What we want from project management tools in 2024

I don’t often wear a watch, but when I do it’s a very unassuming watch with real hands. Not a smart watch. I’ve been a little bit in awe at colleagues who get WhatsApp messages and pay for things with a flick of the wrist. I’m not sure if I would want that, but I do love the simplicity of it.

And then I log into my PM software and suddenly that simplicity that exists elsewhere disappears…

Here are my wishes for the PM software industry for 2024.

1. Give us more usable data

Projects generate huge amounts of data. We have forecast and actual dates, timesheets, budgets, databases of lessons learned, risks, issues and changes.

And yet, mostly, what we know is what we’ve learned from experience. Searching historical project data and surfacing relevant information is tough. Big data and artificial intelligence features should be making it easier.

We have seen a huge focus on the addition of AI features to some popular project management software tools during 2023. There’s also been a lot of interest in generative AI and how it can help project managers. I think we’ll see a lot more focus on that in the year to come.

For example, imagine reviewing estimates from the project team. As you enter their estimated effort for tasks, the software prompts you: Claire’s estimates were 20% under on her last five projects. Would you like to add 20% to this estimate? Well, yes. Yes, I would.

I’d like project management software that makes it easy to make data-driven decisions based on relevant corporate knowledge – the kind of knowledge that leaves when an experienced project manager takes a job somewhere else.

We should be capturing it and presenting it to new project managers so the organization learns and adapts for more successful project delivery.

2. Make it usable

My five-year old can give Alexa instructions and get the song or joke he wants. I want project management tools with the same level of usability. Tools that work without a huge learning curve.

I know what we do is complicated.

The amount of icons and menu options on an enterprise tool shows me that. I want all the features, but I also want usability, mobile apps, integrations with other tools, voice commands and contextual help for when I don’t understand what to do next.

I want the detail for my own use so I can do my job effectively, and a simple interface for stakeholders who just need to see overall status.

Again, I think we did make some progress as an industry during 2023. Interfaces look less clunky. Software firms have invested in UX. But there is a delicate balance between customizing all the features and getting a user display that looks good. Simple often means… too simple. Stuff I can’t customize to get it just right for my stakeholders. And that’s not good either.

The good news is that AI in project management surveys show that we are making progress in this area.

3. Give us time

Ultimately, project managers want to win back time from being in front of computers, so they can spend that time with the people who matter for the project.

Culture and leadership are what makes businesses successful. You can’t automate stakeholder engagement or motivating a team. Project managers need to spend time on the things that really drive successful delivery, and that isn’t entering data into software.

We could save hours of project time with software that supports project teams by automating what can be automated, making it easy to make the right decision and surfacing information when we need it.

The tech exists out there to move project management tools on leaps and bounds. Typically, we see improvements in consumer products (like Alexa) before those improvements make it into the average workplace.

This is what we’re seeing with AI at the moment: a lot of talk about how it will save time and free up people hours to be invested in the work that AI can’t do.

And yet when I try to get ChatGPT to do simple things, the quality of the output just isn’t something I’d want to test out on my stakeholders.

I hope it won’t be long before we start to see some of the fantastic AI initiatives making their way into the tools we use to deliver projects — because as our project environments get more complicated and complex, I for one could do with all the time-saving, intelligent help I can get.

A version of this article first appeared in Business & Industry in 2019.