Project management software equips the project team with technology and features that help the project team get, and stay on the same page.
It’s a suite of tools that allows project team to work and collaborate together more effectively.
But what are the common features across project management software that enable and support team collaboration? In this post we’ll explore some of the most common features that you should look for when selecting project management software for your project and team.
In this article
- What Is Project Management Software?
- Common Features In Project Management Software
- How To Determine Useful Features For Your Projects
- How To Get The Most Out Of Project Management Software
What Is Project Management Software?
Project management software provides project managers, their teams and stakeholders with a suite of tools for project organization, planning, execution and control.
The tools helps keep a team’s work organized and on track. It’s a toolkit that project managers can use with their teams and stakeholders to increase clarity of objectives, accountability for reaching those objectives and helping teams hit their deadlines.
Without project management software projects can often feel scattered, deadlines slip, it’s hard to see where things are at, and the project team and stakeholders are stressed out – because no one really knows what’s going on. With project management software everything’s organized in one place, you’re on top of things, progress is clear, and the team can focus on delivering the project instead of trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do next.
Increasingly, PM software can save lots of time and effort by automating many of the more mundane tasks involved in routine project management work allowing project managers to focus on higher value tasks. Automation means that it’s much quicker and easier to keep track of multiple projects simultaneously. This should help you concentrate on your top priorities.
Project management software allows multiple team members to collaborate remotely and asynchronously on a project. It also provides a common focus point for discussion and enables the effective tracking of progress against key performance indicators.
Related Read: Mavenlink Review: In-Depth Look At How It Works [+Video]
Common Features in Project Management Software
Project managers are busy professionals often working with several different projects at once, and a project manager’s responsibilities within each individual project are numerous. You need something that helps you to plan and monitor project progress on each of your priorities individually.
However, your project management tool also needs to keep all of the data from each project in one place so that it can be compared and analyzed. On top of basic scheduling features such as Gantt chart timelines, you’ll want a good task-tracking system that helps you to assign tasks and deadlines within each project plan.
With the right tool, you can track ongoing performance against key targets, making project success far more likely while ensuring that nothing slips through the net unnoticed.
Project management software programs all have similar core features, which typically include the following:
A core feature for any project management software are the project planning features. This is the phase of the project where you’re figuring out what needs to be done. Often in the form of a Gantt chart, schedule or calendar, this feature allows you to see how the pieces of your project fit together and keep work on track as things change. The project planning features allow you to set project goals, milestones, and objectives by outlining key tasks and due dates.
Related Read: 10 Best Project Timeline Management Software 
At the heart of project management, is making it happen – knowing who’s doing what, by when. Tasks are the building blocks of projects that we use to manage the project. Task management features allows the project team to break up the work into manageable pieces and assign tasks to different members of the team, usually with a deadline so everyone’s clear who’s responsible, and when. For further granularity, subtasks usually allow you to break up a task into smaller parts, or show additional steps to complete an overall task.
Communication features are critical to facilitate free-flowing conversation to discuss the project’s progress and maintain momentum on the project. Communication features give the project team clarity about where work stands and allow conversations to flow in real-time and asynchronously. Communication features allow the team to comment directly on a task to clarify exactly what needs to be done, and @-mention teammates or other tasks or projects so everything stays connected.
Resource management features give clarity to the project manager and the project team who is working on what, when, and for how long. Done right, it’ll mean you deploy the right people and resources on your teams, at the right time, to expedite your project. It also means you can ensure sure team members aren’t overwhelmed or underworked and projects are properly staffed—all in one place.
Time tracking features allow the project team to track time and costs spent on the project, and can be broken down into task or sub-task time tracking. This ensures that everyone is accountable for their hours and allows project managers to manage the project budget and costs effectively.
Project dashboard features allow you to visualize the progress of each project task. As soon as you start using time and task tracking features with data-monitoring tools, it will start reporting how much time your team is spending on a project and where they’re spending it. It will also report which projects are more successful than others.
As team members track time spent on each task, you’ll see an overview of how much work has been done on each part of the project. This way you know if you’re ahead of schedule (or behind) and can adjust deadlines, time allocations, and resources accordingly. Some project management systems even highlight which tasks are overdue or about to be late.
Most project management tools provide dashboards that contain real-time data. This data includes what stage a project is in, how much money has been spent on it, and how many team members are working on it. Some dashboards even show project progress bars so that you can quickly assess where a project is at.
7. Project Views
Most project management software allows you to view the project in different ways – whether that’s a Kanban board, a task list, a timeline or calendar view.
8. Documents & Project Files
Typically, as part of the communication functionality, or as a standalone feature, PM software provides the functionality to share docs, files, images, and spreadsheets as well as organize them all in folders so they’re easy to find. With everyone on the project with access, it means people will know exactly where to find everything.
9. Proofing & Feedback Management
Probably the least common of the project management features listed here, but increasingly relevant to remote work is the proofing feature. These feedback management tools allow you to automate your entire creative content review process for shorter feedback cycles and faster approval times—all with less manual work.
While not strictly a feature – native and 3rd party integrations allow you to supercharge your project management software and make it easier to track all of your work in one place and save time. Most online project management systems integrate with other tools, which helps reduce redundant back-and-forth emails or time spent logging into separate software. Some of the most common integrations are with 3rd party specialist tools like Slack, email, customer relationship management platforms (CRMs), financial applications for accounting, document management systems, and more.
How To Determine Useful Features For Your Projects
Project management software can also help companies that want to centralize their data. Departments or divisions within larger organizations may be particularly interested in this capability.
But do you need project management software? Not all project managers believe in its value, but there are a number of reasons why project management software is beneficial for almost any organization.
What To Consider When Choosing Features
When choosing project management software, it’s worth considering your business model, project workflow, and target outcomes, as well as the features you need. Understanding the context that the tool is required to operate in, is as important as identifying the gap in your current toolkit and feature set. Here are a few things to consider which should impact your choice:
Your business model:
- Do you run multiple projects at a time or only a few?
- Are your projects complex with many tasks and interdependencies? Or do they have with fewer, discrete tasks?
- How do you make money? Milestone billing tied to deliverables? Time & materials based on reported hours? Fixed fee or value-based pricing? Capacity?
Your project workflow:
- Is there a lot of variation between your projects or are they relatively consistent?
- Do you always use the same methodology? Or is flexibility important?
- Do tasks and deliverables need layers of review and approval and a clear paper trail?
Your target outcomes:
- What capability or features do you want to gain?
- What do you want to improve?
- How will you be measuring success?
Your test plan:
- Are you willing to use it on a real project with real integrations?
- Do you have a test project prepared at a fidelity that you could “war game” it with your team?
- Do you have specific use cases that you need to try?
Before you start looking at different types of project management tools, review the needs we’ve outlined above to find out what features you need the most. Evaluate your organization’s current project management processes to understand how or even if it’s beneficial to invest in a new system.
What To Avoid With Project Management Software
If you’re looking to find the best project management tool for your needs, it’s tempting to just download the first thing that pops up in a search engine. However, unless you carefully consider your requirements and do some research before making a purchase, you might end up with something that won’t meet your needs.
Luckily, when shopping for a project management solution, there are a few things you can avoid that will save you time and money. By taking these points into consideration beforehand, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which product is right for your business.
Here are four common mistakes to avoid:
1. Choosing Arbitrary Functionalities To Please Everyone
Some products are designed specifically for small companies with few specific needs. Others have more complex functionality for larger organizations. Whatever your project management system needs are, find a solution that matches them as closely as possible—not something with forty ways of doing the same thing just because it sounds cool
What’s most important is choosing the right set of capabilities for your specific use case. If you don’t know where to start, you can always take a look at some of the most popular products in your category and see which ones have the features that match your requirements.
2. Ignoring Integrations
Although it might seem like an exciting prospect to spend time working with new software, integrations are something you want to get right the first time around. You can’t really evaluate this properly until after you’ve installed the program and started using it for real. If there are too many steps involved or if the overall integration isn’t smooth enough, then you’re going to have problems implementing everything properly in practice.
The fact is that integrations between third-party programs aren’t necessarily standardized. Each vendor may accomplish the same goal in a different way. And you might find that your project management system doesn’t play nicely with other project management platforms.
Before making any commitments, make sure that the vendor can draw up an action plan that will guide you through the entire process. Otherwise, they won’t be able to ensure that everything will work as it should once all is said and done.
3. Disregarding Demos Or Trials
If you don’t get enough opportunities to try out a particular platform before purchase, then it’s going to be difficult for you to really get a grasp of what it can do. There are bound to be features that are going to be completely wasted on your organization. As much as possible, try to get involved in the demo process so that you know exactly what you’re getting into.
4. Failing To Give Enough Time For Implementation
It’s easy to become fixated on trying out a new project management app when you see it. Don’t make any rash decisions until it feels like the right one for your organization. Once that’s been determined, then it might be worth giving serious consideration to how long project planning will take from start to finish, especially if you have multiple projects.
If everything goes perfectly, then there won’t be any problems whatsoever. But the reality is that you’ll invariably run into some kind of snag at some point along the way. This all translates to time; it can be hard to predict how long something will take, and it can be even more difficult to account for every eventuality.
The fact is that if your project management software isn’t properly set up within a reasonable amount of time, then it’s not actually doing its job. Make sure that this part gets enough attention before making any final commitments.
How To Get The Most Out Of Project Management Software
A lot of companies simply use the task management features and call it a day. But there is so much more that these programs can offer. The good news? Your project management tool does have the ability to go above and beyond—it’s just up to you to find out how!
So what are you supposed to be doing with your project management application?
- Use tasks to plan, organize, and collaborate on projects (that’s just the start, remember?).
- Use Gantt charts to see how the project tasks fits together.
- Use Kanban boards to visualize your progress and see your team move tasks from to-do to done.
- Use task and project templates for recurring tasks and projects.
- Use automated workflows to streamline processes, make sure your team doesn’t miss critical steps, and deliver value faster.
- Use resource management to deploy your team effectively, making sure they’re not overwhelmed or underworked.
- Use project dashboards to monitor progress on large projects.
- Use advanced reporting to see and track work from every angle.
- Use docs & filesharing to work together all in one place.
- Use integrations to seamlessly integrate all of your favorite tools.
Now that you understand the ins and outs of effective project management software, determine if it’s a good fit for your company. Chances are that it is! These software tools can help your company save time and money, even in today’s work environment, where many employees are working from home.
For more on project management software, use cases, and key features, subscribe to The Digital Project Manager newsletter.
Or, check this article out: How To Use Earned Value Management + Formulas & Examples