The glut of project management software available in the market today begs the question: does a project manager really need all these fancy, whiz-bang programs? Didnt we do just fine before these were invented?
Excellent questions! The short answers are no, theyre not an absolute need; and yes, things still got done way back when.
But heres where things get subjective. Project management was first applied to civil engineering projects in the 1900s. The project elements back then were just the same as today: scope, plan, materials, manpower, and time. Back then, project managers had to organize and manage things using the only tool they had to hand: copious amounts of paper.
As you can imagine, things could get pretty hard to track. Even the Gantt chart, the ages revolutionary productivity and organizational tool, had to be posted on a wall and updated by hand on a regular basis. chalkboards were probably regular fixtures in a project managers office.
The modern era is rife with advanced tools and techniques that project managers can use to better organize teams and resources, and not all of them have to be dedicated project management software programs (or involve reams of paper).
A simple calendar can help fulfil the basic scheduling tracking functions of project management. MS Outlook, for instance, has an excellent calendar module with useful features.
Tasks can be easily tracked with generalist programs like MS Word or Excel, and shared with the team via email. One potential problem with this approach is that you need tight version control to make sure everyone is working off the same task list.
Collaboration can be handled the traditional way, via email, IM, and phone conferences–or the even more traditional way, which is regular meetings and face-to-face conversations.
The biggest problem with the above is the disparate nature of all the programs. Youre shuffling between at least three tools/programs to manage a single project, when a good project management tool will make all these features available in a single space.
Project Management and Footwear
In the end, project management tools are a lot like footwear. You have the option of running barefoot; and some projects will be perfectly fine for that, much like walking on carpet or grass or the beach. But more difficult projects will sear the soles like hot asphalt or hurt like jagged gravel.
It is here where project management software can offer the biggest benefit by cushioning the pain points and enabling smoother progress over the course of the project.
Many tools wont be a perfect fit, and you may have to try out different ones before you find one thats right for you. But once you find the perfect tool, youll wonder how you couldve gone so long without it.