Project Management Software Guide

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project-management-software-guideProject management software helps project managers and teams complete client requirements and manage time, budget, and scope constraints. However, with so many available options, choosing the right tool can be confusing, and people may not know just where to begin. We would like to explain what features cloud-based project management software should have.

Types of Project Management Software

  • Online: Many small and medium-sized businesses across different industries are now using online project management software. This type of software uses cloud-based technology and is offered by application service providers as software-as-a-service (SaaS). Nowadays, these applications are expanding their functions and crossing boundaries with their combination of features, and these complicate even more the user’s selection process.
  • On-premise: Typically resides in the company’s own server, which are located in the data center and managed by the company’s IT employees. An example of an on-premise PM software is Microsoft Project.

Types of Online Project Management Software Industry

  • Simple: A simple project management software may have fewer features that cover basic functionality, but this does not make them inferior, and may in fact be all that is needed by startups or small- to -medium-sized businesses. Features included in this type of software are task management, team collaboration, learning materials, email integration, and file management.
  • Comprehensive: A comprehensive type has more features that cover core project management functionality such as scheduling, resource management, and financial management on top of a more advanced task management feature. Using this type of software is also more expensive. However, it provides more accurate estimates, better control on dependencies, and real-time progress tracking. It is also more complex to use and require more time from its users. Larger organizations and project teams prefer them, especially for more complex projects.

Suggested Comprehensive Project Management Software


Project Management Software Features to Consider

Classified features according to the degree of its importance in an online PM software.

Really Important Features

    • Task Management. This is the ability to create tasks and manage them during the entire process. Furthermore, the software should have the ability to set dependencies on the task, create and manage subtasks from larger tasks, set a task to repeat or recur at a specified time or date, and allow the assigning of more than one user to a task. The ability to import a list of tasks from an external file such as a spreadsheet should also be included in the task management feature.
    • Team Collaboration. The feature that allows any number of team members to not only communicate but hold work-related discussion is a must. The application should provide virtual space for creating discussions easily, save its history and thread, create documents and share them, allows for alerts and notifications, as well as private messaging to one or many recipients.
    • Learning Materials. The project management software should have adequate materials that can get any team member, regardless of level of computer proficiency, to hit the ground running. That means catering to all kinds of users, whether they learn well by reading articles, by watching videos, by participating in webinars, or by using the software as they go along. The software that can shorten the learning curve also allows users to devote more time quickly to performing their actual job.
    • Email Integration. Email may be the most popular application, so a PM app that can integrate effectively with email is of high value. If the software can receive and send emails within the program, then it has significantly increased productivity by minimizing the time to switch applications. Email can be the source of status updates, and new tasks or progress reports can be sent by email to an already defined list.
    • Document Management. This is the ability of the PM application to manage files and documents directly with or without using a third-party solution. The important features include the safe central storage of documents, the ability to attach documents to tasks, put notes and comments to uploaded documents, upload multiple documents using drag-drop, organize documents in folders and have version control over them. The online PM app may provide the storage space or integrate smoothly to a third party solution that provides it.
    • Mobile. Project teams do not usually sit behind desks all the time. Team members can be at a client’s site or a remote branch performing their work. Therefore, it is a key feature that the chosen PM software has the ability to be used with a smartphone. This means that the software should have APIs for iOS and Android mobile devices.

Fairly Important Features

    • Third-Party Integration. Many organizations with their core business may already be using other systems. A PM application that can integrate well with existing third-party applications can be a main consideration for some companies. Some of the more popular ones are Google Apps, MS Outlook, Salesforce and Dropbox. If it can integrate with many third-party systems, it is a plus.
    • Customizations. A PM software that allows customers to have a certain amount of branding or customization within the application may appeal more to certain companies, such as those engaged with sales and marketing, or those that can change language or cultural settings. This feature may not be sought out by everyone, but could be a decisive factor for some.
    • Reporting. Although this feature is extremely important, all PM solutions usually have this function. However, every organization has a different requirement, and therefore may require more than just a generic catch-all kind of report. The software that can offer many kinds of reports or even customizable reports will have a definite advantage.
    • Scheduling. This is the ability of a PM software to set schedules on tasks, to create timelines and milestones, and determine dependencies and resources. For some, this is a core project management functionality and therefore essential. However, for organizations with simple projects, short duration or recurring tasks, or small teams, this may not be as important.
    • Time Management. This helpful feature may be more applicable to only some projects more than others. A PM software that can track actual project time of its resources, and have a certain degree of control in accepting submitted timesheets is valuable to project teams that have longer duration tasks or those that have many resources.

Project Management Software That Small Businesses Buy

According to a recent study done by Software Advice, about 46 percent of small businesses are still using manual methods in organizing and tracking their projects. Small businesses still occupy the majority of the economy compared to big corporations. For example, in the US alone, about 54 percent of all country sales come from small businesses. However, the study done by Software Advice from the interactions they have from 385 small-business buyers showed interesting information about the kind of project management software small businesses are looking to buy.

The Current Picture

According to the study, about 46 percent of small enterprises are still using different kinds of manual methods in managing their projects. Some of these methods are using pen and paper, email and spreadsheets. Business owners have realized that these methods are more prone to error, so they are now looking for project management software to replace these outdated methods. It is also interesting to note that about 9 percent of the respondents showed that they use non-PM software, such as accounting programs and time tracking applications. However, these do not address what they really need in order to successfully manage their projects, such as providing the needed overall visibility and analytical reports.

pm current methods

Web-based Preference

The majority of the small-business buyers that were interviewed, or about 75 percent, do not have a particular preference in how the project management software they need should be deployed. However, the one-fourth that indicated a preference explicitly chose to have a web-based deployment. The popularity of web-based software has risen notably over the last few years. Combining that with the simplicity of signing up for a monthly subscription, the choice of small-business buyers who do not want huge capital expenses is clear.

pm deployment preference

Integrated Suite Selection

Project management software available today can be generally classified as either best-of-breed or integrated suite. A best-of-breed application is a standalone that specializes in one particular thing, such as task management, for instance. Integrated suite applications are set of applications offered that can have two or more functionality, such as task management, Gantt charting, and time tracking all together. About 88 percent of the buyers would rather select an integrated suite to keep to a minimum the different platforms being used to manage projects. Consolidation over specialization is given priority.

pm integration requirements

Top Reasons for Purchase

Buyers overwhelmingly want a project management software, about 98 percent of the respondents. Time tracking software at 66 percent came a distant second. However, the reasons why buyers want a PM software are more diverse. About 41 percent stated that an improvement in efficiency and accuracy is what they are looking for. Again, this is not surprising, considering that many are looking for an alternative to manual methods that are inefficient and prone to error. A close second of 32 percent of buyers are looking for greater functionality, which may indicate that the business has outgrown its tools for managing projects.

pm top reasons

Buyers by Business Role

The study also differentiated the buyers by the role they have in their business. The chart showed that about 43 percent of the buyers have business leadership roles rather than project management role or IT role. Indeed, it was the senior managers, department directors, CEOs and owners that have shown interest to purchase PM software. But this is typical for small businesses that have fewer employees, but also a growing trend that not only project managers are managing projects. This also reflects a trend that PM software is now being used across industries. The chart also showed that the second highest types of buyers are project manager, which are at 21 percent.

pm buyer roles

Buyers by Company Size, Annual Revenue, and Industry

The sample of 385 small-business buyers used by Software Advice is made up of a 64-percent majority with a company size of 1 to 50 employees. A business with fewer employees would want a higher degree of efficiency, so a web-based, integrated project management software is an ideal choice to provide a broad array of functions with the simplicity and affordability of an online software. The next group of buyers has an employee size between 101 and 500, which can describe a company experiencing growth and expansion. In terms of annual revenue, 30 percent of the buyers report a revenue between 1 million and 5 million dollars. In terms of industry, 21 percent are in the technology sector, and 15 percent each come from the public service, the industrial, and the marketing/advertising sectors.

buyers demographics

Study Methodology

Software Advice consultants help people find the right software for their organization. The original study was made by randomly selecting 385 of their interactions with small-business buyers. For a further discussion of their report, you can visit their website and contact the managing editor.

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.

2 Responses

  1. Brad Hodson says:

    Great writeup! I think the one thing you forgot to make a little clearer in the “Simple” point is that oftentimes having simple software is favorable because it is easier to use and adopt by a team, which means better usage, which means better results and better reports.

    This is where project management software, as well as some other software out there, could really get an overhaul to make it easier for companies to use. There are only a few simple solutions available.

  2. shilpi says:

    Really nice article. I would rather say that a good time management software can solve much of your time tracking hassles. In fact, Replicon’s hassle free cloud based time tracking software is really a nice tool with so many options and intuitive interface.

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