Online project management software has transformed the ways in which teams collaborate. In the era when Microsoft Project was the dominant project management tool, it was the role of the project manager to define roles and responsibilities, create a project plan and then update the plan based on progress. Although this model was resource intense and time consuming, it created a level of supervision that was beneficial. For instance, a dedicated project manager engages with the team and can identify risk areas before they evolve into full-blown crises.
Thanks to the ubiquity of online project management tools, the role of the project manager has been scaled down. Let’s look at Task Management. In many online task management software tools, the processes related to completing a task have been democratized and everyone is responsible and accountable for their own workstream. Once a task is assigned to a team member, she or he updates the project plan and gives the team is notified in real time via email.
Furthermore, with the growth in employers using remote working employees, companies are saving a significant amount of overhead on office space overhead and other costs associated with office-based employees. The remote worker pays for his or her work office and often swallows many of the expenses typically paid by the organization. Whether this is an intentional strategy or merely a positive side-effect, the end result is that the benefit from collaboration enabling technology is tangible.
The logic is as follows: the traditional project manager can be bypassed because technology does their work. Enabling people to take responsibility for their own work creates efficiencies that speed up projects and improve the bottom line. Therefore, technology can replace the supervisory and “process” related functions previous owned by middle managers in general, and project managers in specific.
This argument is often appealing to senior managers that are not required to deal with the minutia of day to day operations. However, it fails to account for the risks associated with leaving your employees with limited checks and balance. If an autonomous remote worker can self-define when a task is considered “complete” with limited input from a supervisory manager, then that can create future bottlenecks when sub-par work is identified. In many cases, the upfront benefit of quick work that was not carefully supervised can become a liability to the overall team effort.
The solution is not to add unnecessary middle management overhead, but to be strategic in two areas. First, technology actually leaves many employees working in a vacuum without access to both the needs and potential resources offered by teams that work in close proximity. The role of the manager is to coach and mentor his or her direct reports so that they can succeed in the organization and contribute in areas beyond their immediate job role. Second, managers need to assume a greater level of quality control and need to flag potential problems before they occur.
Technology is an important enabler of team collaboration and should be used carefully. Too often, IT and/or procurement groups rush into purchasing a collaboration suite based on features without fully understanding how teams work today. There are different approaches of how to incorporate file and document management into project management software and it takes an understanding of how teams work to find the best solution.
In the Buyer’s Guide to Project Management Software, I emphasize the role that Business Requirements play in purchasing online project management software. It’s not about finding the best Kanban Board, Gantt Chart and Task Management Software. Technology needs to support both the project manager and the project team and also to provide actionable reporting to senior management.
It’s tempting and easy to hide behind technology. Used correctly, project management tools can improve how teams collaborate and accelerate growth. But an over-reliance on software can create a short-term false positive which can do more harm than good. Ultimately, businesses need to invest the resources to create the right balance between management oversight and technology enabling tools.
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