Best Practices

Efficient Project Management

Jonathan Friedman
June 22, 2020
Efficient Project Management

Why tools like PowerPoint and Excel are failing organizations with complex projects

The majority of individuals are overwhelmed by the number of applications, spreadsheets, and slide decks their teams use to manage projects. It's not an efficient project management experience, and put simply, it's a "version-control mess." Most companies are still living in PowerPoint and Excel to manage projects and provide updates, meaning there is no single source of truth for disparate teams working on multiple, complex, interdepartmental projects.

The cost of jumping between tools and trying to meet ad-hoc requests takes a real toll on productivity, efficiency and can lead to lower quality work. Individuals are caught up in managing projects' busywork rather than doing the actual work to drive projects forward.

Access to a project's status is necessary across the entire organization. In today's digitally connected world, the speed at which companies need access to real-time data has increased exponentially. Offline, fragmented solutions for managing complex projects no longer cut it.

The state of project management in organizations

For a lot of organizations, project management is still living in the 2000s. The reason? Most don't have a solution that provides a single source of truth, like a cloud-based platform. Suppose you're a company or department with a centralized organizational structure. In that case, you might have a group of project managers who are in charge of project planning, tracking costs and benefits, and reporting on statuses, but many companies with disparate teams don't have a centralized project management office (PMO). That means managing complex projects falls on the individuals working on them, and that's not efficient project management. Therefore, project leaders may or may not be following project management best practices. The challenge with this is that you end up having many siloed teams trying to maintain a single source truth, dealing with multiple versions of where a project stands in PowerPoints and Excel documents.

Most organizations set business goals and objectives that different business units and support functions need to achieve. The problem with this is that there is no centralized group or platform to help these folks push these goals and objectives forward. The onus is on the team members to manage the project alongside the responsibilities of their actual job, resulting in back and forth status updates, inaccurate reports, and multiple versions and views as to where a project stands with ad-hoc requests. Without a centralized platform that displays information accurately, your employees are forced to create high-level status reports with no real-time visibility on where the different workstreams stand.

Many of these employees are managing multiple projects like this at a time. With no operational system of record, these projects are prone to human error and impact teams' productivity and companies' bottom lines.

How inefficient tools impact the bottom line

In a project, each team member uses a bunch of devices and applications to manage both their work and the project team's work. According to Forrester, "information workers use an average of eight applications to perform their jobs." Most use a suite of tools from Microsoft. When managing a project, deliverables like project plans, timelines, and status reports are maintained and updated in presentations, documents, or spreadsheets, often offline and across disparate team members. When it comes to providing status updates, project managers and team members need to consolidate the disparate information across constituents into a digestible view. There is no real-time visibility of status for any stakeholder in an environment like this, including management.

General managers are bouncing between meetings with external clients and internal resources, always needing to check-in on project statuses with their employees. Program and project managers are continually herding cats trying to gather status updates through emails and calls to provide leaders with ad-hoc and scheduled reports, jumping between PowerPoint and spreadsheets across different projects. Furthermore, project members are overwhelmed continuously by reporting statuses to multiple stakeholders instead of doing the actual work required to move their projects forward. These things slash productivity, efficiency and seriously impact the rate and quality organizations can execute.

This constant loop of switching between tasks, applications, and managing an exponential number of versions result in mental blocks, which have a real cost. According to the American Psychological Association, "mental blocks caused by switching tasks drop productivity by 40%". Moreover, a report from PMI found that high performing organizations (those completing over 80% of projects on time and budget) risk losing $20 million per every $1 billion spent if projects fail to meet goals. The stats are even worse for low performing companies (those completing just 60% of projects on target), jeopardizing a whopping $280 million for every $1 billion spent - 14 times more. A good project is as good as its people - and its tools. While tools like Excel and PowerPoint have been beloved by companies for decades, they weren't built as a collaboration tool to enable efficient project management across an organization.

Why organizations continue to use PowerPoint and Excel, despite the inefficiency

Most project managers and team members are aware of the inefficiencies around using PowerPoint and Excel for project management, yet they remain the dominant tools of choice. Simply put, people are comfortable with them, and efficient project management is not their priority. At the executive level, they know, like, and trust Microsoft. Moreover, it's often necessary to present project status updates to internal senior executives and externally where PowerPoint is preferred. When leaders or other team members request project plans or timelines, they expect to get them in PowerPoint or Excel.

Making a switch from a tried and trusted product is a difficult move, even if the product in question is inefficient. Moreover, project leaders, managers, and team members are so busy trying to keep up with their workloads, and they hardly have the time or desire to learn a new tool.

Aside from these challenges, the real challenge lies in the fact that in the last decade, there hasn't been much innovation in project management software for companies that need collaboration and visibility across teams with a historical look back and forward forecast report based on the entire project plan. Sure, some companies have switched to similar tools, like Google Sheets and Google Slides. However, this is typically due to the company switching from Microsoft to Google.

How today's cloud-based project management platforms fail to address the complexity of projects

In the last fifteen years, a plethora of cloud-based project management platforms has surfaced. As companies have become more complex and dispersed, so have their projects. Cloud-based collaborative project management platforms have become non-negotiable for companies that want to increase resource productivity, efficiency and increase visibility for cross-functional and cross-business unit collaboration.

While popular cloud-based platforms like Asana and Monday.com work well for smaller teams, they aren't built for companies with projects that require strategic decision-making and coordinated action across an organization. They were made for more tactical, short-term projects. These platforms are geared towards tasks and small activities within small teams or groups of people.

Organizations with multiple stakeholders like employees, clients, and third parties need a more robust tool to manage project complexity while also delivering an efficient project management experience. For example, Asana has a timeline view, which is excellent, but it's not structured how most large organizations are structured - it's too simple. Asana requires users to create a team and then create projects within that team. This is great if you're a marketing team and working together all the time. Still, when you're working with multiple stakeholders across an organization, you don't always want to add someone to your "team" but rather give restrictive views and break things up into different workstreams. Similarly,Monday.com is excellent for people that are managing day-to-day tasks and hate Excel, but it's too broad and straightforward. It's focused on tasks and small activities executed by a small team or group of people, rather than individual stakeholders coordinating across different business units.

What a more efficient project management solution looks like

Current cloud-based project management platforms aren't built for complex organizations' workflows, and Microsoft products are hurting their productivity and efficiency. So, what does a better solution look like for this part of the market?

A cloud-based project management platform built for organizations would need to hit on the following:

  1. Strategic planning and execution: to be effective, it needs to focus on proper project management, not task management. Real project management means the platform provides a long-term strategic view of the project, enabling strategic decision making and coordinated action across the company.
  2. Predictive analytics: most companies still use Excel to manage projects because they know how to use it, but all the predictive models need to be built from scratch. On the other hand, many cloud-based platforms have reporting but only provide a historical look-back. Automated reporting and historical and predictive views in projects are needed to enhance productivity and efficiency. Stakeholders need to understand how much work a project member has done, how much remains, and get automated notifications on any changes that impact dependencies for accurate reporting.
  3. Flexible organizational structure: different teams utilize individuals from across the company depending on the project. To function efficiently, these individuals need a platform that provides a single source of truth and visibility into the project at hand to understand who is responsible for what and where a project stands since there is no centralized PMO.
  4. Social collaboration: when you're looking to create something new rather than achieve an everyday activity or task, collaboration with dense, interdependent connections is vital. Power needs to be shared between business units, support functions, and teams, rather than having structured communication flows where commitment and accountability rest with a parent entity.

Interdepartmental organizations need more functionality and flexibility in a cloud-based project management software if it's going to fit into their everyday workflow, be a single source of truth, and increase productivity. A solution that removes the "version-control mess" that occurs with PowerPoint and Excel is critical if companies want to increase efficiency and mitigate human error. That way, everyone can focus on doing the job they were hired to do, rather than being bogged down with trying to manage multiple projects and statuses.

The network required to deliver products and services to customers involves collaboration across geographies and many support functions, external third parties, cross-sale products from partner business units, and even customers themselves. As organizations become more successful and grow, the network of stakeholders required to deliver on all those projects expands exponentially. Without the right cloud-based platform to move these projects along, companies will face a never-ending spiral of lost productivity and low quality.

It's time organizations had a solution to help them untangle project management to accomplish more with less. This is especially true with everyone working from home. If you're looking to change the way your organization manages projects, resulting in increased productivity, efficiency, and accountability, reach out to our sales team today.