Project Management tools are aimed towards helping businesses large and small to better manage their time, categorize documents, organize workloads, and collaborate with coworkers to make sure all resources are being used to their best capabilities. Depending on the company’s budget and specific needs, there are a multitude of products and tools to choose from. Although some project managers continue to use traditional Microsoft Office products to organize project information, there are several organizations that cite several other options. For example, Project Management Institute provides links to individual vendors on their website as well as a comprehensive breakdown of each product, its details, and free trial offerings (Gido & Clements, 2006).
There are a multitude of benefits when using well-developed project management software. However, project managers are wary of pitfalls and shortcomings when searching for their software tool of choice. First, having the software alone can be distracting. Managers want the software to be efficient and orderly. They should not have to spend too much time installing or learning how to use the program. At the same time, the program should not entice the manager to play with it all day for its features and reports. Answers should be simple, concise and easy to formulate. Another factor effecting the decision of which project management software to purchase would be a false sense of security. Managers should not be fooled into thinking they can manage the world if their software is only capable of managing a few hundred people. This false sense would allow the manager to report that he/she is doing fine when they are actually off course (Gido & Clements, 2006, pg 421).
When project management tools give the manager an information overload, the outcome is adverse than what the designers of the software intended. A great about of features are a plus, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. Successful completion of the project requires usage of necessary tools and anything additional can make the project seem overwhelming. It is also true that project managers become reliant on the software to do the job for them. They feel that because it is so simple and fun to use, they can use it for more aspects than it was intended for. In the end, project management tools are there to help individuals to their job more effectively. Over-usage can be detrimental (Gido & Clements, 2006, pg 422).
The most obvious tool for project management tracking and maintaining progress throughout the duration of the project is Microsoft Project 2008. This tool operates under four main functions Tasks, Resources, Track and Report. The tasks feature allows the project manager to schedule reoccurring tasks such as project update meetings. This portion of the tool can be expanded or hidden to convenience. Showing an extended list of tasks can be distracting and having the capability to minimize this list is an advantage. The resource feature helps the project manager to organize teams for specific tasks and assignments within the project management. Tracking feature allows for the user to track individual sections of the project according to the tasks and assignments he/she has placed previously. Finally, the report feature allows the project manager to print customized progress reports pertaining to the progress tracked by Microsoft Project (Top Ten Reviews, 2007).
According to Top Ten Reviews, a website that reviews various software programs, Microsoft Project places as number two on the most reliable program list for project management tools. The number one tool on that list is eTask. The major differences between Microsoft Project and eTask is price and integration with other users running the same program. Microsoft Project runs about $599 for a one time purchase fee per employee while eTask is a monthly subscription of $30 per employee. Additionally, eTask allows the project manager to send assignments directly to his/her project subordinates. This is called an ASP module. With Microsoft Project, the program runs completely on the users or managers computer or what is called a client module (Top Ten Reviews, 2007).
The components of these tools are similar to many of the facets offered in the basic Microsoft Office Professional Suite. This package includes Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word, Accounting Express, Access, and Outlook with Business Contact Manager for $499.95. These programs are much more popular amongst emerging college students and young professionals who have used the software in previous positions or on previous assignments. Microsoft Outlook, similar to the Tasks and Resources feature of Microsoft Project, allows for the project manager to assign duties to specific individuals involved in the team via E-mail communication. The calendar associated with this component will block out time for meetings and reoccurring activities. It is easy for businesses to set up time, date, and location for meetings using this function. Similar to the task bar in Microsoft Project, Microsoft Outlook uses the To-Do Bar to consolidate tasks, E-mails flagged for follow-up, and appointments (Microsoft Office Online, 2008).
Additional functionality of the Microsoft Office Professional package includes the ability to track performance through Excel spreadsheets. Although, tracking is not automatic as it is in Microsoft Project, Excel allows the user to customize his/her approach towards project management and organization. It is easy for the user to sort, filter, graph and visualize information in any format they need for project management purposes. Using Microsoft PowerPoint helps businesses to better create in-house demonstrations for marketing plans. The Microsoft Office Professional allows comes with hundreds of professionally designed fonts and color schemes to assist in in-house logo creation, print material, and E-mail materials (Microsoft Office Online, 2008).
In conclusion, project managers have many different options to meet their needs for a tool that will provide a sufficient environment for charting, graphing, and overall project managing. When cost is not an issue, the project manager should seek a tool that is not over compensating and does not give a false sense of confidence. Project management tools should be used to help the project manager to better assess their progress through organization and simplified tracking methods. Formalized software for that purpose is not always necessary and traditional programs can sometimes be substituted.
CTU Online. (Ed.). (ca. 2008). Phase 2 Course Material [multimedia presentation]. Colorado Springs, CO: CTU Online. Retrieved January 20, 2008, from CTU Online, Virtual Campus, MPM401 Project Management Theory: 0801A-03. Website: https://campus.ctuonline.edu/MainFrame.aspx?ContentFrame=/Classroom/course.aspx?Class=23719&tid=39
Gido and Clements. (2006) Successful Project Management. (3rd ed.) Thomson Higher Education: Mason, OH.
Microsoft Office Online. (2008) Microsoft office professional 2007 top 10 benefits. Retrieved January 21, 2008, from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suites/HA101655171033.aspx
Project Management Institute (PMI). (2004) A guide to the project management body of knowledge. Project Management Institute: Newtown Square, PA.
Top Ten Reviews. (2007) Project Manager 2008. Retrieved January 21, 2008, from http://project-management-software-review.toptenreviews.com/microsoft-project-review.html