- Businesses use project management software to help manage their workflows.
- Project management software helps projects stay on track and on budget.
- These platforms are available with a wide array of features, benefits, and pricing structures, so you can choose the best fit for your business and scale up when the time is right.
- This article is for small business owners and project managers who are considering buying project management software.
Whether you’re working on the construction of a building or building a website for a client, you need a way to manage the steps or tasks within a project and collaborate with your team. Project management software helps unify that process by consolidating communication tools, file sharing, task and deadline monitoring, and reporting into one software application that you can use across multiple teams and departments.
Regardless of your business’s size or industry, your company can probably benefit from project management services. Use the advice below to guide your decision-making process when you’re ready to buy project management software.
What is project management software?
Project management software is a tool businesses use to keep assignments on track, meet deadlines and remain on budget. These platforms allow company leaders to assign roles, set deadlines and mark major milestones – all in an intuitive interface. With project management software, all employees can access a central portal to obtain information and check the status of assignments.
Project management software works as a real-time virtual workspace that helps keep team members focused on larger goals while effectively managing day-to-day tasks. The best project management software platforms automatically reschedule work when a deadline is missed; some even reschedule work dependent on the completion of the late task.
What are the top project management software features?
Although the features of project management software differ among platforms, you can expect to find the following tools and functions in most project management packages.
- Dashboard: Each employee’s dashboard spells out any assigned tasks and when those projects are due.
- Scheduling and deadline management: At a glance, a project manager can use the dashboard to assess the work assigned to a team member and properly incorporate new tasks into their daily schedule without overloading them or distracting them from other tasks.
- Ability to assign roles: You can add a team member to each task so that everyone knows who is responsible for each portion of the project.
- Collaboration: Project management software has tools to enable remote collaboration and communication among employees.
- File upload: Most platforms include secure file sharing so that team members can easily and safely share key documents, information and assets.
- Project templates: Many project management programs come with templates you can customize to fit your business’s needs.
Did you know?: You or your employees can get a certification in project management to become even more adept at using project management software and keeping projects on track.
How much does project management software cost?
The price of project management software varies greatly. There are multiple pricing structures and tiers, ranging from free, entry-level services to premium options that cost hundreds of dollars per month. When evaluating your financial investment, you also may need to consider the costs of training staff on the software and the expense of transferring platforms. The following factors may affect the price of project management software.
- Number of users: Some project management vendors charge on a monthly per-user basis, while others allow different numbers of users for each subscription tier.
- Features: Some software offers more functionality for a lower price.
- Billing frequency: Project management providers may offer discounts and incentives for paying for a year of service upfront rather than monthly.
Because so many factors influence the final price of project management software, it’s critical to know your needs before obtaining price quotes from vendors.
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 to be worthwhile for routine work. For example, it would be quite helpful to use project management software to set up and configure a computer network, but it would be clunky and confusing to try to use project management software to maintain that computer network.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether project management software is appropriate for a project:
- 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?
- Is my project recurring, with similar tasks or components every month or quarter?
- Who will be working on the project?
“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, a marketing advisor with Minnesota MarComm. “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.”
Tip: Learn about the different project management styles to figure out which one fits your team and project.
How do I determine if I need project management software?
Here are some telltale signs your business needs project management software:
- Projects are delayed due to poor email etiquette, and work gets buried in team members’ inboxes.
- There is confusion surrounding overly busy and non-user-friendly spreadsheets.
- Employees miss deadlines, either with individual tasks or complete projects, because of a lack of accountability and transparency in the process.
- There is poor communication and conflict among team members and managers resulting from a failure to report on the status of a project or individual tasks.
- There is overlapping or redundant work due to confusion surrounding each employee’s specific role.
Leveraging a project management solution in the right situation can streamline the entire workflow process, thus enabling your team to deliver higher-quality work in a shorter 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 employee has access to all of the information they require to fulfill their own role.
Key takeaway: While it may not be practical for day-to-day assignments, project management software may be necessary if your team struggles to meet deadlines or is overwhelmed by the amount of work.
What does project management software look like?
Project management software often starts with an online dashboard that serves as a home base and provides access to the platform’s major features. From the dashboard, users can typically create new projects and 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. Reporting dashboards can usually be shared across entire teams, giving everyone easy 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,” said John Furneaux, CEO of project management company Hive. “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.” [Read our SharePoint review for more insights on this software.]
Projects and tasks can typically be created (or requested if a supervisor must approve the project before it begins) directly in a project management dashboard. Once you create a project, you have access to a variety of tools for organizing and coordinating specific aspects of the project and ensuring accountability for the timeliness and quality of assigned tasks.
Team members can also schedule and track tasks and project timelines with the software’s more sophisticated tools, such as Gantt charts. These tools help keep employees on the same page, even if they don’t work in the same physical location, and ease the burden of meeting tight deadlines. Team members can see which tasks are assigned to which person, thus making it easier to coordinate aspects of the project. Some software programs also have built-in chat applications that make collaboration instantaneous and direct.
Project management platforms give managers full control over the direction of a project. For example, they can reassign work or shuffle around tasks to delegate assignments more equitably among team members and more effectively manage resources on the fly. With the detailed overviews and reports available in project management software, managers can more easily stay abreast of new developments. Any complex project has a lot of moving parts, so it’s essential to keep your decision-makers informed, and that’s what project management software does for your management team.
What are the pros and cons of project management software?
Project management software provides some big benefits for a business.
- Centrally located and organized tasks and files: Your whole team can see any tasks you add to your project management platform. The employees to whom you assign tasks will see these tasks in their dashboards. The result is a team that always knows who’s working on what.
- Real-time team collaboration: Once you upload a deliverable or mark a project as complete, your whole team receives the notification. That means no more making sure everyone has gotten your work and manually alerting everyone that a project is done.
- Easier remote work: Project management software is basically your office space if you shift to a remote workforce. It’s where your employees go to receive their assignments, file deliverables and ask questions. It’s also where team members update you on their progress – almost like you’re sitting in an office with them.
- Automated reporting: Certain project management tools can automatically generate reports that give you a high-level view of how a project is progressing. You can use this information to plan meaningful next steps that get you closer to the finish line. Without project management software, gleaning this data might be tedious and time-consuming.
Despite the many advantages project management software can provide your team, it can also hold you back in some ways.
- Overcomplicated for smaller tasks: Creating a task, adding information to it and taking other little steps can be as time-consuming as simply doing a small day-to-day task. If you have to send the same short email every Monday morning, creating and completing a task for it in your project management dashboard can double your time spent. Just put a recurring notification in your calendar instead.
- Learning curve: Not all project management platforms are intuitive to navigate and use. Even if you choose a platform known to be user-friendly, some employees who are less comfortable with technology might still struggle with it. But that’s really the only potential problem with choosing user-friendly software – such platforms mostly eliminate this disadvantage.
Did you know?: Reputable project management apps include Asana Together and Oracle NetSuite.
How do I choose project management software?
While most high-quality project management applications offer similar features, no two platforms are precisely the same. Here are the most important points you should consider when choosing project management software.
Size of your organization
A large enterprise has different needs from a small startup. It’s important to examine each application and ask vendors the right questions.
“Companies should take the time to demo several options before moving forward, as well as factor 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.”
As your project management needs evolve, you need to know your chosen software can keep up. Perhaps its file storage capacity doesn’t grow as your company does. Or maybe the pricing becomes untenable if your team reaches a certain size. Consider long-term growth factors when choosing your project management software – even if significant growth is years down the line. You want the platform to be able to scale alongside your business.
It can be helpful to identify your current project management challenges. For example, maybe you have trouble sharing timely updates with a client or communicating with your team. By understanding your weaknesses, you can find the software that best addresses your needs.
Ease of use
If you don’t choose a system that’s easy for your team to implement and use, you’ll end up magnifying the challenges you already face.
“Successfully implementing an enterprise project management system is difficult,” said Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials. “This is a cultural [issue], not a tool issue. 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.”
Key takeaway: Evaluate each project management software platform based on how well it addresses your organization’s biggest pain points. Consider your company’s size as well as the software’s scalability and ease of use.
Is project management software worthwhile?
While companies need to consider financial constraints when buying any new software, they should also take into account the monetary implications of not buying it. Without project management software, your business could be hampered by miscommunication, redundancy and inefficiency – costing you time and money. The services provided by project management platforms are designed to take a company’s workflow to the next level. The investment will likely be worth it when you consider all you stand to gain.
Max Freedman and Stella Morrison contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.