I’ve had a handful of clients ask me about the same use case: we need something to maintain a high level view of how a whole slew of projects are doing. There’s no standard project management software or approach being used, so this just has to be superimposed on the existing chaotic and inconsistent processes used by each project owner (I hesitate to say “project manager” as that implies more formality than there usually is in these cases).
They need something light, free (their budget doesn’t take a hit), and collaborative. We’re talking simple streamlining and improvement here, not a wholesale process change. Basically, someone with a higher level interest in all the activities wants a place to go to see how everything is progressing. And if something goes off the rails, they’d like to be proactively notified.
This sounds like one of those use cases that’s ripe for IT-assisted end user computing. It’s simpler than case-specific software, but needs a little help from IT to make generalized end-user software work.
The typical approach is to do this via email or maybe a spreadsheet. There are whole categories of software for project management and Project and Portfolio Management software, but those are much larger in cost and learning curve than the non-PMO folks asking me are looking for. But the clients I talk to have outgrown the email or document approach and want something a little better.
There are several options as I see it:
- Collaborative list: Custom lists (like those in SharePoint) are a straightfoward approach to allow the project owners to update their own list items with status, % complete, tag them with categories. You can attach documents if needed. And they usually provide for auto-notification through RSS or email when rows change.
- Collaborative spreadsheet: There are several cloud-based spreadsheets (e.g., Google Apps, Zoho, Smartsheet even has Gantt charts) that allow for collaborative editing without having to email an actual file around or worry about changes being overwritten. An enterprise-level one (security, de-provisioning if users leave the company, backup, etc.) is strongly preferable to just using free consumer services of course. The ability to enter long-form descriptions and attach file is more limited, but spreadsheets require no training.
- Wiki: The idea here is to create a kind of “living status report”. Type up the status report once as if you were creating a Word document summarizing how all the projects or tasks are going. But do it in a wiki and open it up for editing so it can now be kept continually up to date instead of having to create new versions each week/month with the date appended to the filename.
- Blog: If more of a newsletter approach than a status report is appealing, blogs can be used by all the project owners to post entries when milestones are hit and tag them with the different projects, organizational units, team members, topics, skills, or whatever you like. The entries are articles, like in a newspaper, talking about what has happened on the project and offering a sense of completion and praise for a job well done. RSS readers allow interested parties to subscribe to the blog as a whole, or specific tags within it based on their interests.
- Social networking: If an internal social network is being used, such as IBM Connections, project managers can just post updates when milestones are hit and tag them for future concatenation into status reports.
There are probably more as well as more creative options become available. These options generally forfeit the regular filing of a status report form that can be mined in case something goes wrong. But how often do you really go through the old status reports? These options usually have logging of changes that can help somewhat for auditing purposes, but would be difficult to use in a large environment. What you gain instead is a single version of truth and collaborative entry that avoids any concatenation or summarizing effort.
Are there any other ideas you’ve used?