Project management software enables teams to see projects through from concept to delivery, ensuring projects are completed on time, on budget, and within scope. “Project Manager” is a role that requires many skills and is most successfully practiced with the help of the best project management software.
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The best project management software helps project teams get work done, no matter where or how they work. Easy collaboration with other team members is a prerequisite for project success.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) notes that every project is unique, and completing a project is not a routine operation. Relatedly, not all project management software is the same. Different types serve varying purposes, so finding the right one for your organization may take time and a little research. This article will cover the features to look for when selecting project management software, so you can find the best solution to match your needs.
What Is Project Management Software?
Project management software empowers teams to support projects from inception to completion, including planning, budgeting, managing tasks, allocating resources, tracking and reporting progress, and other functions. Organizations use project management software to help them complete projects that drive innovation and more efficiently and effectively facilitate attainment of goals and objectives.
The best project management software empowers project teams to work together from anywhere to complete projects.
Organizations of all sizes have turned to project management software to drive functions like:
- Planning and scheduling projects
- Allocating and managing resources
- Sharing relevant company assets
- Collaborating and monitoring work
The best project management software is loaded with tools to help teams and project managers organize, coordinate, and track the work necessary to deliver a successful project from start to finish.
Best Project Management Features
The criteria for selecting the best project management software should include the features and functionality that your organization requires to manage projects its own way. Start with these core processes. Be sure to check off features related to how the software will be implemented as a long-term enterprise solution for the organization.
Below are some essential features to look for when rolling out project management software for your teams.
1. Team Collaboration
- Easy collaboration with internal, external, remote, and distributed team members
- Virtual workplace encourages collaborative project planning and workstreams
- Communication tools such as real-time messaging apps replace email
- Conversation threads connect comments, feedback, tags, and attachments back to tasks
- Project calendars are managed, shared, and synced with personal calendars
- Personal task lists and deadline reminders help individual team members keep commitments
- Online meetings are scheduled and convened in the virtual workplace
- Team members share centralized data, documents, and contacts
- Virtual workplace and project information is accessible on any device
Must-have tool: Communication tool – Used in lieu of email, a communication tool lets team members share ideas, ask questions, attach files, and give feedback within the project management software. It keeps the conversation in the virtual workplace, where other team members can access the information, instead of dispersing information among siloed email inboxes that even the owners have trouble searching.
Team members are more engaged when conversation threads are collected in one place, and they can quickly get up to speed on issues. Tagged team members get notifications about new comments and feedback in real-time. Hashtags for keywords make topics easy to find in the future.
2. Task Management
- List, assign, and prioritize tasks by deadlines and dependencies
- Organize, track, and update task lists with status visible to the team
- Use Kanban boards with tasks, files, and comments in one place
- Personalize task management for individual team members
- See what tasks are overdue, ongoing, and planned
- Automate notifications about task activities and deadlines
- Visualize day-to-day tasks and progress across teams and projects
- Execute multiple projects on time, quality, and budget
Must-have tool: Online Kanban board – A Kanban board is a visual tool for organizing and managing the project team’s work. Each task is represented by a card on a Kanban board within the project management software. The team member assigned to the task drags and drops the card between planned, working on, and done columns.
Checklists on Kanban cards prioritize actions to complete before moving the cards. Each card also centralizes conversations about the task.
Project managers use Kanban boards to quickly assess the status of deliverables throughout projects. Kanban boards can be customized and are ideal for Agile project management.
3. Planning and Scheduling
- Set goals and plan how to achieve them
- Create virtual project teams with geographically dispersed members
- Define and manage project requirements
- Schedule task duration, milestones, and deadlines
- Visualize project schedule, tasks, and dependencies with online Gantt charts
- Use project templates or create your own
- Build roadmaps for long-term work strategies
Must-have tool: Online Gantt chart – A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart that illustrates the duration and hierarchy of project tasks. Team members use Gantt charts stored within project management software to plan, coordinate, and track specific tasks required to produce project deliverables and meet goals.
Gantt charts connect to work posted on Kanban boards. Work signaled as complete on the board is automatically reported to the project schedule. The Gantt chart’s real-time visualization of project progress eliminates the need for additional progress reporting tools.
4. Workload and Resource Management
- Get an overview of current and upcoming work commitments across teams and projects
- Assign team members and allocate resources based on availability and capacity
- See who is working on what, who is overloaded, and who is and isn’t available for work
- Assign new work or balance workloads for overloaded team members
- Track project budget, cost-to-date, and expected outcome per project
- Manage in-use, planned, and scheduled resources by cost of usage
Must-have tool: Workload self-assessment – This feature allows project team members to assess their individual workloads and provide feedback on the level of work demand within their project management software. Whether a member feels comfortable or uncomfortable with the workload can influence whether project managers assign more work or redistribute work to other team members.
Workload self-assessments reveal who is available for more work, who needs help, and where work is at risk of not being completed. This is critical to reducing the occurrence of bottlenecks.
5. Document Management
- Secure file sharing among all team members from multiple devices
- Share files from within all project management and collaboration functions
- Keep everyone current with version control, change tracking, and document history
- Create a central library with document repository for uploads and attachments
- Manage and archive project files in a secure, structured, accessible way
Must-have tool: Document Control – Document control makes finding and sharing files easy and trouble-free. This tool allows team members to drag and drop files to upload so others can preview, comment, and collaborate on revisions, all within the organization’s project management software.
A document control tool tracks changes and makes them visible in real-time. Locking files prevents changes from being overwritten. Document histories reveal who has read / edited the files. With document control, team members access the most current versions of project documents.
6. Monitoring and Reporting
- Get overviews to monitor and track how all projects are performing
- Dashboards provide instant overview of project progress, status, and performance
- Visual metrics display real-time updates on KPIs with timelines, charts, and graphs
- View team performance and progress relative to plan
- Track projects with a digest of upcoming, ongoing, and overdue work
- Centralized data provides a single source of truth for reporting
- Track issues and analyze and manage risk
- Use templates or create custom dashboards and reports
Must-have tool: Project Dashboards – Give project managers, team members, and stakeholders an instant overview of the status, progress, and performance of the project in your organization’s project management software.
Dynamic widgets provide real-time updates with visual charts and graphs of metrics such as:
- Completed tasks
- Next steps
- Time-to-project completion
- Average cycle time for tasks
- Cumulative flow of planned, ongoing, and completed tasks
The high-level visibility of dashboards keeps everyone up-to-date and focused on the goal.
7. Enterprise-class Solution
- Trusted service for cloud-based project management
- Assurance it is an ISO-certified information security management system
- Security that protects data confidentiality, availability, and integrity
- Vendor-hosted, maintained, updated, and supported
- Proven track record of high availability, with at least 99.9 percent uptime
- Automated username and password entries with one-click single sign-on
- Intuitive user experience for novice to expert skill levels
- User mobility with mobile apps for smartphones and tablets
- Customization with integration services and developer APIs
- Proven user base with documented success
- Vendor longevity, revenue stability, and employee depth
- Dedicated account manager plus email, live chat, and phone support
- Available in multiple languages
- Free trial period and transparent pricing
Must-have tool: Single Sign-on – Provides single sign-on (SSO) access to the project management software.
SSO is an authentication process that allows users to enter a name and password once to gain access to multiple applications. Using any computer or device, users can log in via their web browser. This eliminates the need for multiple passwords and simplifies user provisioning without compromising security.
To find the best project management software for your organization, make a checklist with your current and future requirements. Think about:
- Features the company needs most
- Features team members or leadership want or can see a future need for (i.e. scalability)
- Nice-to-haves for which your organization may or may not have budget
- Where you’re willing to make trade-offs in functionality, if necessary
This will help you find project management software that is the best fit for you and your team and can help you manage current and future projects more effectively.
Project Management Software for Teams vs. Enterprise
Not all project management software is the same. Some types specialize in team collaboration, while others are built for enterprise project management (EPM). Choosing the correct solution depends on the needs of your organization.
Project management software for teams comes with features that help project managers and teams complete projects on time and within budget. Features may include:
- Gantt charts and Kanban boards for planning, executing, and monitoring work
- Communication tools and document management for sharing important files, updates, and project information
- Collaborative tools that make it easier for teams and managers to plan and complete assignments
- Project plan templates, project reporting, and more
The goal with the team solution is to minimize setbacks so projects have a greater chance of success.
The best enterprise project management software comes with the work management tools found in team-oriented software, in addition to high-level tools for executive leadership to better plan, monitor, and optimize their business operations.
EPM solutions usually include tools for:
- High-level strategic planning
- Investment prioritization and financial planning
- Demand management
- Scenario modeling
- Capacity planning, in-depth reporting, and more
While both solutions are effective at improving project management, enterprise project management software takes it a step further by helping companies improve the way their businesses are managed.
Project Management Software Use Cases
Project managers looking for solutions may consider traditional wall charts or desktop tools, but experience has shown that about half of these tools are insufficient for complex projects. Instead, enterprise-class project management software can create a secure, virtual project room where projects are tracked from concept to completion.
Below are a few of the many project management software use cases:
Planning events and product launches
Project management software is used for marketing projects and similar ventures, where communication, cross-departmental collaboration, and workflow transparency are essential.
Product development projects typically require effective communication and collaboration between internal and external stakeholders, developers, and marketers. Project management software enables project managers to keep all parties up to date throughout the duration of the project, while visual workflow tools help managers and teams adapt to changing conditions and respond to setbacks quickly.
Effective project management software gives project managers and stakeholders more insight into project performance. They can see how resources are being allocated, estimate the value and impact the projects will have on their organization, and identify potential setbacks before they snowball into bigger problems.
Why is Project Management So Challenging?
For a project to succeed, the project team must collaborate to complete tasks on time and within budget. And to do that, they must apply the best available skills, techniques, and project management software to achieve the desired quality outcome. Projects fail at an alarming rate, in part, because team members do not work well together. According to Planview’s 2017 benchmark report, Project and Portfolio Management Landscape:
Forty-six percent of organizations do not collaborate well on projects; not surprisingly, 49 percent of those organizations have seen a project fail in the past 12 months.
PMI’s 10th Global Project Management Survey, Pulse of the Profession 2018, indicates that the top reasons projects fail include:
- Inadequate vision or goals
- Changing project objectives
- Inaccurate requirements gathering
- Insufficient task time and resource estimates
- Poor communication
More than one in five failed projects had inexperienced project managers. These issues reflect common challenges in project management.
Today’s geographically dispersed teams make it more difficult to engage and motivate team members. Project managers must keep everyone on schedule and within budget and manage communication and documentation.
A Forrester report on collaboration tools found that employees spend 24 percent of their time creating and reading emails, documents, and presentations. They only spend about 18 percent of their time on actual task activity. Time is wasted trying to find specific email messages and their attachments, especially when team members are looking for the latest versions of the documents they’ve exchanged.
These sorts of inefficiencies waste time and result in missed project deadlines, according to more than half of the participants in Planview’s 2018 study of project collaboration, Everyone is a Project Manager. The global survey discovered that teams typically use five or more so-called productivity tools – apps for audio or web conferencing and the like – and that members rarely use the same project management software, rendering it ineffective.
Without the right tools, project managers must overcome significant hurdles, including ineffective communications, budget overruns, missed deadlines, and poor-quality outcomes, to complete projects.
Planview’s project collaboration study also found that one-fifth of professionals are accidental project managers, and two-thirds are not project management certified, leaving a gap in training for the role. Organizations must help their project managers become more effective, or the consequences could be dire.
Together, inefficient project management and poor collaboration exact a heavy toll, costing organizations the equivalent of nine work weeks per year in North America and nearly three work weeks per year in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Common Failings of Project Management Software
Even organizations that already use project management software can struggle with various inadequacies. Some applications provide a tool for every task, making things unnecessarily complicated. Consequently, tasks take longer than they should.
Others don’t provide tools for simple functions like notifications. While team members work heads-down on their assigned tasks, project leaders must continually remind them about impending milestones, deadlines, and deliverables.
Some kinds of project management software don’t support the level of transparency and visibility organizations expect, restricting status reports to a select few recipients. As a result, most team members don’t know how the project is going and whether there are issues to resolve.
Compounding these problems, fewer than 40 percent of organizations make it a priority to develop the technical, leadership, and business skills necessary for project management, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession survey for 2017.
Without adequate training in project management software and techniques, project managers are unlikely to have the capabilities required to deliver on project goals. Project management software becomes a liability instead of an asset when a lack of training contributes to project setbacks or failure.
Given all these shortcomings, it’s no wonder many project managers are at a disadvantage.
Although these trends indicate problems are widespread, they are not insurmountable. Using intuitive tools for project management and collaboration can reverse the trends and produce real gains in project team productivity.
The ideal solution should work for all types of project managers, regardless of department, role, or experience level.
It should connect dispersed teams in easily accessible desktop and mobile apps. And the technology should streamline the experience, no matter what type of project is being delivered.
With the best project management software for the organization (and without the unproductive ones), project teams can expect to:
- Waste less time
- Experience fewer delays
- Avoid over-spending
- Produce higher quality work
When team members work well together and waste less time on inefficient processes, they are more productive and better able to fulfill their commitments. Better tools mean better results.
What’s the Best Project Management Software for Your Organization?
The best project management software for your organization promotes team collaboration and improves project performance. Before you can select the right solution, you need a solid understanding of how project management workflows and processes currently work in your organization, what project teams could do better, and which tools are underperforming.
Know what project management styles (Agile vs. waterfall) your teams use, typical team sizes and project complexity, and whether you plan to integrate the project management software with other applications such as project portfolio management. Gather the technical requirements and integration points for data transfer from your legacy systems.
Never trade the flexibility to manage projects the way you want to for a few bell-and-whistle functions.
If you had to name one function that can make or break a project, what would it be? The best project management software for your organization is the one that performs that function better than any other. It could be planning and scheduling, task management, team collaboration, or any other task.
For nearly half of the organizations Planview surveyed, collaboration is their Achilles heel. The Forrester Wave™ report on enterprise-class collaborative work management (CWM) identified 25 criteria for evaluating CWM solutions that allow users to:
- Centralize collaborative work
- Share deliverables
- Capture conversations and commitments
- Plan and schedule tasks
- Monitor and manage workloads
The best project management software tracks conversations, threads, feedback, and commitments that trigger actions. Tasks can be planned, allocated, and tracked so the team knows who is working on what, and what the capacity is to take on more work.
What Project Management Software Users are Saying
You’ll know you adopted the best project management software for your company when project teams get on board and begin to save time right away, from less time spent looking for project information to fewer unproductive meetings. They will have a better understanding of their commitments and the tools they need to meet their deadlines.
Whether they work in an office with other team members or remotely in satellite offices or from home, each team member can access real-time communications, up-to-date documents, current task assignments, and the project status and schedule. Dashboards with visual metrics and reports keep everyone informed, so in-flight decisions can be made to avoid mistakes, mitigate risk, and optimize results.
The best project management software helps all users, including global organizations with teams spread across departments, business groups and countries, to be better connected, more up-to-date, and less stressed. Leadership understands how time and resources are being used, dispersed team members access project documents and communications all in one place, and no one wastes time searching through emails for recent versions of documents.
Bringing It All Together
One of the most interesting developments in project management is the way project teams come together. Teams can be assembled in traditional ways, or they can self-organize from far-flung locations and disparate organizations. Project team members can:
- Have varied skill levels
- Come from diverse disciplines
- Work within the organization or for external partners, contractors, suppliers, and clients
Project managers can have backgrounds that range from project management certified to ”accidental,” where they fill roles that are outside their areas of expertise. No matter where they work and what skills they bring to the table, project teams need the right tools to communicate, collaborate, and work on tasks.
When people who don’t usually work together form a team to accomplish a goal, the process must be well-managed to deliver the desired outcome. A powerful combination of project management software and team collaboration tools can deliver the functionality your organization needs to expertly manage projects from initiation to closing.
Planview’s Projectplace offers a balanced work and collaboration experience, with robust collaboration and flexible task management. This project management software improves team productivity while allowing project teams to work the way they want to work.
With its novel approach to collaborative workstreams, Projectplace empowers teams to:
- Collaborate from anywhere with desktop and mobile apps
- Communicate and share documents all in one place
- Self-organize diverse, virtual teams
- Plan and execute projects on time
- Gain visibility for workload management
- Monitor project status across the portfolio
- Track real-time progress with visual dashboards
Projectplace’s centralized virtual workspace provides the tools project teams need to get things done. These include:
- Gantt charts and Kanban boards
- Conversation tools
- Secure file sharing and version control capabilities
- Synced calendars and notifications
- Online meetings
- Visual dashboards, reports, and portfolio overview
- Customizable project templates and other project management and collaboration tools
Projectplace provides the security (encryption, verification, certification), assurance (99.9 percent uptime, redundancy, acceleration) and control (access, audit, single sign-on) that you expect from an enterprise-class cloud service.
Read the case studies, see the reviews and ratings, and follow the trends as part of the project management software evaluation process. When you’re done, sign up for a free trial of Projectplace to experience collaborative project management firsthand.