A businessman holding a tablet in both hands presenting a piece of project management software
PHOTO: Shutterstock

Businesses today are faced with a seemingly endless number of options for digital tools designed to boost effective collaboration and productivity. When deciding which collaboration tools to use, it is important for business owners to understand how the specific tool will ultimately affect daily processes and workflows.

Tools should be designed to help teams complete their work in an efficient manner. The decision to use a certain tool should not be made in a silo, as the best tools bring various areas of the company together and enhance communication among teams from different departments. Over the past month and weeks we have identified a large range of tools that enable digital work and enterprise collaboration, most notably Microsoft’s Office 365 and Teams, Slack and Google’s G Suite.

Where Project Management Tools Fit In

However, there is a certain set of tools that tends to be overlooked when enterprise leaders are developing digital transformation strategies and investing in software to make their workers more productive. There are a wide range of project management tools and applications available that are designed to help workers achieve business goals.

Project management software (PMS) enables organizations to plan, manage resources and develop resource estimates. Depending on the sophistication of the software, it can manage estimation and planning, scheduling, cost control and budget management, resource allocation, collaboration software, communication, decision-making, quality management and documentation or administration systems.

These tools essentially sit at the heart of the digital workplace, and should be top of the list of new technologies for organizations starting on their digital transformation journey.

Related Article: Top 16 Enterprise Project Management Software Platforms

Cutting Edge Project Management

While project management tools may have started out with a specific goal in mind, they have become so much more than originally intended. Earlier this year, a survey conducted by the Project Management Institute found that artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain offer major competitive advantages to a significant percentage of the project managers that adopt them.

The report reveals that the role of the project manager has expanded to one of a strategic advisor, innovator, communicator, big thinker and versatile manager. Project managers are becoming even more valued as disruptive technology frees them from mundane routines, providing them more opportunity to innovate.

Organizations look to their project managers to help take advantage of disruption — not just react to it — making effective project management practices more valuable than ever. Innovator organizations prioritize three critical roles for the project manager working with disruptive technologies:

  • Advocate for the technology (56 percent innovators vs. 41 percent of laggards)
  • Supervisor for course correction (42 percent innovators vs. 31 percent of laggards)
  • Authority on disruptive technology (32 percent innovators vs. 21 percent of laggards)

Those that harness technology are working in new ways to change the way they operate and the way they manage projects. These “next practices” combine approaches and technologies, such as DevOps, human/user-centered design, cloud computing, IoT and AI to help organizations manage digital disruption and thrive.

Related Article: How to Use Salesforce for Project Management

Managing Collaboration and Automated Work

Project management tools are not just about managing the introduction of new innovative technologies into the digital workplace, they are also about managing automated tools and processes, according to James Pollard a marketing consultant with Philadelphia-based The Advisor Coach. “The demand right now is for tools that automate the things big businesses have identified as crucial to success, but are hard to maintain at scale: communication, collaboration, innovation, key procedures, compliance, training, engagement, values and culture,” he said.

“Now teams are more disparate — separated by popular remote working practices or oceans — digital workplaces are expected to have project management at their heart. It is now a given that workflows, permissions, critical procedures, version control and information management be a central part of the offering,“ said Pollard.

To build a fully functioning digital workplace, having real-time, collaborative project management software is key. This means something that allows users to create common lists, end goals, helpful hints about tasks and other workplace related activities that multiple people can see and edit at the same time.

For Jenna Erickson, marketing manager with the Chicago-based UX design and development agency Codal, project management needs to be integrated with an internal real-time collaboration tool. Codal uses Slack because it integrates with other workplace tools like Salesforce, HubSpot and JIRA, which is making life a lot easier for workers there. “Our project management system is a collaboration tool that really makes a big difference with client communication in our workplace,” she said. “We use Teamwork as our PMS, but there are so many out there that you can use. The Teamwork platform allows for document storage, milestone tracking, time tracking, notebooks and direct email communication. This tool really [enhances] our digital workplace by allowing every project to have its very own digital space, where everything you need for that particular project is stored.”

Other project management tools popular among the enterprises we were in contact with include Asana, Trello and Basecamp. Each is a PMS that is ideal for collaborative workspaces that have remote employees or entire teams. With these tools the team leader can keep the entire scope of a project in one space. They can manage things as simply as possible, assign people to tasks, assign due dates, and add photos and documents.

Project Management and Project Portfolio Management

Project management tools are just a part of the wider project portfolio management (PPM) market, which according to Gartner’s recent Magic Quadrant for Project Portfolio Management, Worldwide (behind paywall), is growing at a rate of 10 percent per year. New vendors and capabilities are being introduced in response to evolving customer needs.

Driving this growth is the demand for new approaches to the challenges of implementing transformational initiatives in the midst of the ongoing digital disruption experienced across enterprises. In response to these diverse technology needs, the PPM market continues to grow and expand to support a number of different use cases targeting different types of user groups with different goals and challenges.

Project planning and collaboration tools specifically address the need for an organized work effort and needs to be defined in the midst of day-to-day collaborative activities and communications. They also dovetail nicely with collaborative work management tools, which also fall under the PPM umbrella.

Gartner also suggests that PPM leaders consider applying more diverse combinations of PPM tools, capabilities and consulting services in today's enterprises. The need for an evolving PPM life cycle will be driven by the growing scope of the digital workplace. As a result, in the coming months and years, expect to see a lot more project management tools and PPM platforms entering the digital workplace and pulling the different threads of communications and collaborative work together.