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How To Choose Project Management Software: A Simple Buyer’s Guide

From big corporations to small businesses, project management plays a huge role in the success or failure of a project. Yet many projects fail, costing companies time, resources, and money. The goal of a project manager is to avoid that.

There are many ways of approaching project management, each one dependent on your needs and resources. No matter how you manage your project, though, it’s important to choose the right project management software.

With the wrong software, you may find yourself overextended, wasting time on resources you don’t need, or expending extra effort to fill in gaps. Software that suits your management style and needs will help you achieve your goals more efficiently and with less stress.

In this article

Considerations Before Choosing Project Management Software

Choosing the right project management software is no small task. The PM software you use should reflect your management style and the needs of your team.

You—or your clients—may wonder if you really need project management. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to manage the project on your own, without investing in specific software or hiring a project manager?

That’s a fair question. In truth, investing in project management resources can save your team money in the long run. Project management keeps a team focused and on track. It ensures that you deliver on time and within your budget. And it helps you assess and deal with risks and challenges.

Project Management Methodologies

Understanding project management is the first step to choosing the right software. There are many project management methods, which vary from tightly structured planning to flexible methodologies that allow for iteration.

The Waterfall method is one of the most straightforward approaches. A project is divided into phases that must be completed in chronological order. From the beginning, the process is planned out and tasks are assigned; the process is not expected to change. This process works well for tasks that require step-by-step completion.

Iterative approaches are better suited for projects requiring a little more flexibility, such as projects involving client feedback. Agile project management involves breaking the goal into smaller chunks that can be worked on simultaneously. Scrum and Kanban project management fall under this umbrella.

Through Scrum project management, work is completed through sprints—short, focused cycles. Kanban emphasizes efficiency and uses the Kanban board, which keeps track of task management with separate columns for each stage of the process and each level of completion.

Most Important Features

Every project comes with its own requirements and needs, but at the very least, a good project management software should be able to do a few key things:

  • You should be able to assign and manage tasks, and conduct project scheduling and schedule deadlines. Team members should be able to see what tasks need to be completed and when.
  • Team members should be able to communicate with you and the rest of the project team, and the tool should allow file sharing with and between team members.
  • All team members should be able to access necessary data, and data should be stored in the cloud or locally, depending on your needs.
  • You should be able to create and customize project dashboards.
  • You should be able to integrate with other apps (like Google or Microsoft apps).
  • If your team needs to work on the go, the software should offer a project management app.
  • The product should offer tech support or training. Are there wikis, FAQs, or other resources to help you implement the software?
  • The software should include a system for budgeting, billing, and quotes. Check if there are features for submitting and managing invoices and for tracking time.
  • The tool should include security features such as data encryption, network security, and disaster recovery.

With our digital age comes a digital transformation of the workforce. With mobile devices, instant communication and global collaboration are easier than ever. Through text, email, apps like Slack, and social media, it’s easier to connect with clients and team members and send and receive information necessary for your project.

The landscape of project management changed drastically from 2020–2021 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work boomed as employees stayed home to protect their health.

This has shown employers that remote work and hybrid solutions are viable options. Moreover, these trends may be here to stay, even after the pandemic. Gallup research found that 26 percent of workers in the United States would prefer to work remotely.

The changing workforce and current digital age we live in are shaping project management and software solutions. Through data analytics, for example, a company can now gather and assess data pertaining to how well they met their business goals.

It’s easier to track things such as how much time was spent on a project, how much something cost, and how successful a project was in achieving company goals. And because it’s easier to see what’s working and what’s not, work has become more results oriented.

Like data analytics, machine learning and AI have impacted the project management sphere and will continue to do so. AI can gather and evaluate data to help with things like risk assessment. AI can also be used to automate tasks.

How To Select The Right Project Management Software

With so many options available to you, it can be overwhelming to choose the right project management system. The first course of action is to determine what project software you really need.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Project Management Software

The right project management tool works in conjunction with the right project management processes and methodologies. When testing project management tools, consider the following:

  • Scale: What is the scale and scope of the project? What is your project plan—what do you need to accomplish? What resources do you already have available, and what gaps would a project management software fill?
  • Needs: What does the client expect? What must the project accomplish at the bare minimum? What would it be nice to have accomplished? What is the project team’s work style, and how could project management software support your team?
  • Cost: What payment options does the project management solution offer? What can your business afford?

Additionally, there’s the option to consult with a professional. A consultant (which we offer here at The Digital Project Manager!) will assess your company, team, and project needs and how different applications align with those needs.

Determining What You Need

Discuss your needs with your project team, and conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Determine what specific criteria you will use to choose a software solution. Lay out all the facets of your project, such as the focus, timeline, budget, complexity, and number of teams working on the project. How flexible are your deadlines? How rigid is your project structure?

Consider how different project management methodologies fit your criteria. For example, if you’re using a Waterfall or PRINCE2 project management methodology, a Gantt chart tool would be useful for looking at how quickly a task was completed.

Will you need a Kanban board? Does your company already have an app that needs to integrate with this new tool? Perhaps you have multiple teams and departments that need to stay connected. A PM tool like cross-project summary viewing keeps team members across departments updated and works for fluid, iterative projects.

Things to Avoid

Choosing the right project management software takes time and careful consideration. Here are some things to avoid.

  • Using the wrong tools. Maybe the Kanban board called to you when you were trying out a demo, and now it’s gone unused. Perhaps you really wish you could easily create a Gantt chart, but the software you chose doesn’t allow for that. Using tools that don’t suit your project management style wastes resources and can contribute to miscommunication.
  • Ignoring whether a tool is able to scale to your business size. Many project management software tools offer tiered pricing, with different functions available for different tiers. Understanding what tier you need will prevent you from paying for more than you need. If your team grows, be sure the platform you use can grow to support it.
  • Skipping the tools or resources for training. Once you’ve decided which project software to use, the next step is implementing it. It’s important to take time to train your employees. Get the team used to the software and how to use it, especially if it has a learning curve. Ideally, the software solution will have tutorials and other resources from the company itself.

Comparing Project Management Software

To compare project management software, it’s important to know what you need and want. Follow these steps for choosing and comparing project management software:

  1. Make a list of things you need from a project management tool. Then make another list of features that would be nice to have but aren’t necessary.
  2. The next step is searching for different project management tools to try out. Look for recommendations from friends, peers, and reviews within your industry. See what Google has to say. Consider styles and price ranges. The longer your list, the more options you have available to consider.
  3. Narrow down your list to the strongest contenders. Test-drive different project management tools through free trials, demos, and freemium accounts with pay-to-use features. How do you like its user interface? Is it easy to learn, or did your team struggle to use it?
  4. Get feedback from team members. Allow them to be open and honest. Then rank each project management tool and evaluate costs. Is the project management service worth it, or can you get by without the tool? Does it fit your team’s needs?
  5. What payment solutions does the project software offer? For example, is it a monthly subscription, or can you buy the software and renew every year?
  6. Once you’ve settled on a project management software, create a plan for implementing it. Share that plan with the team. If necessary, schedule training.

With your options carefully considered, you can be confident in the project management software that you choose.

What Do You Think?

Project management is a major part of any project’s success. With a need for the right management comes the need for software that suits your management style.

Have you ever had to switch out your project management software or look for a new option? What was the process like? Share your thoughts below!

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Related Read: 8 Project Management Software Benefits: Why Use It?

By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedpm.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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