Best Project Planning Tools

Project planning can be the most critical part of the overall project management process. This initial planning ultimately determines if a project will be successful in achieving its goals. Smaller teams often begin this process manually but quickly discover they need to leverage specialized software in order to be more effective during the planning process. Project planning tools and applications can significantly improve the quality of a project plan, as well as decrease the time it takes to develop one.

What Are Project Planning Tools?

Project planning tools are a category of software applications which facilitate the process of planning projects within organizations. Since project planning involves managing multiple activities (often occurring simultaneously) including goal setting, creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), scheduling and allocating human resources, planning communication, and conducting risk management, (whew!) using software specifically designed for project planning helps systematize and organize the entire process.

Project planning tools help your team create a working project document which will guide the entire project team during the execution phase, once the initial planning is complete. This specialized category of software provides the features and capabilities to help users clearly define the project scope, tasks, schedule, resources, risks, quality standards, budget, and communication plan.

Is Project Planning Software Easy To Use?

Most software developers working in the project management space have specifically designed their applications to be extremely user friendly. Most users will find these programs easy to learn and can expect to master them relatively quickly. Featuring intuitive interfaces, familiar designs, and often a robust training suite, project managers should feel comfortable introducing a new project planning tool to their team.

What Features Are Common In Project Planning Tools?

While functionality and features differ between software developers, most project planning tools should include components for planning, scheduling, task assignments, reporting, team communication, and project status tracking. Many will include various chart views such as Gantt or Kanban to help monitor task dependencies and overall progress.

What Categories Do Project Planning Tools Fall Into?

Project planning tools can be categorized into three main groups: individual, collaborative, and integrated. Individual project planning tools are designed for single-person use and include one view, often in a spreadsheet-style visualization. Collaborative software provides a single “source of truth” for your team and also allows members to work individually or as part of teams or sub-groups. Lastly, we have integrated project planning tools which accommodate the tracking and management of multiple projects.

Are Project Planning Applications Expensive?

As with most products, the more features it includes, the more expensive it tends to be. In the case of project planning applications, prices range from absolutely free to upwards of $10 to $15 per user per month. Many companies offer enterprise-level packages which can help reduce the overall cost based on volume.

How Secure Are Project Planning Tools?

Depending on the platform you choose, the project planning software will inherently offer different levels of security; this varies by provider. If security is a primary concern for you, look for keywords such as intrusion detection, user activity monitoring, privacy protection, two-factor authentication (or multifactor authentication), and data encryption. If you have an internal IT department, check with them for specific requirements and consider having a member of their team on a sales call to discuss security concerns with the representative.

What Features Are Important In Project Planning Tools

Users looking for project planning tools should consider essential features that will help them create a comprehensive project plan. While this will be particular to the needs of your team and company, several to consider are as follows:

  • Dashboards and reports: These allow the project team and stakeholders to get status updates and progress reports.
  • Task management: An easy-to-use tool for creating, prioritizing, assigning, and tracking tasks with dependency features. This asset is essential to the overall scheduling and deadline management of the project.
  • Team calendar: This feature empowers the project manager to schedule and organize meetings with the involved team members and stakeholders to discuss project plans and stay on track.
  • Planner and scheduler: Often implemented as an interactive timeline or Gantt chart builder, this tool supports critical path analysis, automatic adjustments, and alerts for upcoming due dates. Essentially, it is key to keeping all tasks and people on track to meet your project deadline and serves as the core of any project planning tool.
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): This type of tool helps break work down into smaller tasks and is a common and effective productivity technique. By making project tasks more approachable and manageable, WBS helps integrate schedule, scope, and cost parameters to ensure project plans are aligned.
  • Document management: Often key for collaboration, integrated document management helps keep graphics, PDFs, spreadsheets, and documents related to a project within the project itself and easily accessible by everyone involved in the project.
  • Collaboration and communication: A central workspace where all involved can view and retrieve up-to-date project information, read announcements, and send messages related to the project.
  • Feedback management: Though not very common, this feature is becoming more relevant where remote work is concerned. The ability to proof the work of remote team members and provide feedback can lead to faster approval times.
  • Resource management: Tools to manage the estimated workload against availability of resources, ensuring the project is adequately staffed.
  • Budget management: Enables a project manager to calculate costs and expenses, manage the budget, and give project sponsors budgetary reports and requests.
  • Third-party integrations: Many modern project planning tools are offering connections to third-party specialized software your company may already be using. These can include communications tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. They can also tie directly into customer relationship management platforms like Salesforce and Zendesk.

Which Project Planning Tool Should I Choose?

When deciding which platform is the best fit for your team and company, we recommend you focus your search on your most critical needs and overall budget. If you represent a smaller enterprise then you may want to consider a more minimalist planning tool with basic features. On the other hand, if you have a larger project management team to consider, along with multiple projects consistently placed throughout the year, a higher-end platform may be a better fit. We have provided a comparison list on this page to help you decide. Click through to each provider’s website to learn more about their system and determine if it’s the right fit for your organization.

Do I Really Need A Project Planning Tool?

Our research has found that project managers can quickly find themselves “in over their heads” when they try to plan new projects without the aid of a tool made for the task. Spreadsheets, emails, chats, and meetings become cumbersome, items fall through the cracks, and deadlines are missed. The right project planning tool, even an inexpensive one, will more than pay for itself in the long run by saving you time and ensuring your projects launch successfully, and on time.

How Do I Get Started?

Luckily, we’ve done the up-front work for you! Project-Management.com has reviewed several of the top project planning tools and listed them on this page. Each includes a brief summary of features, usage scenarios, and cost. Click through to each directly for more detailed information. Use this guide to form your comparison and before you know it, you’ll have your choices narrowed down and your team operating more efficiently than ever before!