Building the Perfect Digital Toolkit for Project Management
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2014. It’s been so popular that we updated it with more tips in 2019.
No One Has the Perfect Project Management Toolkit…
…in fact, one of the most spirited discussions to take place in a Digital Project Manager Summit we attended centered around the question of which tools get what done.
For example, taking a look at my own toolkit:
I use OmniPlan for personal to-do’s, but Trello for shared tasks. I take notes in TextEdit, but we use GoogleDocs to collect them. We use Sifter to capture bug reports, but PivotalTracker to document progress.
But Wait, What Exactly Is a Project Management Toolkit?
A project management toolkit refers to the set of tools and processes we use in our day-to-day to get the job done effectively and efficiently.
- Software and Applications: The various programs we use as part of our daily workflow to stay organized, track tasks and communicate with others.
- Automations: Tasks or reminders we configure, through tools and applications, to occur automatically based upon date or completion of previous tasks. Automations standardize workflows and increase efficiency by reducing the time spent on manual tasks.
- Business Workflows: Processes followed by a department or company, which facilitate interactions between teams or between the business and their client. Business workflows often provide visibility into project status at a high level.
- Personal Processes: The processes we use to stay organized personally in our day-to-day work, whether that be a notepad we scribble on, a personal Trello board, or folders that automatically sort our our email inbox.
We all need tools to keep things running, so much so that the goal isn’t necessarily to have fewer apps or programs. We do, however, need to ensure each application is adding value and efficiency, rather than just implementing a tool for the sake of implementing a tool. The more the merrier, provided it can help get more done and get it done in a better way!
Project Management Toolkit Pitfalls
The trouble begins, and only compounds itself, when we let the search for the perfect app keep us from solving the real problem. You may have fallen into a similar trap if you’ve ever:
- Let your team’s workflow be determined by an app you’re still learning
- Tried to cram existing processes through a new app’s swim lanes
- Given your team (or self) whiplash from changing tools too quickly
- Sacrificed team values or client satisfaction for the perceived value of a newer technology
Questions to Ask When Updating Your Project Management Toolkit
To find the right tools and techniques to meet your project management needs and help you achieve your goals, we recommend asking the following questions to help you select the right digital project management tools.
Am I looking for a new tool or an improved process?
I often find that I’m perennially searching for the former when in reality, I’m in dire need of the latter. Taking on a new technology is often an easier itch to scratch than tackling the real problem, so it’s important to make sure your solution is not just a superficial one. Sometimes, the problem isn’t the tool you have in place, but the process itself.
Is there a way I can make my existing tool work?
Before going ahead and abandoning your existing tool, be sure to check if any new features or functionality for the tool are available. It’s possible your version is outdated, or that some valuable new features have been added since you first downloaded it. It’s often easier to upgrade or expand how you use your existing project management tools and resources than it is to select new ones.
Can I easily visualize how this tool fits into my workflow?
Take a moment and sketch out what you’re hoping to accomplish with the new app. Draw a diagram, outline the workflow, and ensure the app you’re investigating can fit into that. Not vice versa. The workflow should include other aspects of the project management team’s existing techniques and tools that are already in place and will not change. If the new tool cannot fit into your existing flow easily or doesn’t “play nice” with your other apps, it’s not going to work. Of course, doing that requires that you have two new items in your Perfect Toolkit: pen and paper.
How much will implementing this new tool cost me?
You’re not just purchasing software. Changing your digital project management tools is also a time investment, not only to get the new tool installed, but to learn it and configure it for your team. Depending on the complexity of the tool and the way you’re using it, you (and your team) may need to dedicate a significant amount of time to moving data, learning, re-learning, and battling how this tool needs to be used in your business.
How will we decide to abandon the tool?
Sometimes we implement new tools that look and sound like the correct solution, but the experience in-office just doesn’t match up to our expectations or the marketing promises. Don’t just stick with a tool because you’ve started it. If there are “red flags” at the beginning of the switch, take a step back and reassess. It’s better to recognize it won’t work early on, rather than blindly continue. Abandoning a new tool may cost a bit of time and money, but the loss will be much greater if you forge ahead and still have to make the switch later. Give yourself an exit strategy, including a trial period timeline and some metrics to help make that call.
How do I get my team to buy in to this new tool?
Often you’re not the only one that needs to adopt. Try to remember that we all have mental, emotional, and even physical relationships to the tools we use and that change often works best with support. Be sure to share not only your excitement about the tool’s new bells and whistles, but specific ways how it might help others, too. When teammates can see that a tool will streamline things for them as well, or simply that it will fit into their existing project management toolkit without any headaches, it makes it easier for them to agree.
What apps are others using?
Don’t forget to use your peers as a resource. Learning how and how successfully others use their project management tools and techniques can help determine what you’re missing in your toolkit — or help you realize that you’ve been taking your own apps for granted. Others may have already tried some of the tools you’re researching for yourself or your team, meaning you can get first-hand feedback on how the tool works and what its pitfalls may be. Remember, a tool is rarely just for you, so it’s important to include others in the process.
Asking yourself these questions is a good way to avoid pitfalls, and ensure you build the best toolkit you can to help achieve your needs.