When looking at a potential project management tool, there are a few important factors to take a look at. Read on for my thoughts on how to evaluate a potential addition to your arsenal.
Ease of Use
You want a tool that works with you, not against you. It doesn’t matter if you have the most powerful, omniscient project management tool if you can’t figure out how to use it. The old proverb that a ‘craftsman is only as good as his tools’ seems to fit nicely here.
With project management, the entire premise is that anything that is used should help you become more efficient at accomplishing your responsibilities. That means that anything with a steep learning curve - and a small payoff - is not a necessary tool.
An example would be a tool that formats your reports nicely. If you have reports that are scattered with data everywhere, having the columns and graphics neatly aligned can produce a professional looking deliverable. If the tool is easy to use, then there’s no issue with it. If it’s slightly more difficult to initially understand, but makes the reports easier to use, then it might still be beneficial. But if there is negligible benefit but a lot of frustration on your end, then it probably isn’t the best tool to implement.
Along similar lines, you want to have a project management tool that works for you. If the tool is quite easy to use but does not add anything to your creative project management experience, it should be reconsidered.
Many times, there could be something that adds a slight level of functionality without a very steep learning curve. It may appear to be almost negligible in its contributions, but you need to consider the long term effects. A tool that takes a minute off of a task that you perform often, and only took ten minutes to learn, could be quite valuable. Those ten minutes you spent learning how to save one minute per task will save you well over ten minutes in the long run. That brings us to the third consideration, return on investment (ROI).
When a tool has a steep learning curve but pays off exponentially, then that’s an acceptable trade-off. Likewise, when a tool is quite easy to use, and doesn’t really reduce your input, but still has some benefit, that’s also an acceptable situation. Return on investment is a calculation of how much you invested (in this case the investment is time), as compared to your payback over a defined period of time.
For example, let’s imagine you invest 45 minutes learning how to use a new tool. That 45 minutes is a sunk cost, as you’ll never be able to make that back whether or not you use the tool in the end. But if the tool saves you ten minutes everyday, you have ‘paid back’ your investment in the course of a single work week, and your ROI has doubled after two weeks. That looks pretty smart!
On the other hand, your 45 minute investment was foolish if you aren’t able to break even on it. If the tool is seldom used, and your time savings is low, you may take months or years to pay back the investment, if you can even get there at all. If you save one or two minutes per month, was the sunk cost worthwhile when it will take you over a year to pay back?