REVIEW: eTask-it

Who remembers Project Manager Workbench, or PMW for those who were there at the time (or even Microsoft Project, the project management software for “beginners”)? Who remembers printing out Gantt chars on A3 paper that you wallpapered the office walls with? Been there, done that! Just one mention of Gantt charts and trees started to fall of their own accord. So now here’s an interesting proposition for the SMB or enterprise communities; a project management application that both reinvents the concept and that can effectively be outsourced and licensed from a hosting company or service provider.

Features

If you’re familiar with project management software of the past, then think beyond endless Gantt charts and—ultimately—failed projects. Forget also about the idea of individual projects having no reusable elements for future projects. The primary aim with eTask-it is to make project-based engagements repeatable, thereby maximising investment (money and time) in both the software and the projects themselves. Repeatability makes for efficiency—doing more with less. The idea is to get rid of the reliance on individuals whose documentation and skills are in their head so, when they leave the company that expertise and know-how leaves with them.

From a user perspective, a key point noted upfront is that everything that can be accessed is visible on the one screen; so there are no “hidden” features that you find six after deploying the software—transparency in other words. This is a fundamental of eTask-it; the idea is that all information can be shared and nothing is invisible. It also makes auditing and compliance far easier than when data is effectively hidden or difficult to find.

The “reusability” aspect starts with the eTask concept of a Blueprint, whereby a project can be defined and stored for reuse, much like a code library for developers. These are effectively a flexible set of tasks, deliverables and roles that completely define a service, regardless of its underlying complexity.

Then, with project defined, why do so many fail or suffer huge delays? The answer lies with governance. eTask believes that only 30% of the value of PM software is in the blueprinting and the rest is in the true governance of those tasks within the project. So a huge amount of effort has gone into ensuring that projects are automatically managed correctly; for example, comparing Blueprint with the actual adherence to those projections.

It’s all about properly documenting human thoughts and processes and enforcing standardisation within a company; a far cry from the randomisation factor that controlled most mainframe-based IT projects I looked in on (from the safety of the PC team) in the dim and distant past.

Governance is a therefore critical component of the eTask software, given that it creates what the company defines as “a third dimension of control and governance”. In other words, in addition to the classic time and costs metrics generally used, eTask-it adds a quality variable, designed to capture how a service is delivered. This means controlling errors in real-time, so fixing them pro-actively, rather than after they have already significantly impacted upon the project.

Being Google/browser-based, we are also looking at a true SaaS application here; one with a very small footprint that is truly distributable in nature; ideal when you have multiple users perhaps scattered across a large geographical area. Integration with 3rd party applications—CRM/ERP etc—has also been well thought out, so that key areas such as billing are supported between 3rd party apps.

So where to start? The idea is to take a pilot project, look at the most troublesome aspects, document those and—in doing so—build out the blueprint, then deploy. Logical, captain… It’s an obvious thing to say but with something like eTask-it, whatever the embroidery, optimising project management is what it’s all about. And that means having the right toolkit for the job.

The software includes key features such as WBS scheduling, Gantt (no escaping it!), baseline, project resources, effort monitoring, budget control, resource management, dashboards and—importantly—real-time collaboration. The latter provides an online platform enabling all members of a team to work in synchronisation, as well as providing effective access to client and partners additionally, for a genuinely shared working environment. Key to the efficiency of project management is a single repository of knowledge, with no overlap or potential for lost information and misunderstanding.

eTask-it provides a live knowledge management system both storing and delivering information and documentation; so everything is timed and tracked. The software manages all your resources, assigning the right skills to each project, monitoring workloads, scoring the quality of the contribution of each person and giving a single point of control for who is doing what and when. Being able to view exactly what is going in within all the projects in the portfolio is obviously critical.

The software has real time dashboards and completely configurable reporting so you can create specific reports to suit every interested party—the project manager, director, board executive etc—given that all typically want a different view of the world and have specific points of interest.

The old saying “you learn by your mistakes” is sadly true; eTask-it provides what is effectively a learning environment where all deviations from best practices are recorded and can be applied to modify the original Blueprint for the benefit of all future projects. eTask-it uses statistical tools to analyse historical efforts and forecast budgets and time based on hard data.

Summary

Overall, eTask seems to have got it right in terms of reinventing project management without losing the basics. Being SaaS-based means it is scalable and affordable for small and large organisations alike and the user interface is designed for administrators, not geeks, so is designed for the job in hand—one undertaken by company staff, not just IT professionals.

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