Software managers have benefited from the availability of computers since the very beginning of computing. The reason is simple: project management is all about:
These are all things that computers do exceptionally well, and that paper does exceptionally badly. The same applies to accounting software, which is also another early beneficiary of the computing era.
In the last decade, there has been a shift on several levels in terms of computing which affected greatly the way project managers work:
So, what has changed, in terms of project managers? They still have to manage people and keep track of tasks. They still use computers. However, there is a different expectation in terms of the software used to manage these projects.
Since user expectations have changed, the project management software's expectations have also changed. Here is what software is expected to do today:
The project manager is historically the gatekeeper in terms of what each person needs to do, and when by. Today, users expect to be able to login onto some kind of web interface, and see exactly what they should do. They also expect to be able to "interact" with this software, and -- for example -- change a tasks deadline. Once that happens, the software might respond in different ways: in collaboration software, it will tend to simply update the deadline; in more traditional systems, it will be implied that the change needs to be authorized by the project manager.
Workers don't want to just see what tasks they have to complete: they now want to be able to talk about those tasks, starting a discussion, and maybe even bounce a task off each other. Discussion can happen just amongst users, or even amongst clients who are the ones who will be able to add their input to the discussion. Communication is the key to successful projects, and software today needs to reflect that.
Users are used to having a very interconnected life: they want to see their appointments in their phone's calendar application; want to be able to add a contact to their cell phone and find it nicely synchronized to onto their desktop computers. These expectations have grown in terms of software project management as well. Users want to be able to import the project's calendar onto their own application using the iCal format. They want to be able to reply to an email and add to the task's discussion that way; they want to be able to mark a task as done without even leaving their email client's screen. All these things require integration, and -- more importantly -- require some predefined and well-established standards so that applications can communicate.
When the available tools were still limited, a worker was given a list of things to do and a deadline. He or she was expected to complete them in order. This often created frustration amongst workers, who might grow bored of a task. Today, users are expected to have a list of tasks to pick from, and have the freedom to complete them -- as long as they are done within the given timeframe.
Historically, the project manager was the main referrer for the customer, who would call and ask how the project was going, how far it was from completion, which milestones had been completed, and so on. Today, customers expect to be able to login onto a software system, and simply check online what the project status is. This is exactly what software project management is about: it empowers players who would be historically "passive", allowing them to interact actively with the project and see exactly how it's progressing.
Workers are more and more on the go. So, they expect to be able to access their task lists, and project information, straight from their cell phones. This means that project management software will often need to provide native applications for iPhones and Android systems, or offer a "mobile version" which will work fine on small Internet devices. This access should be available to all players: project managers, workers, and clients.
Making mobile versions of existing software can be pretty hard: sometimes, it requires rewrites. However, the importance of mobile versions of project management software is impossible to overlook.
It's always hard to predict what how technology will evolve, and how it will affect the way people work. Nobody, 20 years ago, would have predicted that the world would be fully interconnected and that a project manager's job would change so much, in terms of what they do and what they are require to know.
Looking at the direction technology is taking, we can expect:
This is obviously speculation. However, we are seeing very interesting times: even though project managers have been using computers for a very long time (possibly only coming second to accountants), they still have had to adapt dramatically to the way the world changed.