Could you Manage Projects with a Mobile App?

Every day we see more and more mobile productivity and team collaboration apps, most of them advertised as project management apps but actually designed to manage tasks, not to manage real projects in a professional way.

Will we as project managers be able to have in the short term proper apps to manage demands, projects, programs and portfolios basically with our mobiles?

In my opinion, professional project managers deserve effective mobile apps for several reasons including: 1) the increasing number of users interested in projects; 2) the analogy with others productivity apps these people are using; and 3) the trend of online collaboration in project management–or project management 2.0–

1) Increasing number of Users interested in Projects

There is a huge number of users of project management tools. Project management organization figures speak for themselves: As of December 2016 there was nearly 750,000 certified professionals by PMI , one million PRINCE2 certified and almost 300,000 certified professionals by IPMA. PMI Inc. has over 500,000 members all over its 300 chapters in more than 100 countries.

But projects are not only concerning the project manager, there are many people around as well. As I wrote in The 10 Roles in Project Management, any project manager usually reports to a program manager or a portfolio manager, and needs team members to do the technical tasks, being team members managed by resource managers. Those five roles were on the project supply management side. On the demand management side, we have requesters demanding projects, sponsors authorizing them, functional managers assuming execution within their business units, and we also have the PMO supporting the administrative work, and finally we have project stakeholders, being them internal or external to the performing organization.

Therefore, I think a project management mobile app would have a quite consistent viral growth.

2) Analogy with others productivity apps

Every enterprise project portfolio management tool has a mobile version, but I see them just as a complementary channel. There seem to be a very established design paradigm regarding PPM tools, assuming this:

“In order to use a project management tool, you will need a very specialized knowledge to use many rich screens and reports.”

There are any people today that are still reluctant to think about a global purpose mobile app aimed to anyone who needs to manage a project professionally, that is, a useful application to meet schedule and cost goals, to control scope, communications, risks, assumptions, issues, procurement, change requests, etc. However, I don’t think that this is an impossible design matter. When managing a project, most of the time is devoted to reading or entering short data. We only need intensive data entry at the beginning, sometimes to load data from a scheduling management tool such as Microsoft Project or Oracle Primavera. We also need some reporting features –not appropriate in the mobile, of course–. These two use cases are aimed to rich computer screens, but most of the managing work fits in the mobile, with the proper design.

From my point of view, the growing use of apps which are business as usual in real projects, will take us to a natural transition to specialized project management apps, just because we are used to them:

  • We use mobile apps to manage our email in the cloud.
  • We send documents as links to Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, One Drive, etc.
  • Thanks to the great advance achieved by GoogleDocs we now are collaborating with teams and colleagues to prepare presentations and documents with a phone or a tablet.

Besides this standardized usage among project teams, we should add the growing usage of extraordinary successful tools like Slack and Asana.

Slack is changing the way teams communicate. Here you are an interesting video presenting Slack

Task management tools like Asana allow us to collaborate on individual tasks for team members. Here you are an introductory video by Asana. I also recommend this video by one of the Asana cofounders explaining why email is obsolete to manage tasks

As project managers professionals, are we starting to trust the cloud? While using tools so reliable and usable as Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Asana, Trello, Slack, etc., we are starting to change our habits and requirements on enterprise tools, aren’t we?

We want our emails, meetings, documents, tasks and conversations in the mobile. What about our projects? It’s a matter of time. We will get used to switch from one app to another without needing to go to our computer.

3) Project Management 2.0

I always say that there are many people worried around each project. This is because projects change us: the project product, service or result will put in front of us something we didn’t have or that we need to do in other way, so that we are experts no longer, but newcomers. Everybody hates change.

All these nervous people around the project will address their stress to the project manager. The wise project manager does not take the whole responsibility. He has to involve people in the problem and seek the solution with them. He knows that he is in charge to get the blame if the project goes wrong. As project managers, we are not given a second chance, we are replaced.

As project managers, we need to share management with the project management team, with the steering committee, the change control board, the PMO, etc. We need to control that team members are executing the individual tasks and they are completing on time. We need to report to many middle and top managers. We have to manage the expectations of many stakeholders.

There is a common thing in this heterogeneous group worried about the project while the project is going. Whatever industry, country, type of project, organizational culture, etc., everybody has a smartphone nowadays, but not just to make calls. They use mobiles to express themselves in the social networks, to search and find information, to collaborate with teammates, etc. Isn’t it anachronistic to keep managing projects through face to face meetings and documents?

There are so many unproductive meetings keeping us away from real work. So many reports nobody has the time to read. We already know how to communicate effectively in virtual teams with videoconferences, instant messaging, sharing documents, task management, etc. Project stakeholders have to be engaged with their mobiles as well. We want online communication management to practice continuous proactive project governance, not just reacting to project crisis. We want informed decisions to be taken, problems to be anticipated, etc. We need to engage effectively those people needed to know or decide on our projects.

A project is completed when it meets or exceeds stakeholder expectations. A project is not completed on time on budget by accident. The only trick here is regular control. We measure how far or close is the project from its baselines and take corrective actions if needed. Measure and adjust is key to get closer and closer to meet management goals.

As project managers, we need a mobile application to record the information whenever and wherever it happens, not only expenses and timesheets, but also to modify our best estimate of a date or a cost, to add a new risk, to request a change, to update a key performance indicator, etc. We don’t want this managed by meetings because we lose a lot of effectiveness.

On the other hand, project governance roles need a mobile application to fell what I call “the Big Brother Effect”. Let me explain. Let’s imagine I am a project manager reporting to several committees, but not just through the typical biweekly status report meeting, but continuously, because every stakeholder can check the project status anytime, anywhere, in the mobile. I know that governance stakeholders are not watching continuously but, how do I know who is watching and when? Therefore, I’m compelled to constantly updating my project information. Governance stakeholders feel a very effective control, and project managers feel that they are being controled. This recalls me the book by George Orwel, so I call this “the Big Brother Effect”. From my experience, these online mechanisms combining transparency and control are the most effective way to succeed at durable corporate management changes in organizations.

Do you think it’s necessary and feasible a mobile app to manage projects? What features do you think it should include? Is it possible now with the available technology?

This article is also available in Spanish