Bridging the Three Gaps in Project Management

Andrew Filev , Tuesday, March 25, 2008

MLab Roundtable was a remarkable event. We discussed the ways to improve existing management practices and I had a chance to tell what inspired me to start working on the online project management software - Wrike. I have been managing businesses for more than 8 years now, and I know how inefficient traditional project management tools, like e-mail or Microsoft Project are. Most businesses now have three major gaps that could be easily filled up with the right tool.

1. There is a gap between the strategic plans and the daily agenda of the employees. In many businesses, strategic plans, quarterly plans, project plans and daily to-do lists of team members are separated. All of these plans should be a part of one master plan. There should be a tool able to easily merge plans into a bigger picture. With the help of this tool, daily to-do lists should emerge into project plans. Projects should lead to achieving strategic goals. So this tool should utilize the principle of emergent structures. Emerging structures allow you to combine top-down and bottom-up planning to bridge the gap in the middle. The whole structure is then transparent and can be traced from a quarterly goal to a daily task of a team member. This is a real-time visibility into a company that lets corporate executives lead their business in the right direction.

2. There is a gap between e-mail and project management software that made project management software inefficient. E-mail is the most widely-used software tool in project management, and at the same time traditional project management tools, like Microsoft Project, ignore this fact. This leaves a gap between the everyday project management tool (e-mail) and project planning software (Microsoft Project, Excel). This results in putting a heavy burden onto managers. They need to gather information from e-mails, merge it into a bigger picture, manually update plans, communicate the updated version to team members and report the progress to the top manager. This seriously decreases productivity on all levels in the organization, including top managers' productivity. It is hard to get a picture of where the business stands if you simply rely on thousands of e-mails spread across hundreds of mailboxes. E-mail buries a lot of valuable information. There should be a tool that will help to turn the e-mail mess into organized projects, increasing productivity and bringing control of business.

3. There is a gap between project management tools and Web 2.0 tools. Web 2.0 collaboration tools, like wikis, are much more powerful than traditional project management software, because they leverage collective intelligence and emerging structures. At the same time they lack some pieces that are crucial in order to use them as effective management tools. There was a huge potential in bringing the best practices of Web 2.0 into project management software and business management software. Instead of being a complex, expensive and stiff tool designed for trained project managers, the new tool should be simple, agile and inexpensive and should be used by the whole company from top managers to employees. It will greatly increase productivity of the whole team and will make managers' jobs easier.

So when I started Wrike, the idea was to invent a project management application that would help businesses to deal with all three problems. Several years of extensive research and development resulted in the launch of innovative, online project management software, Wrike. The product has the best e-mail integration among project management tools. First, this integration makes Wrike easy-to-use. Second, it turns e-mail mess into neatly organized project plans helping to increase the productivity and making it easier to control the whole business. Our tool applies the principles of Enterprise 2.0 to democratize project management software. Wrike empowers organizations and makes managers' jobs easier.

Comments (9)

  • Andreas, Tuesday, 27 May, 2008
    I agree to most of your points.
    I think there is also a gap of collaboration between staff to staff,staff to managers, nd managers to clients. Software should be made to bridge that gap that is always there.Moreover PM software should in a way enforce a process that everyone follows. whether that is structured e.g PRINCE2 or Agile methods (in software). Because to my experience if managers,staff and the client escape the process then you wil have more problems (than what you usually have)

  • Andrew, Tuesday, 27 May, 2008
    Hi Andreas,

    Your point about process is perfectly valid, though I have a different view on it. I see any successful organization as a combination of people, processes and tools. They all should be in harmony. Tools may empower and help, but they can't substitute other parts of this triangle.

    That said tools can support a process, but any attempt to rely solely on tools to enforce the process against existing processes and against people is not going to work well. There were a lot of use cases in implementation projects for traditional enterprise software, where the biggest losses were on the adoption side. That's why a simple wiki often works better for a software development team than a suite of enterprise software like IBM Rational and Microsoft Project Server together.

    So in my opinion, people (managers and/or champions) are much more effective in introducing the process and managing organizational changes. Tools should suit and be there to help and empower.

  • Max Wideman, Thursday, 18 September, 2008
    Andrew what you say is true. However, this is not exactly new. These problems have been around for a long time. Nor is it all that difficult to devise and write software that appears to facilitate cooperative working, especially provided that the number of concurrent projects and its artifacts is relatively small. The problem is to identify what the actual processes are that businesses need to improve or even facilitate cooperative working given the specific needs of a particular business and the culture, heritage, modus operandi and attitudes of that business and its employees in question. The problem is further exacerbated by the problem of actually moving an organization from some archaic process to a new and more efficient one. It seems to me that this is a problem that however brilliant the software writing is, it cannot be solved by software development alone. Then of course we get into the whole business of access rights, levels and control.

    I think that is why progress on this front appears to be so slow. One size does not fit all.
  • Andrew Filev, Friday, 19 September, 2008

    Thank you for a thoughtful comment. I 100% agree on your point about the right balance between tools, processes and people. You can't change one variable without changing others, and that’s very important. I've recently covered my thoughts on the balance here:

    What’s also important is that one of the variables can catalyze or inhibit the change. This post is more about the inhibiting nature of some of the old tools and about the need for tools that empower the change.

  • Alex S. Brown, PMP IPMA-C, Monday, 22 September, 2008

    The gap between strategy and its execution is indeed wide in many companies. I wonder, though, if any software, no matter how good, will ever really help to close that gap.

    I see some of the following issues that make it difficult to bridge that gap:
    - Strategic plans that sit on the shelf, collecting dust
    - Once-a-year reviews of how the company is doing against those strategic plans
    - Strategy without any measurement of results, or with very subjective measurements of results
    - "Need to know" strategies that are not shared widely among the organization
    - Strategists with no communication plan to get their ideas out into the company
    - Project managers focused on time-cost-scope, without regard for business results and customer impact

    I do think that many companies are overcoming some of these problems, but it is primarily by the bravery and convictions of dedicated people. It is really hard work, and I doubt that there will ever be complete transparency between individual to-do lists and corporate strategy.

    The links between individual work and organizational strategy are often indirect and complex. Some people can see them, but not everyone will even agree on what they are.

    I would recommend multiple maps and explanations. Employees in each department will have different ways of understanding their impact on the organization and its strategy. Senior managers will have yet another view. Middle managers in key positions will have yet another view. Each of these views is dynamically changing as the organization and its environment changes, so mapping links between them all is probably impossible. By the time you mapped the links, everything would be changed and your map would be obsolete.

    Perhaps a change in software can help with these issues, but I believe it will take a change of mind. Most companies are not ready for it. As Max said, none of these problems are new. Ever since there was "strategic planning" there have been strategic plans sitting on the shelf!

  • Andrew Filev, Monday, 22 September, 2008

    I agree with you 100% on the fact that the gap exists in many organization.

    You ideas on the maps is brilliant. If you have a minute, please, take a look at and as you may provide in comments some nice examples of the mapping from your own experience.

    One thing I would disagree is I think you are too pessimistic about this gap. I think this may be related to the environments that we face daily. If they are different, then it may naturally result in the difference in perception. I deal a lot with successful SMBs, where the visibility and alignment are crucial for success. Their tangible and intangible efforts (or the lack of those) force them to compete fiercely. They simply won’t survive 2 years of working off the track. It’s the survival of the fittest thing. Those who have discipline have much more chances of survival and growth comparing to those who do Browninan motion.

    So while I do see the problem in today’s environment, I believe that the competition will naturally improve things. It won’t happen in a day, just as like TQM and then SCM didn’t penetrate manufacturing in a day. There surely will be companies who close this gap faster, bringing more value to shareholders and outcompeting players who stay behind.

    I agree with you that individual champions are crucial for any change. It sounds like you are a little bit afraid that this might not be enough to transform some stiff monolithic organizations. I think there are several things that come into play here. While there are companies and cultures that oppose moving towards more open and collaborative environment, there are companies, cultures and individuals that strive for the collaborative environment and suffocate in the red tape. The generational shift here plays a major role as well. So in some environments, this change is happening with little friction. One of the reasons for that is that enterprise 2.0 technologies themselves embrace collaboration and rely on team versus individual, increasing motivation to change and reaching network effect to some extent.

    So there are a lot of questions to be solved, and a lot of things to be tuned, but overall I’m very optimistic. There are companies that are closing the three above mentioned gaps today, and they gain a tremendous competitive advantage. And over time there will be more and more companies like that. The goal of this blog is to analyze this in more details, so more companies could leverage Enterprise 2.0 processes, practices and tools, especially in the project management area (where my focus is).

    I appreciate your opinion and comments very much. The fact that we have different views on some issues makes the discussion valuable and interesting. Diversity of opinions is very important for a group to be able to produce the product of collective work (this discussion) that is more valuable than individual opinion (the original post).

  • Kevin Brady, Friday, 06 February, 2009
    Click the following:-
    This post highlights the fact that even if PM Software is improved it does not make a poor PM competent or a good PM brilliant.

    Great Post
  • Andrew Filev, Friday, 06 February, 2009
    Hi Kevin,

    That's for sure. But the tool can and should improve productivity. Here's a basic metaphor: running.

    Humans were running barefoot at the beginning. The first sandals probably slowed down first men on many surfaces. There were cases when running barefoot was still a better option (example of applicability of the tool). As of today, if you run in running shoes and Michael Johnson runs barefoot on a clean track, he can probably outrun you (relative performance). But when he ran at the Olympics he still preferred to use the tool (tool clearly enhances his performance). This example demonstrates not principles of applicability, and relative performance, but also shows that there can be a technological advancement that significantly improves tool's value (at least in some scenarios).

    So the tools can and should be used when applicable. Neglecting them is like saying that shoes are a bad idea. Of course on a clean track, running in wooden sandals might be worse of an idea than running barefoot. But wooden sandals should work pretty well when walking on the broken glass. And running shoes can definitely help you make the track faster and more comfortable.

    Tools also have generations ("innovators' dilemma" AKA S-curve). Traditional complex and expensive PPM solutions to pm2.0 tools are what wooden sandals to running shoes. It's not that wooden sandals are bad, they are nice. But with the new generation you get a whole new set of scenarios, where the tools can increase your level of comfort and productivity at the right price level. (Price is an interesting dimension that we didn't touch in our discussion, there are some interesting things happening there as well.)

  • Proworkflow, Sunday, 03 January, 2010
    I would recommend multiple maps and explanations. Employees in each department will have different ways of understanding their impact on the organization and its strategy. Senior managers will have yet another view. Middle managers in key positions will have yet another view
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Andrew Filev

Andrew Filev is an experienced project manager and a successful entrepreneur. He has been managing software teams since 2001 with the help of new-generation collaboration and management applications. The Project Management 2.0 blog reflects his views on changes going on in contemporary project management, thanks to the influence of collaborative web-based technologies. More >>

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