Are you ready to take the plunge and choose project-management software to manage your construction or engineering firm’s growing portfolio? Upgrading your infrastructure can seem like an overwhelming task, but it’s a critical step in scaling your operations. Picking the right tool takes forethought and discipline to avoid falling into the one-size-fits-all trap.

How do you know you’re ready?

The signs may be obvious. Maybe the sheer volume of contracts has risen to a point where your project managers aren’t able to do their “real” jobs because they’re inundated with status update requests. Or maybe a simple request for a cost and budget update kicks off a frenzy of manual labor to pull contract and task order documentation.

Or your project managers are creating and recreating spreadsheets to manage their contracts disparately, only to find out they are constantly outdated or misplaced somewhere on a computer. You might also come to a gradual realization, like one firm I work with, that you’re falling behind the eight-ball. With two project managers, they had no problem communicating between them and staying up to date. But adding just one project manager and several new projects to the mix brought them to a critical point, where their informal communication style no longer covered all the bases.

In any case, it’s always a good idea to consider your options before you get to a tipping point.

Establish a baseline

Regardless of your firm’s size, any software you consider should have the basics well covered, including contract management, scheduling and cost management, and program and project cost reporting. But many enterprise software vendors offer advanced features and licensing frameworks that smaller firms don’t need, which invites several specific risks:

  1. Buying the ‘Cadillac’ version

Take a lesson from the small firm who anticipated that they would grow into a robust enterprise project management system. They assumed that the efficiencies gained would allow them to scale their business faster and justify a higher technology investment. But in fact, they ended up having to hire additional staff and expensive consultants to integrate, train, and maintain the system, wiping out any cost benefits.

  1. Controlling access

What good is a great project management system if not everyone who needs it can use it? Per-seat licensing may restrict access to key project stakeholders at critical junctures, especially when you’re dealing with projects spanning multiple geographic locations or complex regulatory requirements. Too often, firms get around this limitation by sharing passwords, which increases security and compliance risks.

  1. Failing to build a business case

Involving end users as well as executive leaders in the software evaluation helps ensure buy-in after the decision is made. Too often, decisions are made based primarily on cost, when those closest to the customer will have valuable input on functionality and relevance.

Making sure your system will deliver the right output in the format your clients need—rather than one dictated solely by the system— is one example where planning ahead pays off. Customization should be built into your upfront cost analysis for a more seamless conversion.

Many firms opt for a pilot program to ensure a thorough assessment, either through try-before-buy offers or rolling out for a discrete project. Those are both great options to avoid the sunk cost fallacy, where you continue to throw money at an unwieldy or under-utilized system simply because you’ve invested too much time and resources to turn back.

It’s a good problem to have if your business has grown to the point where you no longer can rely on institutional knowledge and disparate systems of record to manage your obligations. Just make sure when you purchase project management software, you are choosing the one that is right for your business, now and in the future.

By Jackie d’Escoto, Maginox