Are You Using the Right Project Management Tools?
Finding the Right Software to Manage Complex Engineering Projects
This post first appeared in Automation World. As a designer and builder of highly engineered systems, RedViking manages a lot of complex projects. In our experience, project management software can become more of a burden than a benefit. We've seen that even very large companies have resorted to using printed copies of Excel spreadsheets to track a project rather than deal with complicated project management software.
Balancing High Functionality and Strong Usability
For years, we used a popular project management software package. It was expensive, cumbersome, and complex. An administrative person was devoted half time to managing the application. It required extensive training, and the users found it frustrating and time consuming. As a result, several managers stopped using it and different versions of project management spreadsheets began to spring up around the company. At the same time, we were growing fast and we needed a more transparent quality process. We needed to easily communicate project information between newer and more experienced engineers, between project managers and designers, and between program managers and customers. The tool needed to be simple but comprehensive, as well as cloud-based with minimal administrative management. Some of our customers use Excel spreadsheets effectively, so we decided to create virtual versions of our own checklists.
Familiar Tools Provide the Best Foundation
Virtual checklists, using Excel and Visual Basic, combine the simplicity and familiarity of spreadsheets with the online accessibility of project management software. By creating enhanced functionality with Visual Basic and hosting the checklists on a shared server, we have added a consistent level of quality to our projects in a simple format that requires almost no training. Using these familiar formats, knowledge is more effectively captured and transferred. An integrated flow chart serves as the process guide for using the checklist. Process steps and review levels are easily tracked by automatically adding each user’s initials to their interactions. Percent complete is immediately visible by using simple Excel charts to create a Scoreboard, thereby improving transparency for all users. Plus, since the reports are easily viewable on any device, project information is much more accessible to everyone on the project.
The Result: Better Project Management
We've seen significant improvements over our former project management application. Some of the benefits include:
- Greater efficiency in the design process through ready access to similar projects;
- Improved time use, with more time spent on the project and less on administration;
- Greater engineering confidence based on better information through a familiar tool; and
- Better visibility of budget and timeline.