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Why don’t project teams use all the features of their project management software?

Posted by Aaron Norman on Apr 8, 2016 3:23:13 PM

I’ve been working with project teams for the last 20 years and seen them use a wide variety of project management software, from colour coded excel sheets to MS Project to enterprise project software. Throughout all of these projects, I’ve seen the teams rely on the same groups of features to get things done, despite having an excess of functions available in the software. What's the reason they don't use all the functions?

The reality of managing projects:

One of the other problems I have heard discussed many times, is simple navigation within software. ‘Where is the button for the taking the baseline again?’ as it is hidden amongst so many other functions. In fact I’ve also seen teams revert to spreadsheets because they find it simpler, for example, to manage timesheets. Also more time than I realised is spent every day on managing things like checking if everyone is using the latest version of a project document or even finding out where all the project documents are. It’s often hard to find similar documents eg Risk Registers created by other project teams.


I don’t think the technology used depends on the value of the project either – we have talked with teams and PMOs managing projects worth tens of millions of $ and they are still using the same basic tools for 90% of their projects. Some still use paper!

The organisations I have spoken to will only use advanced software (e.g. Primavera) for exceptionally large projects with a large number of sub projects and tasks and hundreds of team members.
One particular company explained that they do use Primavera, but only for about 5% of the 1000’s of projects that they manage annually. The rest, well it falls back to the mixture described above.

So why are teams ignoring more advanced features in project management software?

Listening to the project management teams, I believe it’s a mix of reasons, driven by the classic 80-20 rule. The project teams use 20% of the project management software to do 80% of their everyday job. They don’t have time to look at the advanced features and they probably don’t make much of a difference anyway. So it’s about features like updating tasks and timelines, resource management, status updates, managing reports to Stakeholders.

Asking teams to use more advanced project management software just seems counterintuitive to them, as they are managing their projects already using the core tools. Calculating EVM is not a routine job.

Essentially the feedback that I have received points to project managers needing the tools that help them keep on top of all the information related to the project. This includes tools that manage the project schedule and resources, i.e. the tools provided by traditional project management solutions. However the tools they want more of are those that help them quickly manage the rest of the project too - all the project documents, project risks, issues and the everyday processes used in the project. Combining all of this provides real business value to the project manager, the project team and the organisation itself.

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Topics: Project Management

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