Project management software is a versatile way to streamline the process of managing any project, whether it's designing and constructing the interior of a building or creating a website for a client. Project management software helps unify the process, rather than forcing teams to work across several different applications. Instead, communication tools, file-sharing, task and deadline monitoring, and reporting are all consolidated into one software application.
Project management software works as a real-time workspace that helps keep your eye focused on the big picture, while effectively managing the day to day details. The very best are dynamic, automatically rescheduling work when a deadline is missed; some even reschedule work dependent on the completion of the late task.
Do I need project management software?
It's important to recognize that project management software is designed for full projects that take time and teamwork to complete. They are likely too comprehensive and in-depth for routine work. For example, using project management software to set up and configure a computer network would be quite helpful. However, using project management software to maintain a computer network would likely be clunky and confusing.
A good rule of thumb to determine whether you're working on a project is to ask: "Do I have a definitive start date? Do I have a definitive deadline? Do I have a clear understanding of my goals between now and then?"
"A company needs project management software when they're coordinating between several individuals or business units, both internally or externally, to complete tasks that involve a variety of deliverables or creatives," said Conrad Magalis, marketing manager for Advance Acceptance. "It's a best practice so that all of the information and conversations related to a specific project or task can be documented and delegated to each stakeholder involved."
The telltale signs an organization needs project management include the following:
- Projects delayed due to excessive email correspondence, with work getting buried in team members' inboxes
- Confusion surrounding overly busy and non-user-friendly spreadsheets
- Missed deadlines, either with individual tasks or complete projects, due to a lack of accountability and transparency in the process
- Poor communication between team members and managers due to a failure to report on the status of the project or individual tasks
- Overlapping or redundant work due to confusion surrounding the specific role of each team member
- Unclear or missed timelines as a result of poor planning or poor communication
Leveraging project management solutions in the right situation can streamline the entire process, enabling your team to deliver higher quality work in a shorter amount of time. The best software allows you to save and track multiple projects simultaneously, making it easy to monitor deadlines and individual team members' progress. Essentially, your workload can be saved on a single platform, where each of your team members have access to all of the information they require to fulfill their own role.
What does project management software look like?
Project management software often starts with a dashboard that serves as a home base and provides access to all the major features of the software. From the dashboard, users can often create new projects as well as manage and organize old ones. In many project management solutions, the dashboard is also home to an overview of active and completed projects, which users can access at any time. Dashboards can often be shared across entire teams, giving them all one-touch access to relevant projects and tasks.
"Project management software allows users to consolidate work activities onto one central platform, allowing employees to save time by housing all task tools on one interface," John Furneaux, CEO of project management company Hive, told Business News Daily. "The range of software varies from startups – such as Hive – to veteran players like SharePoint. All project management software ranges in their capabilities, and it's important to assess what the business needs are and how processes could be improved."
Projects and tasks can typically be created (or requested, if a superior must approve the project before it begins) directly in project management software. Once a project is created, users have access to a variety of tools for organizing and coordinating specific aspects of each project, ensuring accountability for the timeliness and quality of specifically assigned tasks.
Employees can also schedule and track tasks and project timelines with sophisticated tools like Gantt Charts. These tools help keep team members on the same page, even if they don't work in the same physical location, and ease the burden of meeting tight deadlines. Since team members are able to see what tasks are assigned to one another, they can coordinate between one another far more easily. Some software even boasts built-in chat applications, which makes collaboration instantaneous and direct.
For managers, full control over the direction of the project is key. Managers can reassign work or shuffle around assigned tasks if one team member is overwhelmed while others are not, more effectively managing resources on the fly. With detailed overviews and reports, managers also can more easily stay abreast of new developments. Any complex project has a lot of moving parts, so it's important to keep your decision-makers informed – that's what project management software does for your management team.
Choosing the right project management software
While most quality project management applications offer all of the features outlined above, no two are exactly the same. That makes the selection process an essential component of your organization's success. A large enterprise business, for example, will have different needs than a small startup with a tiny team. Examining each application closely and asking the right questions is key.
"Companies should take the time to demo several options before moving forward as well as factoring in the 'adoption' time for the team and clients to get used to using the application," Magalis said. "If you're working in a highly technical field (such as IT), it may be more common than in other industries to have experience with project management applications."
It can also be helpful to identify the particular problems you currently have managing projects. By recognizing where the pitfalls lie – maybe it's sharing timely updates with a client or perhaps it's internal communication – you can more easily focus on software that bolsters your strengths and supports your weaknesses. Each project management application has its own standout features, so selecting one that complements your team is paramount.
Finally, choosing a system you can easily implement and use is key. What good is a solution that brings with it a clunky rollout, creating headaches for your team and leading to a counterproductive effort just to get it up and running? Moreover, if your staff can't learn to use the system, it ultimately offers zero benefits. Implementation and ease of use should be significant factors in making your determination.
"Successfully implementing an enterprise project management system is difficult. This is a cultural, not a tool issue," said Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials. "Most organizations do not have consistent and standard practices for managing projects and reporting on portfolio performance. Something as seemingly simple as having a standard day for reporting status across the enterprise can send shockwaves, as people are used to reporting status on a specific day, usually because of their executive status cadence."
Ready to choose a project management solution? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:
- Best Project Management Software
- Best Project Management Software for Small Teams: Teamwork
- Best Project Management Software for Large Teams: LiquidPlanner
- Best Free Project Management Software: Wrike
- Best Project Management Software for Remote Workers: ZohoProjects
- Best Project Management Software for Teams with Freelancers: TeamGantt
- Best Agile Project Management Software: Atlassian JIRA