has all the necessary project management features and even advanced level of functionalities (such as risk register, RAID log, change request), which are easily available at one place.
              • It can keep track of financials at the task level, classified as billable at a fixed rate or by time and materials.
              • Complex reports are available but generating them requires deeper knowledge of the tool. For the exported data reports further processing is needed in Excel.
            Celoxis screenshot
            TeamGantt screenshot
            • TeamGantt is a very handy, easy to use tool with all the mandatory features and fast operations. Its visual charts, reports help to oversee the project.
              • Main functions are available such as task scheduling and task hierarchy. Resource allocation is visualized under Gantt chart, which allows overseeing eventual overallocation of resources. All tasks and milestones are nicely displayed and even editable in Calendar view.
              • TeamGantt is missing the useful risk and issue register functions just like budget management module.
              • Reporting is very limited.
              • It does not support creating large scale Project Plans (High Level Project Plan).
            • Asana is also a handy tool with built-in, customizable templates; thus, features can be tailor-made for various purposes.
              • Asana has a very clear and simple list view; furthermore, status labels can be customized, which enables easy tracking of tasks.
              • Its portfolio and workload management function satisfies all needs. Unlike competitors, it can create customized forms.
              • However, some basic project management features are missing such as multiple resource assignment, timesheet logging, budget management, and Gantt chart shows only level 1 tasks like monday.com. Reporting is very limited.
            Asana screenshot
            Jira screenshot
            • JIRA software is a well-known solution with a lot of functions, used mainly for issue resolution management, but could be extended to a project management tool as well.
              • JIRA software has a strong brand behind, widely used by companies in financial sector. The solution started as an issue, bug management tool, but by now it has become a complex work management system. Therefore, its terminology differs from the one used in project management.
              • Most project management features are available only via extensions and/or add-ons, which have extra costs.
              • JIRA has the most flexible workflow, and it contains the widest range of permission setting. Risk and issue matrix is nicely visualized with a complex approval process behind. It has a wide-range of reporting options but their generation is more complicated than in Microsoft Project.
            • Microsoft Project Plan is a well-known, continuously developed product with a complete range of project management features for any kind of projects.
              • Its reporting function is almost unlimited and compared to the complexity of the tool pre-defined reports are easy to use and edit.
              • Although it is a trusted solution on the market, even the online version is a little behind the competitors in terms of collaboration support, visualization, or user-friendliness. Having the ability of proper usage requires a lot of practice. It is highly recommended to use for a high-level project plan but less convenient for task lists follow-up.
            MS Project screenshot

            Final conclusions on how to select the best Project Management tool for a consulting company.

            While completing the exercise, some truly valuable and useful knowledge has been developed within the company. We became acquainted with the evaluated tools and now we are able to utilize and apply them on future projects. As a result, our field of vision has broadened, we can approach project administration and project management in other ways now. The evaluated platforms showed us, what more we can utilise in our project management methodology when it comes to administration, such as applying log of changes, version inventory, tracking simple cost elements, or setting up user access limits and even user hierarchy. And as a surplus, we really enjoyed the work! Extensive expertise and experience are hallmarks of our company, which from now on includes a comprehensive knowledge of various Project Management Tools. We also integrated the collected information into our internal knowledge base and training materials. If you are planning a new project, be it a green field system implementation, an upgrade, an integration task or even a BPR mission, and you are looking for a delivery partner, or simply interested in our Project Management Services or PMO services, please submit your contact information on our website, and we will get in touch with you soon!

            Please see MINDSPIRE’s related:

             

            Project Management
            Services

            Project Management
            Office

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