Best Project Management Software & Tools in 2021
Project management software helps project managers and teams complete client requirements and manage time, budget, and scope constraints. This business application provides benefits especially if chosen correctly to match an organization’s requirements.
The top 10 project management software
Nowadays, project management tools are expanding their functions and crossing boundaries with their combination of features, further complicating the user’s selection process. We built a list of the best project management software applicable for different types of industry and business needs to assist in this crucial selection process.
Table of Contents
- The top 10
- Project management software guide
- Types of project management software
- Web-based project management software
- On-premise project management software
- Integrated vs. best of breed software
- Required and suggested project management software features
- Buying considerations for small businesses
- Buying considerations for medium-sized businesses
- Buying considerations for enterprise businesses
- Implementing the right project management software for your business
Project management software guide
Project management software helps project managers, teams, and individual contributors complete tasks, organize client requirements, and manage time, budget, and scope constraints.
Companies that use the right tool will gain many advantages and benefits, one of which is delivering projects that provide expected results, within cost, and on time. This guide covers the various types of project management software, the major features you should look for, a survey of the market, and what companies of all sizes should consider when making a purchase.
Types of project management software
- Integrated suite
Web-based project management software
Web-based project management software is accessible from any internet-connected web browser through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription. These online platforms cater to businesses of all sizes across industries. Users in various locations can use different devices such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones to get up-to-date project status and information from a central database.
Today’s web-based project management programs have a rich set of features that can compete with enterprise systems. Many of these apps provide several methods to visualize project tasks and goal progress, collaborate with coworkers, automate workflows, share files, message team members, and integrate with email. By expanding their feature sets, many web-based project management tools also fall into the categories of collaboration software or business process management software.
On-premise project management software
On-premise project management software resides on the company’s own server. The server will be inside their data center and managed by its IT employees. Companies often purchase a single on-premise license and may have to purchase additional upgrades or updates.
Companies prefer on-premise software for their concern on security as well as long-term costs. When the company runs the software on their private servers, they have full control over the data storage and security protocols to protect that data. Enterprises with 50, 100, or more users can save from monthly subscription costs if they purchase one-time license fees used in on-premise project management software. They also have control when to schedule software updates to make preparations and not experience any downtime due to an automatic product update inherent in SaaS systems.
Integrated vs. best of breed software
Today’s project management software includes several features and tools to manage a wide array of business project scope. Projects, however, can also be simple enough to be managed by a specialized software. A best-of-breed application specializes in one particular capability, such as task management, scheduling, or time tracking. Integrated suite applications combine several functions like task management, Gantt charting, and time tracking. Businesses prefer integrated tools for a unified solution that provides visibility, improves collaboration, and supports accountability.
Startups and small businesses need a simple project management solution with fewer features that cover basic functionality. Task management, team collaboration, document management, and email integrations are the common features in simple project management software.
A comprehensive project management software has more features that cover core project management functions such as scheduling, resource management, and financial management on top of more advanced project management tools. A PM suite will have a higher cost but also deliver accurate estimates, dependencies control, real-time progress tracking, and comprehensive reports that justifies the price of the solution. These tools also require more oversight and time to be more effective in managing projects. Larger organizations and teams prefer integrated project management software especially for more complex projects.
Required and suggested project management software features
As you research your next project management software, you’ll likely choose the right tool by the features it offers. Make sure to choose the solution that includes as many as possible in the required features list, while keeping in mind present and future requirements as you go over optional but helpful features.
Task management software features let project team members create, update, and manage the progress of tasks throughout a project’s lifetime. This feature allows team members to:
- Set dependencies on a task
- Create and manage subtasks from larger tasks
- Set a task to repeat or recur at a specified time or date
- Assign more than one user to a task
- Import a list of tasks from an external file
Task management is essential in a project management software. The best project management tools offer visual task management in Kanban boards, Gantt charts, waterfall dependencies, and burndown charts.
Collaboration helps solve complex projects. It is a required feature in a project management software to enable project teams and stakeholders to
- Exchange information
- Hold discussions
- Send comments or approvals
- Put context to project files
- Directly message one another
Software support documentation helps new and existing team members troubleshoot issues within the software and learn to use the tools quickly. Documentation and support tools that shorten the learning curve include:
- Help desk articles
- Support videos
- Periodic educational webinars
- In-software tooltips
- Email or phone support
Email features within a project management tool will:
- Send notifications to individual team members regarding the status of their projects
- Send alerts regarding due dates, key words, or status changes
- Make new or update existing tasks via email
- Add comments, files, or custom labels to an existing task
This feature significantly increases productivity as the user can manage tasks and updates from their inbox without logging in to the tool. Individual members should also be able to set limits on the frequency and types of email notifications they receive.
A good project management app provides a space for teams to store and manage files directly in the tool or by using an integrated third-party solution. Document management features that are indispensable in a PM software are:
- A centralized document storage
- The ability to attach documents to tasks
- The ability to attach notes and comments to uploaded documents
- Multiple document upload using drag-drop
- Document organization within folders, projects, or custom settings
- Version control
An online PM app also provides cloud storage space or integrates with a third-party service that provides it.
Today’s work has moved from the office desk to the field. Mobile access via native project management apps helps all types of teams. It provides a familiar interface and functionality so users can catch up on work and their teammates easily while on the go. PM vendors offer mobile app solutions on various platforms and technology such as iOS, Android, or HTML5.
Optional but helpful features
Third-party integrations or API
The best project management tools have a solid core of PM features that allow users to manage projects effectively. It will also have multiple integrations directly or via APIs for anything other than project management. A flexible solution can readily integrate with many popular apps and services in use by companies today such as G Suite, Microsoft 365, Salesforce, or Dropbox.
White label, branding, and custom settings
Project management software when used for external clients will benefit greatly with additional features such as white labeling, custom branding, or customization settings. These features often appeal to sales and marketing agencies and global or multinational corporations who want to adapt their tool to meet language and cultural requirements.
Project management software has reporting functionality included but to varying degrees. Consider the depth of your reporting needs and whether the software you research meets those needs. Another feature to consider is the ability to export project data to a third-party business intelligence tool if your company has one or planning to have one.
A PM software with scheduling promotes organization in large or multiple teams. It allows the user to set schedules on tasks, create timelines and milestones, and determine dependencies and resources. For some, this is an essential project management function. However, for organizations with simple projects, short-duration projects, recurring tasks, or small teams, this may not be as important.
Time management features in a project management app let team members track how much time they spend on independent tasks, let project managers set ideal time goals for the project, and integrate with a timesheet or payroll app. Teams with long-term projects or that regularly employ contractors may find these tools especially useful.
Buying considerations for small businesses
Small businesses relying on spreadsheets or whiteboards miss an opportunity to manage their projects more efficiently. They can enjoy the advantages of a modern solution and still stay within budget with careful planning and mindful selection of important items while purchasing an affordable PM solution.
While it may be helpful for everyone on the team to have access to a project management tool, many options base price on user seats. Companies can identify the essential personnel who need paid access and those who can collaborate for free through other channels such as email or integration. Smaller organizations can easily bring the rest of the team up-to-date through reports that can be generated without costs.
Free or low-priced options
While every company wants to save money on their software, free and low-priced options are especially attractive to small businesses who run on a shoestring budget. Affordable plans have limitations on the number of access or features, so it is important to plan for growth or expansion.
Open source project management can provide a free or low-cost option, but these tools often do not provide the technical support or frequent updates that free or inexpensive SaaS tools cover.
Task and project visualizations help teams see the progress of multiple projects running at the same time. Whether it’s through a Kanban board, Gantt chart, burndown chart, or other custom visualization, these tools give an overview of the project’s progress. Small businesses need to understand what data or metric is important for them to see and check that their choice of PM solution can display them by default or will allow customization.
Buying considerations for medium-sized businesses
Growing businesses face different challenges such as the task of scaling their company requirements. Project management software can help these businesses define their project processes, refine existing inefficiencies, and improve overall project outcomes.
Mid-sized businesses are inclined to adapt a greater number of solutions over time. As such, the ability of a project management software to integrate to these existing solutions plays a greater role. The candidate solution should have native app connections, capable of API calls, or include webhook features that can automate data transfer and speed up processes.
Time tracking software helps teams track contract work, employee hours, and billable time spent on projects. Project management software should include features that tie work hours directly to individual tasks. The solution should also be able to compute hours across projects or filter hours for individual contributors. You should also look for connections to accounting or payroll systems via export or direct integration.
Reporting and analytics
Larger teams have a greater need to track and analyze key project data that comes from multiple sources. They need a project management software with a reporting and analytics engine to display the following metrics to help in the successful delivery of projects:
- Total tasks assigned to project and to individual team members
- Total time needed for task and overall project completion
- Tasks by completion stage
- Points, hours, or other metrics to indicate task and project weight
Buying considerations for enterprise businesses
Enterprise businesses thrive on automation and connected apps. Whether your project management tool lives inside an ERP or business process management (BPM) system, or exists as a standalone solution, integrations are essential. API connections and native plugins ensure key information flows quickly into the project management tool and reporting metrics flow back out to the right systems.
Reporting and analytics
Reporting and analytics features in enterprise project management systems play a vital role for the software to be widely useful. These features show bottlenecks in the process or other indicators of needed efficiencies. Enterprise companies need to check if their business intelligence tool can seamlessly integrate, import directly, or is compatible with the export format of their candidate PM solution.
Data safety and security should matter to companies of any size, but enterprise companies need user controls to effectively manage data access. An enterprise company looking for their next project management solution should carefully consider how the tools provide administrative authority over access to projects, the number of available user seats, and granular access to capabilities and tasks.
Implementing the right project management software for your business
Companies should carefully plan how they roll out a new project management software. The project manager responsible should get the support of major stakeholders, from C-level executives to end-users of the project team. A schedule that provides the time to learn how to use the software should be included before taking a major project. That way, each and every project will be set up properly. Be ready with support documents and some training materials to ensure that individuals don’t have to spend too much time learning about these project management tools and can quickly pivot back to their normal workloads.
We’ve outlined the best project management software tools at the top of the page. Check out our Top 10 Task Management Software article to help you find the right task management software for your needs.