The three of us embrace new technology, though it is fair to say that none of us can claim to be mobile technology experts. For that reason this article, in which we discuss some of the current initiatives in mobile devices and apps for project management, is written with a project management rather than technology focus.
Nowadays, it seems everyone has a cell or mobile phone. A recent survey estimated that globally, there are 4.1 billion cell or mobile phone users, and that number is expected to climb. More and more cell/mobile phone users have a ‘Smartphone” which, depending on the product, may be called a ‘PDA’ (Personal Digital Assistant) or a ‘Smartphone’. Tablets are increasingly popular as well. For the purposes of this article, we refer to all devices collectively as “mobile devices”. Devices such as the iPhone, iPad, Droid, Galaxy, Blackberry, etc., allow us to connect to the Internet and have data storage for Applets or ‘Apps’, programs accessed by touching the on-screen icon that provide information and/or services from GPS Navigation to playing a game of Solitaire. There are 60+ million ‘Smartphone’ or device users in the USA alone. As of this writing, there are close to 400,000 applications available for various devices with prices ranging from free to over $400.00 USD for special Medical and unique Apps; most cost between $2 to $10. Each device has the memory to store hundreds of apps which, in most cases, can be upgraded to expand the storage capability even further.
As professional project management practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to embrace new methodologies and technologies to improve our productivity and effectiveness to our customers and stakeholders. That statement can translate into numerous actions and the use of a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), or Smartphone, or Tablet can be one of them. Let’s mention some of the obvious benefits these mobile devices offer to project managers:
- As a mobile phone user, you can make or receive a call from anywhere; several also have phone conferencing abilities. The speakers on many modern cell/mobile phones are good enough to use in a conference room with multiple people. These devices also have the capability to store 1000’s of phone #’s, speed dial, or use voice commands, but please don’t do that while driving a motor vehicle.
- With an Internet-connected mobile device, you can send and receive either text messages or email including, with additional security (required by most companies), the ability to receive your company / business email. Therefore, you can respond to an inquiry immediately. Attachments can also be downloaded and viewed for immediate changes and/or approvals.
- With access to the Internet, you can search for information when needed.
- A recent trend is the notepad or notes applications and, now, word processing and spread sheets on mobile devices, with which one can perform the same functions on a “roaming device” as with a laptop or desktop computer. As tablets provide a larger keypad than a Smartphone type of device, we see them being efficiently used more and more frequently in meetings in lieu of a laptop. As most weigh less than even the slimmest laptops, they are quite convenient.
We are particularly interested in the applications or ‘Apps’ that are available for purchase and download by you, the device owner – assuming you have a mobile device that can use them. As we mentioned earlier, there are 1000’s, with new ones coming on stream every day. In our research, we found many applications that are of interest to project managers.
Below is a screen shot of a few Apps that we found – there are more; this is just to give a “picture”:
We are intentionally not providing the App name, description, or price as it is not our intention to advertise or endorse any of these; rather, we wish to advise on the diversity, type, uses, and benefits of using them. We have categorized these mobile Apps into three types:
1) Information & Reference
2) Interactive Informational
Information & Reference
Essentially, this is information (words, diagrams, and pictures) made available in the app. This is information logically data-mapped for quick access and reference. These apps are usually available in color and repaginate themselves to fit into the size of a typical screen size for a mobile device. Whilst there is a variety of content available in the “Information and Reference” category of apps, some of the best are designed to assist in exam preparation for various Project Management certifications/credentials. Overall, we found them to be ‘good’ as a convenient way of getting information and honing up on your PM basics. We look forward to seeing how they develop.
Although these are really tools, their overall use is currently akin to ‘flash cards’ where one reads a question and then provides the answer. Some of them provide a ‘test format’ that responds to your answer with an explanation of why it’s correct or incorrect. Basically, they are similar to “Information and Reference” apps with added interactivity or a condensed version of many online exam prep sites. Overall, ‘fair’, and great if you are travelling.
Some of the tools for mobile devices are very good and are ‘handy’. The level of sophistication will no doubt increase with time. For example, some are already able to provide PERT information with calculations and Standard Deviation. It’s a given that using any complex processing tool such as a scheduling tool requires time to calculate and input the necessary data. (Using the scheduling analogy, for example, we need, at a minimum, data such as Start, Finish, Type – task or milestone, Task Name, Duration, Predecessor and Successor link.) Be aware that for these apps, it is necessary to be patient and trial their usage on a mobile device to see how you get on with it. With a mini-HTML cable, you can upload your schedule file to your laptop or desktop just as you would a photograph. These complex apps are still works in progress and worth reviewing as they progress technologically.
In conclusion, we believe the availability, use, and application of project management tools for mobile devices are a great productivity gain – when used effectively. We look forward to seeing how they progress, particularly those used as ‘tools’. They are tending to be free to $10 USD and seem to be a good value. We advise that you first try the free version if one is available and, if usable, then purchase the pay-for version/licence. If you are studying for a credential or certification and need to optimize your study time, the availability of a mobile device can be convenient while waiting or travelling. We will continue to scan for new PM type applications and monitor the volume and diversity of them as a demographic of the app market.