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How To Choose Project Management Software: 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 and money. Hiring a project manager and investing in project management software can help reduce the risk of failure.

While project management comes in many different flavors from traditional to agile, no matter how you manage your project, it’s important to choose the right project management software based on your organization’s current needs and future growth trajectory.

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 project and team needs will help your organization achieve its goals more efficiently and with less stress.

I’ll cover:

Considerations Before Choosing Project Management Software

Assess the value proposition. You—or your clients—may wonder if you truly need project management software. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to manage the project on your own, without investing in a specific tool? Aren’t we supposed to be doing more with less?

Investing in PM software can save your team money in the long run. Project management software organizes project tasks, highlights risks and challenges, and reduces the need for time-wasting status update meetings to assess project progress. Team members can instead deliver updates asynchronously, reserving meetings for discussion and problem-solving.

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 software you choose depends on the predominant methodology your projects will follow.

The waterfall method is one of the most straightforward approaches. A project is divided into phases that must be completed in chronological order. This methodology works well for tasks that require step-by-step completion where the process is not expected to change. You’ll want to choose a software that emphasizes deadlines and task dependencies.

Iterative approaches are better suited for projects requiring a little more flexibility, where the exact outcome (e.g., the key features of a mobile app) is unknown. 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.

In scrum project management, the team completes work in sprints—short, focused cycles. Kanban emphasizes efficiency and uses a Kanban board to manage tasks. The Kanban board includes separate columns for each stage of the process (e.g., to do, doing, done.) For agile projects, you’ll want to choose a software that lets you visualize project work.

Most Important Features

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

  • You should be able to assign tasks 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. I'm talking about file sharing and online collaboration using a chat or shared documents. 
  • All team members should be able to view project data (e.g., task details, supporting files), and data should be stored in the cloud or locally, depending on your needs.
  • You should be able to create and customize project dashboards to use for reporting
  • The tool should have the ability to integrate with other apps that your organization uses.
  • 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.

Newest Trends In Project Management Software

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, and apps like Slack, 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. Gallup research found that 26 percent of workers in the United States would prefer to work remotely.

The changing workforce and the digital age we live in are also shaping project management and software solutions. As companies continue to embrace remote or hybrid work models and collaborate with global stakeholders to execute projects, it is becoming more apparent that synchronous meetings can no longer be the default communication method.

Project management software helps a disparate workforce to collaborate asynchronously on project tasks. Instead of waiting for the next status meeting or hunting through Slack to try to locate the correct file, team members now have a one-stop shop for project information. 

Through data analytics, project management software also makes it easier to track 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 project management software 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, it can be overwhelming to choose the right project management system for you.

Factors To Consider When Choosing Project Management Software

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

  • Scale: What is the scale and scope of your project portfolio? What resources do you already have available, and what gaps would a project management software fill? How fast do you expect to grow? Will the software you select adapt to emerging needs?
  • Needs: What information do stakeholders expect to see? At what frequency and level of detail? 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 (e.g., cost, required features.) Define the key elements of your project portfolio, such as timeline, budget, complexity, and number of teams involved. How flexible are your deadlines? How rigid is your project structure?

Consider which project management methodology you’re using when building your criteria. For example, if you’re using a waterfall or PRINCE2 project management methodology, a Gantt chart would be useful for visualizing project tasks.

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 summary project or portfolio view keeps team members across departments updated and works for fluid, iterative projects.

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 PM tool. Then make another list of features that would be nice to have but aren’t necessary.
  2. Research different project management tools to try. Look for recommendations from friends, peers, and reviews within your industry. 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.
  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 tool worth it, or can you get by without the tool? Does it fit your team’s needs?
  5. What payment solutions does the project management software offer? For example, is it a monthly subscription, or can you buy the software and renew annually?
  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 software that you choose.

Best Practices

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

  • Take advantage of key features. Maybe the Kanban board called to you when you were trying out a demo, and now it’s gone unused. Perhaps you 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 needs wastes resources and can contribute to miscommunication.
  • Forecast 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.
  • Invest in tools and resources for training. Once you’ve decided which project management software to use, the next step is implementing it. Your software is useless if your team doesn’t understand the value behind it and the benefits that will come from it. Ideally, the software solution will have tutorials and other resources from the company itself.

What Do You Think?

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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