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What we want from project management tools in 2020

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I don’t often wear a watch, but when I do it’s a very unassuming watch with real hands. Not a smart watch. I’ve been a little bit in awe at colleagues who get WhatsApp messages on the wrists. I’m not sure if I would want that, but I do love the simplicity of it.

And then I log into my PM software and suddenly that simplicity that exists elsewhere disappears…

Here are my wishes for the PM software industry for 2020.

1. Give us more data

Projects generate huge amounts of data. We have forecast and actual dates, timesheets, budgets, databases of lessons learned, risks, issues and changes. And yet, mostly, what we know is what we’ve learned from experience. Searching historical project data and surfacing relevant information is tough. Big data and artificial intelligence features should be making it easier.

For example, imagine reviewing estimates from the project team. As you enter their estimated effort for tasks, the software prompts you: Claire’s estimates were 20% under on her last five projects. Would you like to add 20% to this estimate? Well, yes. Yes, I would.

I’d like project management software that makes it easy to make data-driven decisions based on relevant corporate knowledge – the kind of knowledge that leaves when an experienced project manager takes a job somewhere else. We should be capturing it and presenting it to new project managers so the organisation learns and adapts for more successful project delivery.

2. Make it useable

My five-year old can give Alexa instructions and get the song or joke he wants. I want project management tools with the same level of usability. Tools that work without a huge learning curve.

I know what we do is complicated. The amount of icons and menu options on an enterprise tool shows me that. I want all the features, but I also want usability, mobile apps, integrations with other tools, voice commands and contextual help for when I don’t understand what to do next.

I want the detail for my own use so I can do my job effectively, and a simple interface for stakeholders who just need to see overall status.

3. Give us time

Ultimately, project managers want to win back time from being in front of computers, so they can spend that time with the people who matter for the project.

Culture and leadership are what makes businesses successful. You can’t automate stakeholder engagement or motivating a team. Project managers need to spend time on the things that really drive successful delivery, and that isn’t entering data into software.

We could save hours of project time with software that supports project teams by automating what can be automated, making it easy to make the right decision and surfacing information when we need it.

The tech exists out there to move project management tools on leaps and bounds. Typically, we see improvements in consumer products (like Alexa) before those improvements make it into the average workplace.

I hope it won’t be long before we start to see some of the fantastic AI initiatives making their way into the tools we use to deliver projects – because as our project environments get more complicated and complex, I for one could do with all the time-saving, intelligent help I can get.

A version of this article first appeared in Business & Industry in 2019.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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