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.
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What is project management software?
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 project management benefit by delivering projects that provide the expected results within cost and on time. This guide covers the types of project management implementation, the major features you should look for, and what companies of all sizes should consider when making a purchase.
Types of project management software implementation
When software became available and affordable to business, companies replaced their pen-and-paper project tracking systems with project management software. But technology continues to evolve, so desktop applications improved in features, scale, and security that allowed multiple users access to the software over a company’s own data network. When cloud computing presented options and advantages, project management software vendors offered their subscription-based products over the internet to businesses of all sizes. It also opened the market to more providers offering a variety of systems.
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 access the tool from 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.
Examples of web-based project management software include Zoho Projects, Microsoft Project, and Basecamp.
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 scopes. Specialized software can manage simple projects satisfactorily. 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 features. A PM suite will have a higher cost but also deliver accurate estimates, dependencies control, unlimited projects within a single instance, 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.
Free project management software
Free project management software is available for home use, for very small teams of 1-2 people, and as a fully-featured free and open source system. Many of these tools are offered as a free tier by project management vendors that also provide various levels of paid service. Free tiers may have more limited features, may be restricted to a few users, or may come with limited personalized support. However, many small teams and those just testing out a new tool may find these options useful to help in their decision-making process.
Open source is a valuable option for large teams looking for a free project management software. These tools provide all of the same features you may find in a subscription or on-premise tool and many of these tools are highly customizable for different project types. However, access to support, implementation help, and custom changes will need to be managed by an in-house or third party development team.
Industry-specific project management systems
Not every industry is best-served with a standard project management system, and so industry-specific project management tools were developed to reduce the amount of customization a company will need upon implementation. Construction, software development, financial services, healthcare, and law all have features and customizations that make them better suited to industry work.
In industry-specific tools, you can expect to find collaboration tools, expense tracking, portfolio management, contractor management, resource management, and more. These tools may also help you manage a creative team, a remote team, or a specialized project within your larger portfolio.
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 are 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. These tools can assist in managing the progress of the initiative, but they can also be useful for project planning by giving a visual mind map of the project timeline. 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 should identify 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 for 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 make a mind map of their upcoming projects, define their project processes, refine existing inefficiencies, and improve overall project outcomes.
Mid-sized businesses have the tendency 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 to automatically 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.
Time tracking reports are useful for building a project plan because they give the team an idea of how long previous tasks have taken. This can give the project manager and the individual contributors more context when they go to assign tasks.
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
Reporting and analytics can also be useful to help the team benchmark successful projects and understand where they can streamline their processes in the future. Many teams use the project management software’s analytics in their retrospectives and for project planning.
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. Project managers should include a schedule that allocates the time to learn how to use the software 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.