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Project Management Software For Beginners: Best Tools & Top Use Cases

In this day of apps, AI, and the metaverse, it’s hard to believe there was a time where technology did not play a central role in our lives. When I started my career as a project manager, I enrolled in a project management course at my local community college to get some training. 

Back then some of the project management tools like network diagrams and Gantt charts were being taught to students with the expectation that you as a project manager would be manually drawing these items. Imagine that—physically drawing a network diagram on a whiteboard, creating it via PowerPoint, or manually drawing it on paper? Or if your project was agile, having to manually write your user stories on post-it notes? Oh the horrors!

illustration of a paper clip overwhelmed by post-it notes
You might remember the old days where Gantt charts and network diagrams were drawn by hand.

Luckily for us, as technology has advanced, so too has software to help us with many of the tasks we need to perform as project managers. If you are new to using project management software (and curious), this article will walk you through some of the key info to get you started.

I’ll cover:

What Is Project Management Software?

Project management software are computer applications that provide information about the progress of a project or task. They can be stand-alone applications within a company’s IT network or stand-alone cloud-based, SaaS applications.

Likewise, project management software applications can be available via a desktop or mobile app. They include features like project time tracking, task organization, collaboration features, resource allocation, and more that allow users to create and execute complex plans. 

Regardless of the project management methodology used (agile, waterfall, SAFe), project management software can help teams improve on their task management, time tracking, resource management, and team collaboration.

Project management software is designed for organizations and project teams that need transparency and oversight of their projects. It helps organizations achieve goals such as real-time reporting on the status of project tasks, audit and version history tracking on deliverables, and visibility into key, documented events such as meeting minutes, decisions, and project feedback. It can help streamline a business’s operations and workflows through the automation of tasks.

Use Cases For Project Management Software

Imagine you are the project manager for a team. The project charter has been approved. Your team has been formed and you are now ready to begin planning.

As part of planning for the project, you need to consider not only what tools will be required to complete the deliverable or end-result for the project, but also the tools required to run the project itself. You and the team have decided to use a project management software based on the following use cases:

  • The need to have a tool to assist with project planning
  • The need to have a tool to help the team with the project schedule and manage project timelines
  • The need to have a tool that will provide the ability to store and share important project files and documents
  • The need to have a tool to assist with communications among the team 
  • The need to have a tool that provides reporting on project expenses and resource usage throughout the project’s life cycle

Luckily for you and the team, project management software provides functionality to address all of the use cases identified by the team. Let’s now take a further look at some of the specific features and functionality that project management software can provide to teams.

Project Management Software Functions

Software can be scary. If you are not technically inclined, using a new tool like project management software can be a bit intimidating. Not to worry—we’ll take a more detailed look into some of the features and functionality you can expect to see in the project management software you decide to use. 

As this article does not focus on a specific software product, provider, or vendor, we’ll take an agnostic view of the more common features of project management systems and software. Regardless of the specific product or vendor, the following are core functionalities in project management software:

Project Planning

Many project management apps allow users to complete project planning work such as creating task or activities lists, allocating project resources (people, equipment, and materials) to activities, and identifying task dependencies. 

Project management software applications allow the entire project team to participate in the project planning process by allowing real-time collaboration on project planning artifacts. Planning can be accomplished for complex projects or simple projects using a smaller team. 

Also, many project management software applications also allow users to plan for projects that use both waterfall or agile project management methodologies. Tools such as Scrum or Kanban boards can easily be created by a project team as a planning output. 

Schedule Planning

One of the common questions a project team will receive from stakeholders during a project is, “When is task xyz going to be finished and what is the due date?” To help project teams answer this question, project software tools allow the team to develop a schedule for the project. 

Activity lists can be easily updated to include the correct sequencing, effort/duration estimations, and dependencies to form a project schedule. The scheduling and task management functionality in many project management software also allows the user to assign resources to activities to ensure that resources are not overloaded (or unavailable). Schedules can be displayed in many formats including a Gantt chart or traditional calendar view. 

Likewise, many applications also allow the entire team to complete timesheets that can be used to verify and validate the accuracy of task estimations. 

File Sharing

Once project planning artifacts are created, it’s great to have a centralized place where the project team can store and access documents. Project management software also allows the team to upload and attach files (documents, images, pictures, and videos) for access by the entire project team. 

Teams can avoid wasting time asking the question, “Where can I find this document?” by using the file storage and file sharing functionality that is present in many project management software applications.

Communication

As project managers can spend up to 70% of their time communicating while working on a project, it’s important to ensure the team has excellent communication tools. Project management software has functionality such as email notifications that enable project team members to inform the team on the latest project changes. 

Functionality such as team message boards allows the team to use a single tool to send and track communications instead of multiple tools.

Reporting

Many project management software tools allow project teams the ability to report on a number of items using data from the project. For example, project management software applications allow the team to easily track project expenses against work completed. 

Likewise, some applications allow the project manager to issue invoices to customers or clients either based on the scheduled completion date for tasks or milestones, or on total project completion. Also, applications allow the team to monitor and report on project resource usage during the project and at project completion. This is important to track if resources are being over or under-utilized. 

Many applications provide easy-to-generate reports and dashboards that can be shared with key project stakeholders such as the sponsor to assist with tracking project progress. If an organization has a number of initiatives in its project portfolio, the software can provide a consolidated view of project performance from the sub-task to the project level view. 

Does Project Management Software Support Different Types of Businesses?

Project management software applications can play an important role in supporting an organization based on the type of business it is. For example, if a business is a small start-up that completes less than 10 projects a year and has one or two small teams and is less than 40 people, the software may provide the basic planning, scheduling, and tracking functionalities mentioned above. 

Alternatively, if the organization is very large and has 5000+ employees, there is project management software that supports these types of organizations that have functionality that supports a number of project teams completing 100+ projects a year on a company-wide scale. Many commercially available project management software applications can be used across a variety of industries and professions. 

Project teams in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors could all use the software to help plan and execute projects in their organization. Like any tool adopted by an organization, project management software should aim to support the business’s day-to-day operations and long-term strategy plans.

How To Choose The Right Project Management Software

Selecting software tools that are right for your team and organization begins with identifying the users’ needs. Like any major purchase, you want to make sure the project management software you are buying will meet your needs, not just that it looks ‘cool’ or is the latest trend. 

Technology is an investment for a business and will have a lasting impact on its day-to-day operations so it’s best to take your time and review all applications that might fit your needs before making a purchase. There are many factors to consider when selecting project management software, not just the cost. 

Of course, if pricing is a constraint, there are many free software applications that an organization may want to consider (or even try first if an organization wants to check that it meets their needs).

Learn more about choosing the right tool for your needs here.

Importance Of Project Management Software

Project management software can serve as an important tool to enable the success of a team’s efforts. Apart from providing a tool for planning, file sharing and communications, project management software can also impact how collaboration is done on a project. 

By allowing the project team to have full transparency and access to project documents, the software allows for teams to delegate more responsibilities away from the project manager to the team to complete. For example, a project team member can update the status of tasks assigned to them in a schedule rather than the project manager updating it after a status meeting. Project management software can allow for more accountability and self-organized teams.

Benefits Of Using Project Management Software

Project management software can provide many benefits for project teams and organizations. These benefits include:

Consolidation Of Project Data

Instead of having to pull data from multiple sources for project reporting, many project management software applications will store multiple types of project data such as schedule and budget performance and resource issues. This can result in less reporting errors and gaps, and a more streamlined reporting and audit result for the project. 

Also, if an organization has a number of initiatives and is in need of a tool to help with portfolio management, many applications allow project professionals to view the performance of a portfolio of projects without a lot of data consolidation effort required. 

Easy-To-Use And Little Time Required For Set-Up 

Many project management software applications leverage technology tools most people have used in the workplace, including spreadsheets and calendars.

Often there is little time required for training on how to use project management software, and users can start to use the software immediately after purchase if it is a cloud-based application. Many applications are designed to be intuitive to users who may not have a lot of experience managing projects. 

Integration Into Other Technology Applications

A business will also have its own email and cloud storage applications. As investment in technology can be expensive for businesses, it’s important that the application integrates well into what a business may already have. Many project management software applications do integrate into other 3rd party applications an organization may have and use.

Increase In Productivity And Efficiency

Every business wants to operate in the most efficient (often cost-effective way). This means ensuring that people are working on the right thing at the right time in a way that does not waste time or resources. Project management software can help increase productivity and efficiency by automating a lot of tasks that would previously be done manually. 

Tasks such as generating a weekly status report for stakeholders can be done by clicking on a button in many applications that will produce a project dashboard (learn how to set one up here). It can be shared very easily and quickly with stakeholders too. This saves time from having to update a report template manually and having to maintain an email distribution list.

What Are Some Specific Examples Of Project Management Software?

Here’s a list of the best project management software out there, to provide some examples of what’s on the market these days.

  1. Wrike

    Customizable, cloud-based project management software that has over 400 integrations and enterprise-level security.

  2. Celoxis

    Project portfolio management and collaboration solution for teams of all sizes.

  3. Hub Planner

    Powerful project management platform with an advanced resource scheduling tool for organization-wide resource allocation.

  4. monday.com

    A robust and popular project management platform that can be customized for almost any workflow.

  5. ESPMI

    Best project management software for organizations that manage a diverse portfolio

  6. Freelo

    European Project Management tool with a drag-and-drop calendar view so you can set task deadlines with ease.

  7. Breeze

    A project management app designed for your team to love and quickly learn. Track your projects, get reports and chat in 'rooms' to align work.

  8. Microsoft Project

    Most popular project management platform with a licencing option for offline work.

  9. Paymo

    Planning, resource scheduling, file proofing, time tracking, and invoicing in one.

  10. ProProfs Project

    Platform focused on helping you keep track of your team's tasks and to-do lists, and at a low price point.

The Digital Project Manager is reader-supported. We may earn a commission when you click through links on our site—learn more about how we aim to stay transparent.

Find Your Project Management Solution

Deciding to use a project management software application for your project is a big decision. However, once you and your team have decided to make the investment, you will see that there are many more benefits than disadvantages to using one. 

While using a new technology can be a scary and intimidating experience at first, you and your team may see that a lot of the functionality closely mirrors what you may already be using in your daily work. Now it’s just a matter of deciding which project management software tool is the best fit for you.

For more information on project management software tools, start with this list here.

By Christina Sookram

With over 15 years of corporate experience as a project manager, Christina Sookram is an experienced project leader and educator. She has provided project leadership experience at some of Canada's largest technology companies. She has subject matter expertise in both waterfall and agile project delivery and product management functions with a focus on Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe® agile methodologies. A successful entrepreneur, Christina founded CNS Project Consulting Inc in 2020 to help clients in the IT, education and Web3 industries. Christina is also an instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OCAD University where she enjoys sharing her love of all things project management with students.

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