Best Project Management Software & Tools in 2020
The top 10 project management software
Even though pioneer software tools like AceProject are still in use, the market has changed a lot in recent years. Nowadays, these applications are expanding their functions and crossing boundaries with their combination of features, further complicating the user’s selection process. Are you planning to introduce project management tools among your employees? Below are ten PM software that are valuable in completing any kind of project.
Table of Contents
- The top 10
- Project management software guide
- Types of project management software
- Web-based 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.
With hundreds of software options available in this category, it’s easy to feel confused about where to begin your research. 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
Web-based project management software
Many small and medium-sized businesses across different industries now use online project management tools. These tools run primarily through a web browser, although some provide desktop and mobile apps that sync to the central database. Companies and individuals can purchase this cloud-based technology as a software as a service (SaaS) tool.
As the popularity of web-based project management software rises, so does its complexity. 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
This software typically resides on the company’s own servers, which are located in a data center and managed by the company’s IT employees. Companies often purchase a single on-premise license and may have to purchase additional upgrades or updates.
Some companies choose to purchase on-premise project management software for security or pricing reasons. 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. Enterprise companies with many users may also choose to purchase on-premise software to reduce user seat costs or unexpected downtime due to automatic product updates.
Integrated vs. best of breed software
Project management software is classified as either a best-of-breed tool or integrated suite. A best-of-breed application specializes in one particular capability, such as task management. Integrated suite applications combine several functions like task management, Gantt charting, and time tracking. While best of breed tools are helpful, companies often prefer integrated PM suites to reduce IT load.
Startups and small to medium-sized businesses may only need a simple project management solution with fewer features that cover basic functionality. Features included in this type of software are task management, team collaboration, learning materials, email integration, and file management.
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. Companies will often pay more for a comprehensive PM suite, but the software may provide more accurate estimates, better control on dependencies, and real-time progress tracking. These tools also require more oversight and time to manage them effectively. Larger organizations and project teams prefer them, especially for more complex projects or teams that employ a dedicated project manager.
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. Consider this list of required and suggested project management features to help you get started.
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
As the central feature of any project management software, task management often extends into visualizations of the project tasks in Kanban boards, Gantt charts, waterfall dependencies, and burndown charts.
Collaboration features let project participants hold discussions based on tasks, edit and comment on files or project documents, and message one another in project-focused threads. Some software choices include direct messaging (DM), alerts, and email notifications of project updates.
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 may 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. Important PM document management features include:
- 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 may also provide storage space or integrate with a third-party solution that provides it.
Today’s work has moved from the office desk to the field. You might find team members at a client’s site or a remote office branch, and many employees catch up on work during their commute. Most of today’s PM software providers offer a mobile app for teams to continue communication when they’re away from their computers. Look for your PM software to provide iOS and Android apps.
Optional but helpful features
Third-party integrations or API
Every company runs on multiple pieces of software. A PM application that integrates with existing third-party applications or connects to other software via API streamlines work for many teams. Look for integrations with popular tools like Google apps, Microsoft apps, Salesforce, and Dropbox.
White label, branding, and custom settings
Depending on the type of work your company does, you may want a PM software that provides white labeling, custom branding, or customization settings within the application. 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.
Most project management software vendors provide some reporting in their apps. Consider the depth of your reporting needs and whether the software you research meets those needs. Your team may also want to consider whether your tool can export project data to a third party business intelligence tool for deeper reporting.
Some companies use PM software with scheduling features 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
Many small businesses may be able to manage their projects in a spreadsheet or by whiteboarding their processes. Consider these items when you’re ready to purchase a project management tool to better organize your workflow.
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. Carefully consider who needs edit access to the full sets of tasks within a project and which project members can work with read-only access. Try to find a balance that provides everyone with control over their tasks.
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. While many free or low-priced project management tools provide task management features, they limit the number of collaborators or projects. Growing businesses will find that they may need to upgrade to a paid plan fairly quickly.
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. Most PM apps include at least one form of data visualization, while more sophisticated software options provide several project views in addition to individual project data reporting.
Buying considerations for medium-sized businesses
Growing businesses often find themselves faced with the task of scaling a successful model. Project management software can help these businesses define their project processes, refine existing inefficiencies, and improve overall project outcomes.
Medium-sized businesses often find themselves working between several pieces of software. Well-connected teams need their tools to communicate and transfer data without manual data entry. Software integrations through native app connections, API calls, or webhooks can automate data transfer and speed up internal processes.
Time tracking software helps teams track contract work, employee hours, and billable time spent on projects. Look for features that tie work hours directly to individual tasks and that compute hours across projects and for individual contributors. You should also look for connections to accounting or payroll systems via export or direct integration.
Reporting and analytics
Teams that want to improve their project management processes need to track and analyze key project data. A project management software that provides data visualizations or reporting should include these metrics:
- 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
Most enterprise project management systems will include some level of reporting within the tool. These features show bottlenecks in the process or other indicators of needed efficiencies. Many enterprise companies that use a dedicated business intelligence (BI) tool will need to look for a PM solution that integrates directly with the BI software or can provide a CSV export.
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. Take care to get buy-in from major stakeholders at the C-level and within each of the teams that will use the software. Then designate time for everyone to learn the software and set up their upcoming projects. Be ready with support documents and some training materials to ensure that individuals spend very little 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. If you’re interested in a more streamlined software, check out our Top 10 Task Management Software article.