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It can be difficult to classify project management software types in today’s market. Nowadays, there are more than a dozen tools that are jack of all trades and offer anything you can think of. From task management, time management, resource management, and collaboration features to interactive dashboards, reporting, and even project financial management.

If you are looking for a tool that gives you every single feature packaged in one product, you can definitely go with the’s or the ClickUp’s. However, I think there are still 5 main categories that we can use to distinguish between the types of project management software, based on their main focus. These are traditional project management, agile project management, collaborative project management, resource management, and open-source project management.

Choosing software within each of these categories means choosing a bit more specialization and full development of certain features. Even if that means losing others. Let's look at each one in more detail.

1. Traditional Project Management Software

Traditional project management software is the type that focuses on the project life cycle and supports you throughout that cycle. Therefore, you have features that will help you define your project scope, create a schedule, assign tasks, and track project progress.

The main features of this type of software include:

  • Task management. Normally displayed in a list view, this is a place where you can define the project tasks, set due dates, deadlines, milestones, and dependencies, assign resources to tasks, and monitor progress.
  • Gantt charts. Visual representation of your projects in a timeline. This view is normally a drag-and-drop interface that makes it intuitive to create new or alter current project conditions. This view will display additional information like the critical path for the project, so you know the key moments when you can’t afford to be delayed.
  • Project portfolio management. A few project management tools will go the extra mile and give you access to portfolio views. These are helpful boards that provide a quick status on different project initiatives across your portfolio. Information like this is beneficial to decision-making.

Examples include Microsoft Project, Primavera P6, and Hive.

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2. Agile Project Management Software

Agile project management software has its main focus on supporting agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban. Therefore, you can find views that support these types of software and help you see sprints, epics, and stories in one place.

The main features of this type of software include:

  • Kanban boards. Vertical swimlane-style view where cards represent tasks to be done and columns represent workflow stages. Therefore, you can have a column for your backlog, another for the tasks being worked on in the current sprint, and another for completed work.
  • Automation. A common feature of this type of software as it helps streamline work. Automations can reduce complexity in complex projects by sending notifications across team members depending on a task’s status.
  • Real-time dashboards. These dashboards display information about your team, such as the tasks they have assigned, how many have been completed, and team velocity.
  • Client portals. Client portals give external access to your projects and allow different stakeholders to view your project and even interact with the team according to your predefined permissions.

Popular tools in this category include Jira, Trello, and Asana.

If your company recently made a move to agile methodologies, you can learn more about your role and how to transition to agile.

3. Collaborative Project Management Software

These tools focus on making collaboration and communication easy among team members. This might actually be the hardest category to differentiate since all tools provide some sort of in-app communication.

The main features of this type of software include:

  • Collaborative docs. These are wiki-style documents where your team can co-create documentation and teamwork-related activities.
  • Real-time messaging. Unlike Slack which is a tool that lives outside of your projects, this type of messaging occurs within the software. Therefore your team can engage in conversations regarding a specific task, deliverables, or any work item.
  • Proofing. This feature is particularly useful for teams that use cloud-based software to review collateral and ask for client feedback. This feedback can be in the form of comments and approvals.

Examples of collaborative project management software include Basecamp, Wrike, and Miro.

4. Project Resource Management Software

Resource management is the project management software type focused on assisting your project scheduling and project planning from a human resource perspective. Web-based tools of this type are different from team collaboration software because rather than focusing on teamwork, they focus on the team’s work. This helps you with work management across your team.

The main features of this type of software include:

  • Timesheets. This is a useful feature to keep track of what your team is spending their time on. Time tracking is useful for small teams, freelancers, and big companies alike. Also, any professional services organization that needs to report the time spent on tasks in their invoicing.
  • Resource allocation. This is a feature that will show you the tasks and subtasks assigned to your team and whether they can take on more work or not. Resource allocation is usually a percentage out of 100 and allows you to balance work throughout the project team.
  • Mobile app. This is common in tools that provide time-tracking features and very useful for teams that have members who are on the go. These apps normally have an easy and user-friendly interface in which recording time requires a few taps only.

5. Open-source Project Management Software

Open-source software is focused on giving you access to all of the features mentioned above (collaboration tools, resource management, file sharing, reporting, agile views, etc), but in a free plan. This type of project management app can be great option for small businesses on a budget. However, if pricing is not a problem, these tools also have paid plans that offer more features than commercial tools for a fraction of the price.

This type of software is often preferred by organizations with in-house development capabilities as the free versions of the software are community supported and require tweaks to adapt the tool to your needs.

Popular open-source project management tools include OpenProject, ProjectLibre, and Odoo.

What is the best project management software?

After all this talk about types, you may have realized that many of today’s tools have a mix and match of the features mentioned in each of the categories I discussed. Therefore, your job is to find what you need and the features that the tool you are considering is paying “the most attention to”.

To get you started with your research, I thought I would share a quick list of the best project management software.

  1. 1. — Best for building custom workflows across teams
  2. 2. Smartsheet — Best for low-code project management automation
  3. 3. Wrike — Best project management software for scaling organizations
  4. 4. Kintone — Best PM software to build business apps for any process
  5. 5. ClickUp — Best for remote work teams
  6. 6. Height — Best for startups that need to build products faster
  7. 7. Hive — Best for collaborative project management
  8. 8. Hub Planner — Best with resource management built in
  9. 9. Zoho Projects — Best for integrations & add-ons
  10. 10. Microsoft Project — Best for teams that work in the Microsoft ecosystem

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that regardless of which project management software type you go for, all of them can do much more than what they were planned out to be. How? Through integrations. These can include native integrations, connections to other SaaS tools through third-party applications or having an API available for you to build custom connections. Examples of apps you can connect to are Dropbox, Google Drive, Slack, or other project management solution like Zoho Projects.

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By Hermann Fink

Hermann Fink is a technology enthusiast and the co-founder of Rünna Advertising, a multinational digital agency that has been active for over a decade and served clients like Ford, AstraZeneca, Disney, and Didi. In addition to being a business owner, Hermann gathered corporate experience in project management during his time at Hewlett Packard in the early 2010s.

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