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Will Project Management Software Solve the Project Failure Problem?

Software September logoThis is a guest post by Curt Finch, CEO of Journyx.

Despite the myriad advances made in project management technology in recent years, project failure rates continue to be through the roof. Each year, the CHAOS Report findings that are published by The

Standish Group are dismal. The Standish Group’s 2011 CHAOS Study shows that 66% of projects are either “challenged” or downright failures, leaving just 34% of projects to be considered successful.

Worse than that, Prosci Research’s “Best Practices in Change Management Report” states that in the USA alone, between 1990 and 1998, about 91,000 contractors’ projects failed leaving almost $23 billion in outstanding liabilities. Does this mean that technology and software solutions designed to improve project management are just a waste of time? What are we doing wrong?

Project management software can make companies more successful than ever before, but it is only as good as the processes that support it. Too many managers believe that they can install a solution and leave it at that. The only way to enable such a solution to work is to also evaluate and address the root causes of project failure in your organization.

How much do your projects really cost?

People dislike tracking the time spent on each task of a project for a number of reasons. Some believe that it wastes time that they could be spending on more important work, while others are suspicious that management does not trust them. If team members do not know what the time data will be used for or why it is being tracked, it can be difficult to get them on board.

Yet time data is crucial if you want to understand your true cost on a per-project basis. If you do not know how much time your team members are spending on various projects, you do not really know how much the projects cost. A project that is a large resource drain can be much more expensive than the numbers in the budget indicate. Not only that, but if you are asked by senior management to cut the project budget by 10%, how will you know where to cut? You do not know where your profit lies.

Time data is crucial if you want to understand your true cost on a per-project basis.

Having team members track their time by project – and more specifically, by task – gives you the knowledge necessary to make the right decisions. A software solution will only help you to accomplish this if you obtain widespread employee adoption.

Usually, you can get people on board by explaining how the data will help the company. Some managers opt to create a rewards system for time reporting. The methodology is up to you but if you achieve widespread time-tracking adoption, the knowledge you obtain from the data will be priceless.

Who is available to work on your projects?

Curt Finch

Tracking time for payroll, government compliance, billing or project accounting alone will not provide the data you need for successful project execution. If anything, it will force employees to track time in a number of different systems, which is inefficient and bad for morale. If, however, you have all of your time, project, billing and vacation data in the same system, you can understand who is over- and under-allocated, who is behind on their work, and who is available to work on your project next month – all important issues for a project manager to know.

A software solution that also enables you to conduct “what-if analysis” before assigning work to resources is the best choice. Project managers can then see the impact of their projects before scheduling them, allowing them to avoid unnecessary risk and take the guesswork out of planning.

Actual remaining work

Everyone has the same answer when asked about the status of their tasks: “I’m 90% done.” Updates based on percent complete do not give accurate information on how much longer it will take or whether or not it will be late. Rather, a project management system where employees track time against tasks shows project managers, at a glance, how many actual hours of work remain. The data will then flow back into your project plan, updating it accordingly. This improves project estimation for the future by verifying the accuracy of previous estimates.

A project manager at a large beverage corporation recently told us that though his company had purchased a large project portfolio management solution, people were still entering their time in multiple systems. This left them unable to feed actuals from different departments back into the central project plan for up-to-date status and improved estimation. After spending a significant amount of time and money on a PPM solution, they were not getting any of the promised benefits.

This is just another example of how software will not magically fix project issues without the right processes in place to support it. When choosing a software solution for your company, ask the vendor what type of training comes with the purchase. Onsite training with your employees, using real projects in the system, will ensure a much higher success rate and guarantee it was money well spent.

Clear communication

Managing multiple people and projects across departments, companies and time zones is one of the hardest aspects of project management. Everyone has their own methodology, technology system, culture and work style, and you, the project manager, have to account for all of it. Microsoft SharePoint and other collaboration tools like it can help, but in the end, communication is a human problem and must be addressed as such.

Jonathon Cummings, professor at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, agrees: “Although technology can tremendously improve productivity, […] live communication […] is still critical for a distributed team’s success.” The bottom line here is that you must use the software to enhance your management processes for getting the team on board regardless of location, but never underestimate the power of live communication.

Balancing the Triple Constraint

Most project managers are familiar with the triple constraint: scope, quality and timeframe. One or more of these factors must generally be compromised in order to optimize the others. Technology alone cannot do this for you. It is a subtle, complicated process that requires market research and an understanding of your customer base.

Though project management software provides us with functionality beyond our wildest dreams, it takes effective processes and management skills to solve the project execution problem. Technology will only be the answer when it has the right people driving it.

About the Author:
Curt Finch is the CEO of Journyx. Since 1996, Journyx has remained committed to helping customers intelligently invest their time and resources to achieve per-person, per-project profitability. Curt earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Virginia Tech in 1987. As a software programmer fixing bugs for IBM in the early ‘90’s, Curt found that tracking the time it took to fix each bug revealed the per-bug profitability. Curt knew that this concept of using time-tracking data to determine project profitability was a winning idea and something that companies were not doing – yet… Curt created the world’s first web-based timesheet application and the foundation for the current Journyx product offerings in 1997. Curt is an avid speaker and writer. Learn more about Curt at

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and 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.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Steve Wilheir says

    Software is seldom the solution to a significant organizational issue.  If your system produces crap, automating that system produces more crap faster than ever before.  Now that might be great if you’re in the fertilizer business, but if you’re writing software, it’s probably not going to work out as well for you.  The solution: fix the culture, fix the people, fix the management.  If these things can’t be “fixed”, your project is doomed anyway — start boozing up to dull the pain.

    • Curt Finch says

      Clayton Christensen talks about ‘resources, processes & values’ in his excellent books.  These comprise the culture and more.  Efforts that violate your current company’s RP&V will be rejected by the corporate organism.  PMs aren’t magic, and neither is PM software.  But neither are they useless, properly employed.

  2. Philippe Back says

    Ah, project management will never solve root causes. It can only mitigate the risks.

    Sometimes, the best thing to do is call the project to a halt and exit a state of denial, or group hypnosis into believing “everyhing will be o-kay.

    I have seldom seen this done. Rather a comic-chicken game is being played. Once the sums are staggering enough, some just can’t fold and go for All-in no matter what bad beat they have. These poker terms may be more appropriate to describe what happens than PMI/PRINCE2 terms.

      • Elizabeth says

        Not enough projects get cancelled early enough, and you are right in that more and better data would probably make cancellation decisions easier. However, there will always be that one executive who feels that their project is – one day – going to turn out OK and that if they can only just muddle through for a bit longer… At least project management software that provides good data will help the people around that exec see that it is all just hot air.

    • PM Hut says

      You’re right, forget about project management software, even project management cannot be the cause of project success. We all know that success, or failure, all lie in the hands of the Project Manager.


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