Fifteen years ago, I co-founded a web design and development agency dubbed Pelago. We bought a few computers, rented some office space, and starting signing on clients. It wasn’t too long before we experienced our first fiasco — a mismanaged project went way over budget and chewed up any hope of a profit. When the numbers were tallied, we’d actually lost money on the project.
Our failure was not unique. Studies show that less than a third of all projects were successfully completed on time and on budget in 2013 alone.
Our problem was managing projects and tracking time using Excel spreadsheets—a simple process that left us perpetually a week behind on every project. Problems went undetected until it was too late. To escape our dilemma, we needed to identify overages and out-of-scope work during the project, not after the project completed.
Taking action to prevent this from happening again, we installed open source project management software and bolted a time tracking feature onto it. We diligently tracked every detail and every minute of every project. Then we started looking closer at the data.
What happened next was truly unbelievable.
We were tracking and billing more time without having to put in more hours during the day. Time and tasks that had previously fallen through the cracks were now being accounted for. Our previous method of task management and time tracking had been so inefficient that adopting new software netted a 30% increase in productivity and billable work.
In the years since, I have spoken with several agencies that have experienced the same story. After struggling to get the upper hand on their projects, they threw out the Excel sheets, the post-its, and the notebooks. They ditched their antiquated analog methods and went digital on their workflow. And, they saw similar increases.
The secret to their success wasn’t finding the perfect project management software. It was finding software that worked for them. Today, 44% of project managers use no software, even though PriceWaterhouseCoopers found that the use of commercially available project management software increases performance and satisfaction.
You need software to manage projects efficiently and accurately. Why? Because there are cracks in your workflow. Big, bottomless crevasses that swallow up time and tasks. Project management software bridges these gaps by doing three things you can’t do well manually.
1. Track more time
Study after study has proven our memory is unreliable. If you wait until the end of the day to fill out your timesheet, you will forget some of the details. Tracking time using antiquated methods, such as Excel, results in stale and inaccurate data, none of it useful beyond billing clients.
In a recent survey, businesses identified “capturing time/costs against projects” as their biggest project management challenge. Project management software can assist in capturing time using online timers and timesheets, resulting in real-time data for analysis. The project management process becomes fluid, with fresh estimates and actuals that empower you to make decisions in the moment, not the next week.
2. Manage more tasks
Post-it notes and to-do lists just don’t cut it when you are managing a team. Keeping everyone up-to-date is a cumbersome process involving long, tedious meetings—a waste of time if you ask me. Let the software handle the details (and free everyone up to focus on getting things done).
Cloud-based project management software leverages the always-connected Internet to empower your team. Everything happens in real-time, and no one is left waiting for the next meeting to receive a status update.
3. Communicate more clearly
The distributed team is now the norm. Working in a team comprised of people from different time zones requires more than Skype can offer. Project management software puts everyone in the same virtual location where they can collaborate and communicate effectively.
Centralizing your projects makes them accessible at any time to any person on the team. One person’s evening is another’s morning, but they are both able get the information they need, when they need it, to move the project along.
Making the leap
When it comes to adopting project management software into your workflow, there are a seemingly infinite number of choices. The important qualities to look for are reliability, ease of use, ease of integration, and responsive support. Find software that meets these criteria and try it out. Don’t expect the software to fit you like a glove. It won’t. You may have to adapt your workflow, but your projects will run more efficiently in the long run.
What have you done to increase project productivity? How has your project management software been able to increase project productivity for your team? Tell us in the comments below!