Desirable features for Project Manager tracking
May 9, 2021 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm developing an application that tracks equipment, inspection records, vehicles, employee certifications, etc., and I thought I'd implement some basic productivity features. I'd appreciate any insight into what specific metrics would be desirable for tracking open projects, closed projects, projected revenue, etc.

My initial thought, since the application already stores employee data, was to include for each Project Manager employee the following:
- Number of open projects
- Names of open projects
- Projected gross and net of individual projects
- Projected gross and net of collective projects
- Gross and net of collective projects
- Average lifespan of past projects
- Average lifespan of current projects
- Outstanding balance on past projects
- Outstanding balance on current projects
Would these data be worth including in my application, and should I consider including other data?
posted by jwhite1979 to Work & Money (7 answers total)
I interact regularly with applications that had all sorts of additional features tacked on to the side that literally no one ever uses but do make the software more expensive to maintain and harder to use.

Have you done any user testing or analysis that indicates that these features are needed in this application? How are project managers currently tracking their work, and how would your thing make their lives better?

My experience with a decade at the intersection of software development, project management and reporting efforts is that the questions that management wants change so frequently and unpredictably that it is impossible for software products to keep up. Far better is for a system like yours be able to do a really good job of tracking the narrow slice of the organization that it is responsible for, and to make the data available for easy ingestion into Business Intelligence analysis software (excel, tableau, MS power BI, R, whatever) so that downstream analysts (this may still be you, depending on the size of the organization) can answer the question of the day in a more agile and disposable manner.
posted by rockindata at 10:15 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]

Don't ask us - ask the people you're hoping to sell this application to. User input, user testing, etc will keep you from spending a lot of time and effort building features that aren't needed. Who is your target audience here? "Project Managers" are a very large group of people who have very different needs depending on what project they are managing. What makes you think you target audience here (the ones who want to track inspection records and equipment) also want project management type features? What specific gap are you trying to fill that doesn't already exist in competing applications?
posted by cgg at 10:34 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

Don't ask us - ask the people you're hoping to sell this application to.

smells so much like reinvention. find out what tools they already use. do proper story elicitation to determine if there are useful integration points.

so to answer your bottom line question: no.

you sound a little green, and this is probably way outside your scope and capacity. especially the maintenance tail.
posted by j_curiouser at 12:56 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These may have been rhetorical questions, but I'll answer for the hell of it. The application I'm designing is to fulfill precisely the requirements I needed for my job but didn't have. I was in charge of tracking equipment, certifications, vehicles, etc. The software that was available to me was inadequate in a lot of ways, so I decided to design software that would do what I actually needed without any frills and that would report to me the information I most needed. One of the things that I noticed in my job was a particular folder that tracked the performance of project managers. When I started looking at software that my application would be competing with, one of the things that is often implemented is project manager productivity. It is outside of the scope of the job I was performing, but it seems to be important to some people. I'm certainly not trying to track the needs of project managers. That would be way beyond the scope of this application, since project managers vary so drastically from one industry to another. However, a few variables do seem to be worth tracking. When you select a person in my application, it lets you know what equipment has been signed out to them, what's overdue, what certifications are due, etc. So I figured it would be worth the few days of coding to implement those tracking features. Maybe not. Because as I said, they had nothing to do with the job that I was doing. But if a couple days of programming would help me to compete with other pieces of software, that's cool. I can do that. I really think that a lot of the software out there is trying to do too much and reinvent the wheel. I think a lot of the software out there requires excessive training and an abandonment of current company practices. People already use Outlook for email and scheduling. I don't need to get involved with that. But having a repository for certain kinds of documentation, and having a way to notify the people in charge of inventory when things are coming due, and having a way to maintain vehicle, equipment, and employee certifications would have been incredibly powerful for me in that position.
posted by jwhite1979 at 1:21 PM on May 9

I've never met a metric of "productivity" that wasn't used against the workers it tracked.

We've had this previously making the case for buffer time, and at the core of the pandemic response was spare capacity for changing over to make things needed by the emergency.

If you must add metrics: throughput, work-in-progress and duration from conception to completion. These should identify stuck teams, overloaded teams and teams biting off more than they can chew -- but we don't have a culture that expects project management to coach teams to better performance.
posted by k3ninho at 2:54 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

Project manager here - an awful lot of what's on your list can be done by applications like Microsoft Project Online or a fairly bog standard ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, provided it's been implemented well and people understand how to fully use existing functionality. What is the problem you are trying to solve here?
posted by coffee_monster at 6:29 AM on May 10

Response by poster: The primary problem I'm trying to solve has to do with the tracking of vehicles, equipment, employee certifications, etc., which I was responsible for in my last position. There were plenty of software options, but none of them did what I wanted to do, i.e., display records coming due and overdue in a dashboard-style format. The one I was given was fine, but just so limited and ill-suited for my workflow. I created this in an Excel workbook, so I had one place to see anything that was overdue at a glance: fire extinguisher inspections, vehicle assignments, equipment assignments, equipment calibration, etc. It was an amazing workbook, and I was really proud of it, but it got so large with so many functions that it became unstable. So I decided to learn a programming language to recreate it, which is what I'm doing.

In researching the competition, nothing out there really does what my program does. But the software that comes closest usually focuses on project management while implementing some kinds of asset tracking. In my experience, most of that project management stuff is clutter and requires way more of an investment than it's worth. But if I could implement a bit of extra functionality to capture some basic information for project manager, since all the project managers are already in the program (to receive vehicle, equipment, and uniform assignments), I figured it would help me compete with some of the other bigger programs.

And since you asked, another issue I'm trying to address is the lack of desktop software designed for this purpose. Most products are subscription services that cost better than $300/month. I'd like to have a few different options available that would be drastically cheaper. I'm working on versions for a single desktop, a company server, and a remote server. I am confident I could provide a solid product for considerably less than what is on the market currently.
posted by jwhite1979 at 7:25 AM on May 10

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