The Value of Tools vs Skills in Project Management

Updated Nov 14, 2022.

Have you ever heard someone answer the question, “Do you have Project Management Skills” with the answer “I know Microsoft Project” or “I can create a schedule”? One of the things we strive to do at Advisicon is help people understand that software tools or specific technical skills do not guarantee project management skills or success on your projects. Review the following story as an example of this point.

A Tool Without a Methodology

Working at a project-oriented company years ago, I learned how critical project management skills are. A newly promoted person (let’s call him Robert) had the chance to shine on a very important project in the IT department selecting a new phone system. This company was one of the few requiring a live receptionist to answer every single call that came in. She kept track of who was where so she could inform the customer when someone was out of the office. This was a massive value-add to customers and kept them coming back.

So the newly promoted IT Manager/Project Manager decided he would select a phone system. There was a limited amount of time to make this decision. The old phone system continued to have hardware failures. Robert did a quick search and picked one vendor to come in and meet with him. Within only one week of meeting that vendor, he had not only signed a contract with that company, but he got the president on board by copying and pasting information from the Internet into a summary document. Furthermore, he even had accounting to pay for it before the system was actually ready to install. Throughout this process, Robert was busy entering tasks in an MS Project schedule. He would mark them off as complete which he proudly shared with the company president as well.

During the installation period, the president was shocked to discover that not only did the receptionist not know about the new phone system, but she was never even consulted about any of her needs in a high-quality phone system. When it came time to flip the switch to the new phone system, huge problems came to light. Time to answer a call went up by nearly 70% for the main receptionist and 200-300% for a backup receptionist. Customer complaints soon started pouring in. When the president finally confronted Robert about problems with the new phone system, his answer was “I created a schedule.”

As you can see, MS Project did not make this person a good project manager. But, a scheduling tool could help compliment proper project management. Some of these proper project management techniques are:

  • Identify stakeholders and their needs
  • Identify the pluses and minuses of the current phone system
  • Send out vendor specification surveys or requests for proposals
  • Collect and evaluate vendor-client references

The failure of this project was the project manager’s application of the software, not the software itself.

Advisicon’s Approach

Advisicon courses and consulting services focus on how you can use the capabilities of Microsoft Project as a scheduling tool to support your project objectives and goals. This helps you grow as a project manager instead of growing as someone who has memorized software steps.

Essentially, the business case behind the feature is our focus instead of the technical steps you would perform. For example, instead of our instructor telling you how to set the status date in Project, you would learn how the status date can measure which tasks are running on schedule or behind schedule based on a point in time. Additionally, that the status date in conjunction with various options can be used to trigger things a project manager may be used to doing externally – such as shifting a task into the future when a resource is overbooked. Personally, I like the idea of using Microsoft Project’s Tracking Gantt view. This helps give me an accurate picture of the future so I can make critical decisions as a project manager.

Many of our customers choose both a project management techniques course and an MS Project course to help them in their jobs.

Do You Have Project Management Skills?

The next time you hear someone ask the question, “Do you have Project Management Skills?” think of how an Advisicon student might answer. “Yes, I do have PM skills, and I have managed three projects against both resource and time constraints. Also, I have used Microsoft Project as my scheduling tool as a way to visually display the status of the project each week against all the decisions I have made as a project manager to stay within resource and time constraints.” This is much better than the answer we heard earlier in our story.