You'll need to ask yourself the following questions before you start looking for the project management software that's right for you:

  • How large are the projects you'll be working on?
  • How many people will be working on the project at once?
  • Do you need to have mobile access?
  • How much do you want to spend?

Once you've answered those questions, you can begin your search in earnest. First, you'll need to decide what type of project management software you want: Web-based, also known as software as a service (SaaS); or a hosted, on-site solution. [What is project management software?]

Editor’s Note: Looking for project management software for your business? For information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner site provide you with information from vendors for free:

Here's an explanation of the key differences between the two.

Web-based project management software tends to be more popular among small businesses that are looking to keep costs low while still gaining the efficiencies that come along with the adoption of project management software.

Web-based project management software has two main advantages over its on-premises counterparts: lower costs and mobile access.

Costs

The potential for cost savings with a Web-based solution results from the elimination of an extensive range of hardware and software components needed for a system hosted in-house. These can include servers, terminals or access points, licenses, implementation, and ongoing maintenance through IT support and software upgrades. Depending on the size of the system, the investment required for this type of on-site setup could be fees of $6,000 to $8,500 for physical servers, $300 to $495 per license, and $95 to $120 per user for IT support.

In contrast, the costs associated with a SaaS platform are based on a recurring fee of $15 to $100 per user, per month (though some services require annual payment in advance). This fee includes IT support, updates and a platform that is accessible on mobile devices. Additionally, the software won't become outdated because the services include regular updates.

The one drawback to a Web-based solution is that, by some estimates, the total cost of ownership for subscription-based SaaS project management software tends to be somewhat higher over the long term. But more and more business owners are willing to pay that extra cost to get another key benefit: mobile accessibility.

The ability to connect stakeholders throughout the world and communicate the status of a project in real time is one of the key benefits of Web-based software. It's worth noting that mobile access is not exclusive to Web-based project management software. In fact, a growing number of on-site solutions now provide remote access through mobile connectivity and social newsfeeds.

Enterprise project management solutions are almost always costlier up front. Yet they offer two unique advantages over online platforms: more securityand greater customization.

Security

The risk of theft related to on-site project management software is not nearly as high as a service that houses data on third-party servers. It stands to reason that you'll get a higher level of security when you're using your own servers that are monitored in-house. Hosting your own servers greatly limits the number of people who have system-wide access to the servers and your data, thereby limiting your risks.

When comparing the security level of SaaS to that of enterprise solutions, there are other key questions to consider: Are you more comfortable having a third party control your project management data, or do you need to maintain control in-house? For example, what happens to your data if the company goes out of business or unexpectedly merges with another company?

Customization

Customization is often a key concern for many businesses, especially when specialized products are involved. It can be important when the software is to be integrated with proprietary systems. While many Web-based platforms offer aspects of "customization," this often simply means that you can tailor the platform within a set of predetermined parameters.

In contrast, customized project management software is designed to be almost completely configurable. This may include additional screens, data objects and workflows. A customized application programming interface (API) is frequently necessary for the integration of large data sets and is often critical to collaboration and risk management. One drawback of a customized system is that it can often take longer to design and implement.

Project management software features

Here are some basic project management features to look for when choosing a system:

  • Time tracking – This is an essential component of overall productivity, allowing project managers to keep an eye on costs while enabling stakeholders to estimate time beforehand, log the time spent on each task and notate what was accomplished in that time.
  • Invoicing – Often integrated with the time-tracking feature, invoicing can be highly automated.
  • Budgeting – Estimating project costs is not only easier but also a lot more accurate with project management software. The ideal budgeting feature allows for time and expenses, cross-charging, multiple rates and currencies, cash-flow requirements, labor, expenses, and automatic calculation for both actual and re-estimated costs.
  • Risk analysis – Incorporating data that includes threats, opportunities, risk probability, sensitivity analyses, risk correlations and a wealth of other components related to risk probability, the risk analysis feature ensures a far more accurate analysis of the project life cycle.
  • File sharing – A key component of collaboration, file sharing establishes a central location for all project documents, sending out notifications whenever a modification occurs. Whether hosted on local servers or in the cloud, file sharing should provide security as well as an easy interface that keeps everything organized.
  • Email integration – Another important element for collaboration, email integration prevents stakeholders from having to navigate between two different platforms when working on a project. This feature typically includes email tracking and history, automatic email reminders and a variety of templates for quick communication. Many platforms also have the ability to integrate email addresses with all known social media profiles associated with that email, further connecting all means of communication. 
  • Issue tracking – Issue tracking allows the monitoring of a variety of different problems, allowing stakeholders to report issues requiring attention. Issue descriptions are tracked in real time, with notifications created for status, systems affected, and documentation and reporting.
  • Gantt charts – A critical component of planning and scheduling, Gantt charts provide a wide-angle view of the project through a visual timeline. The Gantt-chart feature allows you to see what all stakeholders are working on, monitor deliverables, and compare planned items versus actual results. This insight helps project managers refine delivery estimates and prioritize tasks to further streamline the process.

Advanced features

Many systems provide advanced features and services, which also often increase the costs. These can include the following:

  • Expense/timesheet alerts – The ability to respond in a timely manner is increased with deluxe platforms. Alerts are delivered via email for items that include calendar, tasks, documents, design, issues and discussions.
  • Multiple project charts – Project management is simplified through visual representations that reveal the elaborate intertwining of multiple relationships within a project.
  • Advanced task management – Simplifying data entry through a selection of templates, advanced task management also elevates flexibility in reporting. This feature is known to take advantage of automated workflows, automatically assigning tasks and alerting stakeholders via email.
  • Resource planning – Whether your resources are people, equipment or empty rooms, resource planning monitors the individual availability and capacity for each.

Vendor list

Here is a select list of the most popular project management software providers, with a summary of what each company claims to provide.

Assembla – Designed especially for software development, Assembla's strengths are represented in its ability to integrate tasks and code into a single platform, with high marks given to its bug-tracking capabilities. In doing so, it cultivates more collaborative workspaces among all stakeholders, including consultants, outsourced services and agencies. Assembla, which is cloud-based, improves workflow for design projects through card wall views that are simplified through drag-and-drop functionality. Assembla.com

Basecamp – This Web-based platform has captured a large sector of the market and is reportedly one of the simplest PPM platforms available. This usability is achieved through extensive mobile integration, providing access via most smartphones and Web-enabled tablets — a feature that makes it well suited to widespread stakeholders (especially those who are international). Though it lacks some of the more advanced functionalities in its standard form, it's also one of the more affordable options available. And with dozens of third-party add-ons that can be integrated into a custom solution, its expandability makes it suited to projects of every size and nature. Basecamp.com

Clarizen – Offering three different editions, this cloud-based project management platform can be tailored to functionalities, as well as business rules, custom actions and estimated usage (gauged by emails to global and entity mailboxes each day). Combining the broad reach of cloud-based communication with interaction via social media, Clarizen reportedly speeds the pace of responsiveness among stakeholders while promoting a level of collaboration that eliminates the inefficiencies of individual work silos. Clarizen.com

Celoxis – With a 14-year history that includes Hollywood movies and World Series Hockey, Celoxis has developed the user experience for its PPM platform to produce better results with less effort. Among the most notable is the company's real-world scheduling engine that factors in a variety of dependencies and constraints, up to and including vacation time and holidays. Also providing support for resources in multiple time zones, Celoxis is an effective tool for managing a variety of widespread stakeholders. Plus, Celoxis offers company- and project-level customizations. Celoxis.com

Comindware – Comindware focuses on efficiencies related to planning. In this way, the platform can better facilitate resource management and cut costs through the quick, efficient deployment of project goals. Notably, this SaaS is considered excellent for service-based organizations due to automated priority-based planning features that enable project managers to leverage the individual skills and availability of all stakeholders. Secured for the Web through SSAE 16 compliance, an on-site version can also be downloaded directly to in-house servers to further control access and data security. Comindware.com

Daptiv PPM – With more than 150 direct integrations and additional compatible systems frequently added to the list, this is one of the most widely integrated PPM solutions in the industry, according to the manufacturer. Offered exclusively as a SaaS platform, Daptiv PPM also features customization options, allowing project managers to create a variety of unique processes. With all major project management modules available, convenient drag-and-drop tools provide simplicity and speed for working with schedules and the full range of tasks. Daptiv.com

Earliz – Earliz offers the ability to choose between a Gantt or Agile interface and then change between the two mid-project if desired. The task management interface automatically divides the steps of a project into individual tasks, simplifying planning and tracking. Reports are also automated, with bold, straightforward visual representations for factors that include individual stakeholders, workload, estimated delivery and actual time spent. Earliz.com

EPM Live – EPM Live is engineered to pair with Microsoft collaboration platforms, specifically SharePoint and Outlook. In doing so, it provides easy usability through menus and tools that most users are familiar with. Available for Web-based use or on-site installation, both versions include advanced resource management and search tools designed to enhance capacity planning and allow for the quick and efficient management and allocation of resources, whether they're physical, generic or external. It's important to note that if you aren't currently running SharePoint, EPM Live could be costlier than others, as it's designed to be used in tandem with the SharePoint platform. Epmlive.com

Genius Project – With a particular focus on the configurability of this platform, Genius Project has been designed to accommodate things like phase review for new product development as well as a wide range of additional customized needs. Alerts and updates are delivered through a social interface designed to boost collaboration and increase productivity through a single, unified platform. In addition, Genius Project is available as a SaaS solution or hosted on-premises installation, and can even be integrated with IBM Lotus Notes. Geniusproject.com

JIRA – One of the most widely adopted platforms for software development, JIRA is manufactured by Atlassian and specializes in workflows that organize and monitor the status and contributions of all stakeholders. Offering a mobile interface that integrates email and provides a central database for file sharing on the go, JIRA also tracks tasks from start to finish, with a host of issue management, milestone, and percent-complete functionalities. It's also notable for its inclusion of quality assurance management and the simplicity of its powerful reporting capabilities — an easy-to-use feature accessed through a command line similar to SQL. Atlassian.com/software/jira   

Microsoft Project – With more than 22 million users, Microsoft Project is one of the most popular project management programs on the market. Providing comprehensive Gantt charts, Microsoft Project excels in budget management and milestone tracking through features that reportedly simplify dependency management, Scrum of Scrum, and team scheduling. Additionally, risk management is simplified through critical path tasks that leverage release planning, monitoring status and overages. Hosted on-site as Project Pro for Office 365 or on the Web as Project Online, Microsoft Project is backed by 24/7 support. Microsoft Project

Podio – Podio says it provides a degree of flexibility that makes it equally suited to organizations of all sizes. The Web-based platform features extensive mobility that promotes transparency. It also fosters collaboration and organization through a central platform that the company says efficiently initiates and completes custom projects. Standard features include file sharing, portfolio management, status tracking and issue management. Also notable is the inclusion of time and expense tracking, which simplifies the task of monitoring remote workers. Podio.com

Project Insight – Project Insight is compatible with a range of mobile platforms and devices, enabled securely through HTML5 coding. It can also be paired with third-party programs, including Sage accounting software and a host of additional CRM and ERP software suites. With strong cross-project resource allocation, Project Insight simplifies stakeholder management by allowing member accounts to be turned on or off in order to ease access for specific projects or points of contribution. Plus, the platform offers free training. Projectinsight.net

ProjectManager.com – Mobility is one of the key strengths of this Web-based PPM solution after the company recently added compatibility for Android devices. The platform, which can be integrated with most Microsoft platforms and Google Drive, gives project managers many of the capabilities necessary to manage and track project management variables, including skills, availability and resources. It also fosters risk management through automated processes that track potential issues and suggest preemptive tasks. Another notable aspect of ProjectManager.com is that it offers a broad level of training for project managers and team members. Projectmanager.com

Teamwork – Teamwork provides Gantt charts and a variety of templates that simplify and expedite communication. It's also unique for its pricing structure: There are no per-user fees, only a monthly charge assessed for the number of projects required (which can be upgraded or downgraded at any time). Teamwork integrates with Google Drive, Box.com and Dropbox. It's also one of the most inclusive for all-around features, offering budget management, percentage-complete tracking, portfolio management, and time and expense tracking. A free trial of the service is available. Teamwork.com

Tenrox – Geared toward the automation of professional services as well as project management, Tenrox is a division of Upland Software, a company that specializes in automated services and improved workflow. Tenrox PSA offers a wide range of built-in certified integrations for service organizations. Plus, the platform is light, making it easy to install while simplifying use through an interface that "intentionally lacks any complex features." Tenrox is available in both cloud-based on on-premises models. Tenrox.com

Trello – Trello aims to eliminate the mishaps that occur when a handwritten note or Post-it gets lost by offering digital cards that store data and track a project from start to finish. It also provides a straightforward and easy-to-use representation of swim-lane diagrams, further enabling project managers to monitor the status of progress and time spent. Plus, the user can decide the level of features included on the board, greatly minimizing clutter through the elimination of unused features. Trello is compatible with Android, iPhone, Kindle Fire and Windows 8. Trello.com

Workfront – Formerly known as AtTask, Workfront extends its capability beyond basic project management to incorporate all aspects of work into a single platform. The cloud-based solution includes project and portfolio management, capacity planning and Gantt charts, as well as workflow automation, document management and social media integration. The platform can be fully integrated with mobile devices and Outlook, enabling stakeholders and project managers to interact through a variety of communication tools or the one they're most comfortable using. Workfront.com

Wrike – Wrike is ideal for project managers tasked with the assembly of widespread stakeholders. In particular, it offers a high degree of integration between the standard functionalities of a project management platform and the broad connectivity of social collaboration to smooth the way for team communication. The platform features extensive resource management tools and Gantt charts, allowing project managers to easily track the status of issues and milestones to mitigate risk. In fact, the overall simplicity in relation to systemwide organization is one of the most often cited aspects of the platform. Wrike.com

Zoho Projects – This Web-based platform integrates tasks and issues on a single page, providing a comprehensive snapshot of your project as a whole. It's also noted for its bug-tracking capability, making it ideal for projects related to software design and deployment. Features include Gantt charts, time tracking and milestones that offer extensive controls such as subtasks, dependencies and recurring tasks. The company says this simplifies project planning while ensuring successful results through detailed visualizations. Zoho.com

Are you a project management software provider that would like to be added to this list? Please feel free to contact Jeanette Mulvey at jmulvey@purch.com.

Editor’s Note: Looking for project management software for your business? For information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner site provide you with information from vendors for free: