A Project Manager’s Dream App

By Alicja Colon

As Focus Lab grows, so too do our project management application needs.

Dream Pm App Header

Juggling more projects, team members and their varied schedules is becoming increasingly demanding. As the one responsible for this balancing act, I’m always on the prowl for a solution that will jump through all the hoops I need. My selfish intent in authoring this post is too see what you use and what items you are most concerned with in a PM app.

Currently, we use Wrike. While it has proved useful and offers solutions for most of our needs, there are still bits that are lacking.

1. Workload Management

After scope has been determined at the start of each project, my next priority is estimating the amount of team member hours needed.

Armed with the precedents of past projects, and a thorough understanding of the process, I can typically forecast the duration and hours of the entire project. Therefore, it’s safe to assume I can fairly accurately estimate the amount of weekly hours the project will require from each team member.

Every web based PM tool I’ve reviewed assumes that team members can only work on one project at a time. While logically this is true, this doesn’t provide me the flexibility I’d prefer within the app. To ensure our designers don’t get burned out on a specific task, I strive to keep two projects on their plate at a time. This allows them to switch back and forth as their creativity dictates. I don’t want to so tightly control the schedule and stipulate the designer must focus on “Project A” on a particular day, but the scheduling rigidity suggests I have to. As long as the designer meets his weekly deliverables, I’m happy.

Ideally, I’d love to be able to assign hours per project phase to an employee. With their weekly hours entered in the PM app, when I assign multiple projects (which also have an hourly cap configured) the program would alert me if I’m overbooking the teammate.

2. Project Scheduling

When I schedule a project, I want to be able to see the phases/sprints independently and within the alignment of other projects. Also, I’d like this to all be visually driven. Adjustable Gantt Charts are super-helpful here.

Currently, this is where I believe Wrike gets it right. I can schedule, assign, and adjust a project within the visual chart. Using the “workload” view, I can see the newly scheduled project in relation to the other projects on a particular player’s lap. I can adjust, move, and reorder right in that mode.

Ideally, there’d be some changes I would make. For instance, I would remove the avatars of the people whose workload I’m not looking for - but generally, my suggested changes are rather minute.

See all the orange? This is Wrike indicating that I have overbooked my teammates. They assume each player will only work one project at a time. Therefore any overlap is a conflict, labeled orange.

3. Assigning Project Priority

Obviously having multiple projects on one team member’s lap can create confusion about which project is the priority. Prioritizing isn’t very hard to do, and many apps accommodate this need.

4. Tasks/Checklists within a Phase

Here things get a little tricky and semantics play a role.

In Focus Lab’s world, a phase is a large portion of a project. Within a branding and web design project, for example, we would have branding as a phase, and web design as the second phase, with prep and delivery of final files as the last phase.

Within each phase we have rounds or sprints.

Branding for example has rounds/sprints where each is an iteration based upon the previous proofs. The goal of each round is to present the client a proof from which we are provided direction that guides the next round of revisions. Some applications call these sprints/rounds, “tasks.” I don’t.

Under each round/ sprint, there are tasks; another way to describe it would be a “checklist.”

Year after year, our designers venture through Focus Lab’s familiar process. They know it like they know where the power button is on the remote control. In my dream app, for Quality Assurance, each project could have unique checklist attributed to every round/sprint. These items would be derived from client feedback, branding questionnaires, and previous experience.

Ideally, when items were marked off the checklist, it would not label the item as “complete” but rather “review”. Once all the items under the round are ready for review, it would trigger a notification sent to team leads that items are ready to review. For an extra golden star, the app would also share the progress in a percentage related to the checklist.

5. Awesome Design

We are a creative agency, after all, so Focus Lab’s developers and designers are daily steeped in and searching out great design (okay, more so the designers, but still). Trying to get their involvement in an app that’s horribly designed is… let’s just say I’d rather try to convince Bill Kenney to grow his hair out. It just isn’t going to fly. Sorry Wrike, it’s been rough.

6. Daily Emails

Notification emails of phases and tasks are very helpful. It would also be helpful if my dream app emailed my teammates their weekly agenda of things to do, and daily if particular project items were updated or changed. Again, these days it’d be hard to find an app that doesn’t do this.

Ideally, to add an extra color to the rainbow, I’d like to see priorities, remaining checklist items, and progress ratios in the daily or weekly emails. Another addition would be the ability to collect this aggregate data for each department. Lastly it would be extremely helpful to have current and archive views of this list.

7. Easy-Peasy Integration

I’m certainly no developer. To me, API sounds like some weird medical device, alas, I know there’s some automagic that can happen when code meets code.

Ideally, Harvest project/tasks could co-mingle, while project communication tools would sing songs in harmony with my dream project management tool. An automagically updated hourly report on the round, while consistently synced milestones and checklists were sent to client and teammate, respectively, would make this little PM happy and more efficient.

Our Technical Director basically told me (as in he wrote this sentence himself) a solid Rest API and event web hooks would be an excellent start in this department. (Hint, hint!)

Have you seen this app?

This is by no means comprehensive, but more of a rambling self-discussion of what my dream PM-app would look like.

Tell me, have you seen it, my dream PM app? What have you stumbled upon, fell in love with, and why?