Project Management tools can help teams work better together. According to a study conducted by Asana, we spend on average 61% of our working time doing “work about work”. This could include email, tracking down information and updates, or internal collaboration.
What if we didn’t have to spend so much time in our email or trying to get status updates from colleagues? This is where a good project management tool comes into play.
When used correctly, a project management tool should give the project team:
- Visibility into the project plan
- Documentation of all deadlines
- A shared understanding of who is responsible for completing each task
- The ability to know when it is okay to start your task if it is dependent on someone else completing their work first
So why do so many project management tools “not work”? I have met with many teams who claim their PM tool doesn’t work for them or a certain tool was not designed for a certain task. When I dig further there are usually one of three reasons why the tool isn’t working for the team.
Three Reasons Why PM Tools Don’t Work
1. The process isn’t well defined
Purchasing project management software because you think you should is not a great way to set your team up for success. If you buy software because you think you need it, chances are you will be creating processes to support the use of the tool instead of using the tool to support your ideal work processes. While a lot of the core functionality of project management software is the same or similar, there are definitely some nuances. Before you buy, write down all of the things that you want your project management tool to do. These might be things like:
- Organize projects and tasks
- Assign deadlines
- Assign owners
- Allow approvals to take place in the tool
- Share status updates
- Integrate with our calendars
Once you and your team have decided what you’d like the tool to be able to do, decide what your non-negotiables are. So, be clear on what the tool must have and what it would be nice to have.
When considering the requirements for the project management tool, think about your process. How does your team like to work and what is most important to them? Do you have dedicated project managers or are your functional employees also filling that role? Having these questions answered will help you to better evaluate your options and choose the tool (or tools) that will work best for your team.
Even if you are the final decision maker, you should consult your team and get their feedback before making your purchase. Choosing a tool that doesn’t meet the team’s needs or that they dislike is not a great way to ensure that it is used. We’ll talk more about adoption tips in the next section, but as a sneak peek, understand that gaining team buy-in is essential.
2. The tool isn’t used consistently
Another reason why the tool might not “work right” is that is it used inconsistently. This can mean a few things are happening
- The team isn’t updating the tool regularly
- Some projects are being managed through the tool and others are not
- Some team members are using the tool’s functionality different from the rest of the team
- Team members aren’t checking the tool for updates or reviewing progress in the tool
3. The leadership team isn’t bought into using the tool
If the big boss is still constantly asking for excel sheets, decks, and long status update meetings the team won’t prioritize using the project management software. This work about work will continue and updating the project management tool will just become another task that needs to be done, not one that adds value and increases productivity.
If using a project management tool is essential to the work, the leadership team needs to drive this message from the top down. Status update meetings should be conducted with everyone looking at the tool and updates should be communicated in your projects directly. Now, this doesn’t mean every stakeholder will be in the tool every day – keep communication role appropriate, and for very high-level briefings for some project sponsors or stakeholders a small deck may still be the appropriate way to communicate.
Seven Tips For Project Management Tool Adoption
1. Ensure the team is ready for change
Springing a new tool and new expectations on your team and expecting them to fall into line is pretty much the opposite of how you enable adoption. If you think “Oh, they’re project managers, they’ll get it up and running easily.” You are setting yourself and your team up for failure. Your teams are probably already very busy with a number of competing priorities. Asking them to stop mid-project, set up a new system, and train the team is not going to be easy or efficient.
Before you begin to use the tool you will want to establish:
- Who will use the new tool
- How will they use the new tool
- What will change with regard to work processes and communication
- When will the tool be implemented
- How will the tool be implemented
- Who else will be impacted by this project
2. Proactively communicate the benefits to the users
Change can be hard for people. So instead of just telling users that you are changing your project management tools (and process) tell them why. Benefits might include
- Less time in project meetings
- Easier status updates
- Better collaboration
- Less time looking for information
While some team members might not love learning a new project management tool, they might be thrilled to avoid another endless project meeting or filling out the same Excel sheet over and over because someone had the wrong version!
3. Provide adequate training (not just one session)
Depending on the complexity of the tool and the degree of change – your team will likely need a few training sessions to learn how to use the new tools correctly. While the initial training should probably be classroom or virtual training, supplemental training can be done ‘on the job’.
As the software makes updates in regular releases, the project manager or someone on the team should be responsible for making sure that all users are in the loop on these updates. This will help minimize confusion and ensure that people are leveraging the available features.
4. Tie KPIs to the use of the tool
If your KPIs (or OKRs or whatever you want to call them) are tied to using the project management tools and processes your organization has defined, it is much easier to get your team to use the tool. Just like if the senior leadership team isn’t bought in and using it, having KPIs that aren’t impacted by your tools and processes doesn’t help with adoption. Having project management tools and processes as part of your department’s scorecard (if you use one) is important to adoption.
When you do performance reviews, talk about both the work that was accomplished and how that work was accomplished. You can point out great examples of using the tools and processes collaboratively as well as discuss things that didn’t work well. It might make sense to book extra time after the performance review to look at processes that don’t work and brainstorm ways to improve them.
5. Automate where you can to save time (including 3rd party integrations)
Many project management tools have third-party integrations to help you save time. Asana for example integrates with many other commonly used tools like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Gmail, and many more. Learn about how these integrations work and how you can use them in your organization.
If you are going to use these integrations decide as a team which ones you want to use and how you will use them in order to be consistent.
6. Ask for feedback and iterate
Once your team has been using the tool for a few weeks, ask for feedback. What is working well? What is confusing or frustrating? Is work getting blocked or stuck anywhere that we didn’t anticipate? How is the team feeling?
You can use a variety of methods to collect this feedback including surveys, team meetings, and your 1:1s. While you might hear a lot of different opinions from your team members – you want to look for common themes. If one person has an issue, solving that might not be a priority. If the entire team is having an issue – that is something you need to solve right away! You might be wondering about that one person, you want to make sure they feel heard even if you can’t solve the problem right away (or at all).
While iterating is important, you don’t want to change too much too fast or too frequently. It takes a few weeks to build a habit and get into a routine. Just like you don’t change your diet and exercise routine every day or every week and expect immediate results, you also don’t want to change your tools or processes too frequently either – it just leads to confusion and doesn’t help people adapt.
It’s okay to ask for feedback on a regular cadence and make changes accordingly, but make a schedule for this and do your best to stick to it. One thing that can throw a wrench in this is new features and changes to your project management tools. Many of these tools have monthly updates and releases. Any new feature might be important to understand and implement correctly.
7. Recognize and reward people for using the tools
Simply put, people like to be recognized when they do a great job. Whether it’s with a shout-out in a team meeting, a raise or bonus at year-end or a promotion, reward, and recognition are important. And while you’re probably not going to be handing out promotions just for using a project management tool – it doesn’t send the right message to continue to advance people who arent using the team’s agreed-upon project management tools and processes.
Consider how your top adopters like to be recognized and continue to be generous with the recognition. For those who enjoy opportunities to teach or share knowledge, ask them to review a process in a team meeting. For those junior employees who value time with team leaders – consider a skip level (virtual) coffee.
What you want to avoid is rewarding your top adopters with more work, that’s an easy way to build resentment and have these folks look for other opportunities. Remember to also think about these contributions when looking at performance reviews and merit increases.
Putting it all together
Project management tools are only as good as the processes they support and the people who use them. When looking at purchasing project management software, make sure you aren’t winging it.
If you need help performing discovery or rolling out a new tool to your team, M. Taffer Consulting is here to help support you. With years of experience in a variety of environments, Marissa offers practical no-nonsense advice and engaging training for teams of all sizes.