This article originally appeared as a Project Management TechMail.

I was recently in charge of designing a specialist workflow automation system. The job made me realize how difficult it is to capture all of the important aspects of any project management (PM) process. When I began to envision my ideal PM tool, I thought about dream functionality that existing tools can’t handle.

Here are some functions that PM tools routinely don’t supply:

  • Resource planning: I’d like a link to the HR database so that if I need to plan a project that requires unusual skills, I can easily locate people to help, as well as price their time.
  • Remote management: It would be wonderful to manage developers all over the globe as if they were in the same room. This would require a secure, Web-based interface, giving all team members a personalized project view.
  • B2B links: A huge amount of my time is taken up with chasing suppliers, contractors, and client finance departments. It would be great to have all the project financial details (billing, taxes, invoices) available from within the application. As well as the PM costs, I’d also like to see an ongoing measure of the project’s long-term ROI of the project updated automatically.
  • Extensibility and adaptive redesign: Tools should be designed so that they are easy to use and also allow you to add and adjust features.
  • Interface(s): Since this is a highly personal choice, the ultimate PM tool would give control to the user. I have problems when the interface doesn’t let me control screen colors and pop-up palettes. I’d also like to have the option of seeing project timelines displayed in the date format I prefer. The interface should also allow tiered access to project details, providing, first, an overall view of the project, followed by the chance to drill down to the details.
  • Parallel testing and documentation views: The interface should include an active view of each team member’s code. It might be useful to have this available periodically to an independent testing team that could apply internal acceptance criteria or flag issues in real-time. Developers could also use each window to document their output and provide technical authors a view of the work-in-progress.
  • History: Storage and limited reuse of the framework for a particular project currently provides a major cost-saving opportunity. I’d really like to be able to re-run a simulation of a past project so that what-if scenarios could be used to train new PMs in decision-making. This might be used to extract rules on which an automated project mentor could be based.
  • Reporting: My clients should always be able to see selected views of work-in-progress. This would help manage their expectations, their change requests, and keep them on-board with the work. An interface that contains their corporate branding elements might also be helpful.

The danger with all PM tasks is that “the map is not the territory.” For instance, I was once introduced to a room full of earnest PMs who were convinced by their advanced tools that the project to deliver 6M novel TV aerials was on schedule. They didn’t know that the production line equipment was feeding them incorrect data for a week.

The message here is that even the ultimate PM tool can’t deliver the project—the fate of your project is ultimately up to you.

What does your dream tool look like?

Do you agree with Patrick’s suggestions? Could you suggest some additions to this list? Post a comment in the discussion board to let us know.