Top 9 reasons why Microsoft Project fails for software development

If you use MS Project for managing software projects, you should reconsider its use immediately. You are using the wrong tool. It’s like using a shovel when you need a backhoe. Sure, you can do the work, but it’s going to be harder, less efficient and more work than using proper tool.

Here are the top reasons to reconsider it’s use:

1. It gives a false sense of progress.
Most waterfall projects are completely out of date from the first day the plan is set. There’s so much unknown, how can you track progress against it? At best, it is simply a guess. And while there’s value in thinking through the process, saying you are 75% complete is meaningless. This leads to the next problem…

2. Finish dates.
While not a software problem, it is an expectation problem. Think about this… How do software release dates get set? Oftentimes they are set by marketing and management. They are meant to coincide with some other major event, such as a user conference, holiday or big marketing push. Or even worse, based upon a competitor’s release date.

Why set improper expectations from the outset?

3. Too many unknowns.
When developing something new, how can you plan for all the unknowns? You are taking a SWAG. How long will it take to develop that wild new interface? How long will the new SaaS infrastructure take to build? How do you build that uncertaintly into MS Project? Show any executive a date and they will hold your feet to the fire.

4. Defects
When developing software, we are certain of one thing: Defects will be created. Where are you going to track these is Microsoft Project? Are you going to add a new phase? Attach them as follow on tasks to the task that created them? Are they going to be tracked in a seperate tool? If so, how does that affect resources?

Defect tracking is an important part of software development… so where are they stored?

5. Planning in Hours?
Typically speaking, project planners love to think in hours. And when working on physical objects, that can make a lot of sense. But there will always be differences between developers. What may take one developer 40 hours might take another 25. How can you effectively plan and manage that?

6. Iterative is (usually) better
Waterfall project management may be perfectly valid for some projects. Highly complex projects, with multiple moving parts and high variability are usually better served with a methodology that focuses on delivering value on a repeatable basis. Methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and Less focus on producing valuable output, inspecting and adapting and delivering value for customers on a regular cadence. If you aren’t familiar, you should check them out.

7. Changing requirements
When developing large scale software, a major challenge is changing requirements. If it takes 18 months to deliver an application, will the requirements remain static over that time? And if they do, will that delivered software still retain the same value? Likely not. Microsoft Project has no way to track those changes nor the approval or rejection. And, once you decide to accept changes, guess what? You’ve already set an expection of a delivery date… So this means something has to break. Either change the delivery date or cut testing… Or likely both.

Software problems can change rapidly, and new solutions can present themselves. If you have a rigid plan, you are holding the project back from what’s possible.

8. Weekly Updates?
In typical project management, time is submitted on Fridays. If time is submitted once a week, progress tracking can be stale. Add in that tracking hours against an estimate of effort creates another challenge. Do you track percent complete? Or add hours against the task as those estimates are refined?

9. External Files/Integrations
With all the challenges of tracking dependencies, external files will be needed. Where are those going to be stored? Will everyone have access to them? And will they be versioned? Microsoft offers a solution for this. SharePoint. So another software package to install and maintain. But the files are still stored externally and you are accessing multiple applications to get a complete picture of the project.

Microsoft Project is a fine piece of software, but managing software projects is a big task that requires a better suited solution.

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I am a presales engineer for a software company with varied interests from boating, motorcycling, poker to software engineering and others.

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