New types of project management tools

The Traditional Approach

Automating Project Management using software is not new. In fact, MS Project was first published in 1984, followed by a range of tools imitating its form and function. Used in conjunction with other office tools such as Word and Excel, projects were (and still are) managed successfully by generations of project managers.

When dissecting these tools into their building blocks, one finds the following:

Mission: The general purpose of the project and any related technical detail are usually documented in Word. PowerPoint may be used to present illustrations and other graphical data, further clarifying the mission (not to be confused with detailed product spec., not discussed here).

Tasks: Mission is accomplished through completing tasks, defined by their Name, Start-Date, (expected) DURATION, and the person assigned with the TASK. Hierarchy is used further to structure the project (sub-tasks etc.)

Team Members: Assigned with TASKs.

Milestones: These are key target dates set for the project (partial completion, final delivery, etc.).

Resource Tracking: Based on the above structure, resources dedicated to the project, mainly in the form of man-week work, can be summarized and presented as the basis of the implied budget requirements.

All these components are arranged as lists, then translated and presented in a timeline-based form, also known as GANT.

As project complexity increases, additional needs develop, and more sophisticated versions of Project Management software are needed. Links to corporate data, additional hierarchy levels, and team sharing tools improve managers’ ability to cope with problems hitting the project.

Typical GANT Presentation:

Why do we need something else?

Project management is a rapidly changing field, as the methods used to implement the required features change and introduce new needs. The change is especially evident in software development, where recent projects abandoned the ‘waterfall’ approach and adopted the more efficient Agile and Scrum methods. These methods are characterized by the following:

  • A short (week or two) implementation runs followed by an immediate analysis and feedback actions
  • Extensive inter-team communications needs, result from the rate by which tasks are defined and implemented

The traditional GANT, in this case, fails to meet the need as it is geared towards a longer, multi-step process spanning over months. A GANT describing a two-week process looks simplistic and typically will be ignored. A more intuitive and efficient tool for managing such runs is the Kanban board, in which tasks are mainly grouped into states and using colors assigned to teams or individuals. Canavan boards have become the primary presentation tool in weekly meetings of today’s software teams, and their electronic version is now the cornerstone of modern project management tools. A typical Kanban board:

Kanban Project Management System. Flat cartoon illustration. Objects isolated on white background.

The new Project Management solutions

A range of new applications was introduced in response to the new need, offering automation and enhanced presentation of the Kanban and related processes. Among those, you may find the following, considered leading the trend:

Monday: A complete project management environment, offering both Kanban and their own versions of tasks and ‘runs’ management.

Asana and Wrike: These tools focus more on the team sharing and communication part and offer Kanban and related tools.

When studying these tools, it is easy to see that one of the main innovations offered is combining operational data (who does what, when) with product data (specs, comments, feedback). This rather complex structure reflects the real needs of modern project assignments seeking rapid transfer of information to ensure bug-free implementations.

The emerging challenge then is to adapt the structure and tools offered to the specific needs of each company and team. Such adaptation is often challenging or impossible, as these applications while providing a certain level of settings, are pre-programmed and cannot be changed by an external entity.

The New Kid in Town: NOTION

First introduced in 2016, NOTION has matured over the last few years and become the leading tool millions use to structure and manage their personal and business information. Built based on a non-structured database, NOTION offers a flexible and powerful way to store, connect and present information of almost any type – text, numbers, images, and web links, among others. Modern Project management can benefit from using NOTION using its remarkable ability to organize and connect information while offering GANT and Kanban presentation modes as native capabilities. Instead of the rather simplistic method of attaching files to tasks or creating ‘project folders’ linked to GANTs, businesses can structure their inter-linked information space, allowing quick and easy navigation among needed items. NOTION Kanban presentation mode:

Unlike typical automated Kanban tools, each of the Cards (‘Stickers’) arranged in this list can be a door to a whole world of interlinked information, including visual and numerical, further explaining and documenting the required mission. The structure of such space is completely configurable by the user without writing even a single line of code.

The Automation Revolution

Organizing information and document process is important, yet NOTION offers even more powerful capabilities grouped under the term Automation.

Using Automation features, users can automate processes that extend the native elements of the platform and achieve capabilities such as:

  • Connectivity to External Systems, databases and more
  • Automation of communication tasks such as e-mails, calendar updates, and more
  • Create interactive processes in which forms are used to complete inter-team approvals, feedback gathering, etc.

No-code Automation is a massive breakthrough in management tools and will become an integral part of future platforms used to manage projects and processes in general.

I see NOTION as the optimal tool to manage and optimize projects and processes, especially in startups and small organizations, where flexibility and adaptability are key to success.

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