Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

What I'd like to see in a mobile project management app

By Dennis D. McDonald

Click or tap above image to download a .pdf version of this article.In previous posts I’ve discussed how project managers can take advantage of mobile technologies (e.g., see Some Requirements for Using a Mobile Device to Interact with a Project Plan). Described below are some the features I would like to see in a mobile app optimized for project related data access, mobile communication, and project collaboration.

At the top level, the app should act as a portal for all the information relevant to managing or participating in the project. Given a variety of project types and sizes it’s difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all list; here are some  basics.

First, I should be able to look at project info from a variety of perspectives, including:
  • Project manager
  • Team member
  • Sponsor
  • Client
The sponsor and client will be especially interested in the goals and objectives the project is attempting to satisfy. This may require interaction with relevant performance measures. This raises issues of both measurement and timing and when it is appropriate to “expose” transparently the inner workings of a project to governing bodies or user groups.
 
Whatever your take on this issue is policy-wise it would be useful to enable a participant to slide his or her smartphone out of a pocket, click a “project status” button, and automatically have displayed a selection of data tailored by manual or automated means to the user’s role at that time. (“At that time” is a necessary modifier; roles change over time and the same person can play different roles on multiple projects.)
 
Second, I should be able to quickly zero in on project dependencies that are important to me or my team, for example:
  • What are we expecting to receive next as input to our own work?
  • Is it on time?
  • Who is depending on us for a deliverable that is necessary for completing their work?
  • Will we be able to deliver on time?

It is not unusual in larger or more complex projects to have incoming or outgoing dependencies that sit outside the span of control of the project manager. When such dependencies exist the app should provide up to date information on whom to contact for such information.

Third, I’d like to see how my team contributes to the attainment of the project’s overall goals and objectives. That means that, somehow, the context of what my team is doing should be relevant to the work other teams are doing and to how we all support the eventual success of the project. Assuming “being on the same page” is an important input to project success, we need some way to make concrete what “being on the same page” means. Then we should be able to display this contextual information via our mobile app.

Fourth, I’d like to know where my team members are and what their status is:
  • At work?
  • Online?
  • Traveling?
  • Working on another project?
  • Reassigned?
  • Available to meet or talk?
Fifth, I’d like to be able to view people, tasks, and deliverables from a variety of relevant perspectives, for example,
  • If physical location is relevant show me a map display with overlaid status information.
  • If timing is relevant show me a calendar view and the ability to display various timeline options.
  • If costs are relevant show me details such as burn rate, actual versus expected, etc.
Sixth, whenever I’m looking at a screen object on the mobile device’s screen I should have an easily accessed function called “tell me more” so if I have a question, comment, or suggestion I can find out whom to contact using whatever channel is available and appropriate including audio, video, chat, group video, or meeting. I might want the ability to cut through “red tape” and get questions answered and problems solved ASAP. Using the mobile devices inherent communication features in real time could then end up saving both time and money, especially when the app enables both me and the other person to see the same screen object via a sharing function.

Discussion
 
Nothing suggested above is pure “science fiction.” Some of the things listed are already standard smartphone or tablet features. Others are satisfied to a certain extent by existing collaboration and project management applications that can be integrated with existing databases and networks.  
 
One assumption is that a core set of project planning and task assignment information exists that can serve as a baseline model for structuring how data are organized, displayed and updated. Regarding the last point: the app needs to have the ability not just to organize and display information, it also needs to make it easy for participants to update and report status on actions and deliverables. 
  
In summary, the app needs to be able to answer basic project related question such as these:
  • Who’s doing what?
  • Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing?
  • How far along are they in doing it?
  • Do they need help?
  • Are they getting the help they need?
  • Who else might be able to help?
  • Do we need to consider a different approach? If we do, how will this impact what other team members are doing?
These are pretty basic project management questions. Given the immediacy and accessibility of mobile technologies, we are getting closer to answering these project related questions in real time with information that is increasingly accessible on our mobile devices.
 
Related reading:
Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald. Dennis a Washington DC area consultant specializing in project management, digital strategy, and technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. Contact Dennis via email at ddmcd@yahoo.com or by phone at 703-402-7382. His website is here: http://www.ddmcd.com. 

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