Project Management – the SaaS Natural

I have always wondered why SalesForce.com with its CRM system has been the pioneer in SaaS applications. Yes there is the need to communicate in a mobile fashion among all members of a scattered marketing team. Yes, SaleForce has great mail and messaging capabilities. essential for marketing collaboration. Yes, tieing things together with SalesForce AppXchange and Scripting Toolkit brings an App approach to the the Sales and Marketing cloud that is SalesForce… but that is the problem.

SalesForce is depth strong but narrow   in business management. In contrast Project Management has all the the natural SaaS attributes – Cloud inclined for its collaboration and communication needs. Cloud centric by its ability to provide cross platform services from desktop through mobile to backroom server data access. Project Management also thrives on being able to store project data in the Cloud for instant access by all stakeholders. Finally Project Management has a broad management reach – it needs and feeds data to accounting, operations management, CRM, ERP, and the highest levels of  executive management systems.

This breadth of enterprise management interest is reflected in the fact that most corporate  top managers now come out of not a specific discipline like accounting/finance , human resources management or operations responsibilities – but rather out of the cross corporation experience that is project management.- the ability to foster innovation and change in the organization in a variety of settings is paramount in these disruptive days. So it behooves us to to take a look at Project Management tools in the  Cloud.

Project Management is flourishing in the Cloud

So it should not be a surprise to find project managemet tools absolutely flourishing in the cloud.  For example if you go to TimeDoctor’s GoogleDocs Spreadsheet on SaaS based Project management tools you will see  close to two dozen of the most popular tools  for SaaS based project management.
The full report shows over 40 Project Management tools. These tools go well beyond simple time and milestone tracking. Some provide a range of desktop PM features like Gannt charting and load balancing. Other PM SaaS tools provide exports into strategic project consolidation and tracking software. The range of solutions is quite wide.

But the common denominators among all the tools are 5 Cloud assets. First, all the data is stored in the Cloud – so anybody authorized can get at it anytime anywhere. This latter provision now means not just access  from Linux, Mac and Windows desktops but also Android, Blackberry,  and Apple iOS  apps as well.  Second, many systems are starting to add offline as well as online  viewing [first] and editing of PM data[second option delivered]. Third, the best tools  because they deliver using Web browsers primarily also offer extensive customization of the look and feel of reports/output inluding export/ delivery in a variety of formats from HTML to PDF and XLS. Last, some of the systems have added developer APIs  and/or scripting for 3rd Party add ons and Apps that extend their basic capaibilities. Thus,  to give a feel for what is possible we look at the second most popular PM SaaS tool, Zoho Projects. Finally, Cloud based systems are naturals for providing the  messaging tools that are an  essential part of PM’s collaboration and teamwork[see here what Harvard Business Review says about the importance of teamwork in contemporary organizational management]. What follows is how one tool, Zoho Projects, takes advantage of  SaaS capabilities to deliver a simple, but robust PM service that indeed promotes teamwork.

Zoho Projects

web project management

The above screenshot shows the tasks online data entry environ. This example is for a free Web Creation Lecture that the theOpensourcery is offering in the Toronto area. It is a simple, single user project with two milestones and 6 tasks. The data entry is simple and straighforward but that is partially because the Zoho Projects does not offer sophisticated project features such as slack time estimates, resource management  or critical path analysis with their  additional data requirements.

However, Zoho project does have all the essential ingredients for project management – multiple user, multiple tasks with start and end-dates, plus dependency relations among tasks. This means that a Gannt chart of tasks and activities can be tracked as follows:
Web Project management
In addition, Zoho Projects supports several practical views of a project :
1)calendar for all the tasks and milestones pending and completed,;
2)task reports useful for getting a summary of each users status on tasks and unassigned tasks ,
3)a dashboard view of each user giving a quick overview of their status  and completion record on tasks.

Finally associated with each project[there can be multiple projects] there are attached documents, timesheets,  a wiki, and chat facilities. In short all the key ingredients necesary to facilitate collaboration and a common understanding of the project status and expected deliverables. This has been a critically missing ingredient in desktop systems like Microsoft Project.  In sum, Zoho Project is well suited for the Agile style of  development that prevails in not just IT development but general operational mangement today.

Howver, Zoho Project does not have a portfolio of projects facility to look at the comparative status of many concurrent or overlapping projects. But its export facilities makes it suitable for passing data to such programs. Also more sophisticated project analytics like earned value, task scheduling +optimization or  critical path analysis are beyond its capabilities. See here for a list of project management tools that can meet these more stringent requirements.

But Zoho Projects certainly does take advantage of the Web display and Cloud storage to bring across multiple internal and external users who may be operating with various PCs and mobile devices, a common  and integrating place for tracking their  project effectively. Yet it can feed /export its data onto other systems in a variety of ways.

Summary

Web based Project Management software seems a better fit for  SaaS because it integrates tightly Web access, common Cloud storage, and the many means of online documenting and collaborating that are so essential to getting a project effectively managed and done. However, most SaaS PMs do not offer the high end project analytics that desktop systems deliver. And in fact, software like PrimaveraP6 are starting to offer SaaS like features. Finally, new touch screen operations and NFC communications will offer even better project management services. So watch for this PM SaaS to influence broader Business app development.