Picking a Project Management Tool that Sticks

by Dave Pappas

We’ve all been there. A new project thrown into our laps, and we must decide how to collaborate with all stakeholders to deliver the thing on time and within budget. We also need to provide visibility to all project owners craving status on multiple fronts throughout the project lifecycle. Ok then. How do we all stay on the same page?

Do we turn to email, with it’s lumped together string of names? Do we use an online project management tool or a basic team chat app? Are weekly status calls or video chats even necessary? Are my microphone and camera settings even working at the moment?

As the owner and operator of a small graphic design shop in Brooklyn, NY for over 13 years, I still find selecting a group-based tool that everyone sticks with for projects to be a constant source of struggle. I collaborate with teams nationwide on marketing design and communications initiatives, and weave into a wide range of collaborative digital tools. People have strong feelings and preferences for some tools over others. I’ve never actually seen a team adopt something new and stick with it seamlessly from day one. Normally… there are bumps in the workflow road.

Each of my clients is unique in their makeup, style and team workflow, with a wide variety of systems to access within their respective organizations. Introducing groups to another system to “manage” or “maintain” for a project can be challenging. Many times, it takes a shift in thinking about process to be convinced a centralized tool is even needed. Adopting something new usually means you’ll have to review your current process and evolve it into something better. That can take time.

You’ve got text, you’ve got mail… and then some!

Surveys say texting is the dominant form of communicating for Americans under 50. We’re constantly exchanging short and sweet messages, with high expectations to respond quickly (depending on context).

Even when email is your primary form of communication, your smart phone usually alerts you to incoming email at points throughout the day. No matter the source, there’s a decision to make when we identify data that requires action. Do we respond using the same, original channel? Or do we coordinate under another designated “system” or “tool” for the team?

This inherently creates another step or “data filter” in our minds that requires habitual maintenance for our projects. Is learning another application worth my time?

I’m too busy to coordinate with you today

No matter our positions in work or personal life, we filter daily streams of communications from many sources. While email still reigns as the main “go-to” channel for work, each year continues to usher in new platforms with promises to out-perform email on the project management front.

These platforms and tools promise workflow solutions better than email, text or chat… but they can’t promise to free us of distractions, or shut down our comfortable history using legacy systems. I literally had a client manager tell me once they would not migrate from their personal Yahoo email to a Gmail business account with the rest of the team, because they had spent TOO much time customizing their Yahoo dashboard page.

We are creatures of habit, comfortable in the chaos we own.

The Process Gap

When you’re managing a project, you’re managing items across three elements. 1. People, 2. Processes and 3.Technology. Often we love our people, hate our process (or lack thereof), and jump straight to the technology to bring it all together. The technology will be the silver bullet to marry our people with our (unnamed) process. The reality is, we can’t rely on tech tools to define our process, but rather define our process and then pick tools that support our workflows.

People should use technology, with process and principles as guide.

As is often the case, new technology involves establishing new processes. When the process seems confusing, overwhelming or fails to deliver results, the newly adopted technology often takes the blame by default. I’ve seen groups switch up their PM tools often, only to reject them based on personal preferences or artificial nuances in the user experience or interface set-up. It was their process that had gaps or flaws.

Some process and project questions to consider before deciding which pm system to adopt:

  1. Is there a current process in place for managing this project? Is the process smooth and efficient?
  2. What parts of the project management lifecycle should the platform/tool address?  (ie. Project Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring/Control, or Closure)
  3. Who touches each part of the project management life cycle?
  4. What is your project structure? (ie. Individual, Collaborative or Integrated)
  5. How many managers, project owners, project teams and individual members are involved?
  6. Who owns process development?
  7. Who’s willing to record the gaps and pain points in process?
  8. Does the project require daily, weekly or monthly team check-ins? Why?
  9. How many weeks/months are you willing to give the team to explore and adapt to the new platform/tool?
  10. How will you measure success? (ie. determine a method to compare your processes before and after adoption)

What PM platforms and tools do BCL members use?

The Contenders

Each month, I’ll be providing an overview and comparison of a few of the top pm platforms and tools. Here’s a “living” list below of the platforms and tools on my radar. As I collect and hear more about what others are using here at BCL, I’ll update it.



Keep in mind the main barriers to adoption, as defined by most business surveys are:

  • Lack of Vision
  • Lack of Leadership
  • Lack of Infrastructure
  • Lack of Process
  • Comfort level with Legacy Systems/ Compatibility with Legacy System
  • Disruption (fear of loosing productivity)