12 Practical Tips to Choose The Right Project Management Software
12 practical tips to choose the right project management software
- Organisation’s Comfort About project management
- Enlisting & Prioritizing Project Management Features
- Available Budget, Cost
- Intuitive Interface, Ease of Use
- Anytime, Anywhere Access, Mobile App
- Can Team Update Status Easily? Can PM Get Real Visibility?
- Team, Customer Collaboration Opportunities
- Customisation Options Available
- Integration with Other Tools
- Scalability of the tool
- Software & Data Security
- Try it, see yourself & then Compare
If you are a small organization, with 4-5-10 employees and if you have to manage handful of projects, you can use Google spreadsheet and still survive. If you are reading this article, it means that your organization is much more than 4-10 employees and has more than handful of projects. We do hear the challenges in managing projects with spreadsheet or basic scheduling tools.
- Communication and collaboration
- Lack of visibility of real status of projects
- Limitation of multiple tabs to manage tasks, issues, time
- Fear of loosing the file
- Inability to manage multiple projects using multiple spreadsheets
- Lack of advance features to manage schedule like dependency, lag
- Difficulty in understanding real allocation of resources to project, etc.
Though your organisation seems to have grown but it also means that you have reached to a threshold point where you need to look for more suitable project management software for your team, for your organization. Though I have deliberately not used the word The Best Project Management Software simply because there is no one-best-PM-tool for everyone. I mentioned it already the tool that works for your stakeholders work effectively, more productively is your best tool.
Let me share with you the practical considerations and steps you can follow to uncover the need of the most suitable project management tool and really make the decision about your type of the PM tool.
Organisation’s Comfort About project management
When we talk about organisation’s comfort about project management, we are referring to maturity of a business in terms of project management processes, tools and people. Organisations can certain grow to a next level with entrepreneur’s instinct, fighting spirit/vision and/or coordinated team efforts. However as it starts growing (in terms of team size, customers, number and size of projects), there comes the devil and the power of delegation. As the efforts to plan-execute-track-manage activities, as the number of team members increases, engaging stakeholders on a regular basis becomes challenging.
This is where the comfort and the agility to embrace project management processes, tools becomes crucial. Knowing the comfort/ maturity of your company/department/team/project managers about project management can greatly influence the utility and effectiveness of the project management tool that you are planning to select and use. Basic or primitive project management (if we are to call it project management) can be done using simple spreadsheet email, shared documents kind of tools. However as mentioned earlier, higher the maturity of project management process for an organization, it needs sophisticated and robust project management tools.
Such sophisticated and robust project management system ensures
- Tool has enough capabilities to help project managers manage all aspects of projects
- Unified and consistency ways of managing projects across departments
- Project managers, team members, stakeholders (customers, sponsors, partners) follow right processes
To know further about project maturity model and assess your organisation’s maturity of project management, refer this article.
Enlisting & Prioritizing Project Management Features
Once you are aware of your organisation’s current comfort of project management processes, tools, you can decide which all features are required in the project management software. Make a list and you can prioritise and rank project management features list; also make sure that along with inclusion list whether you should have exclusion list e.g. if your department does not have and is not expected to track project expenses in future, you do not need expenses tracking functionality.
It would look something like a table below
|Must Have||Scheduling||Interactive Gantt chart||
|Risk||Project Risk Register||
|Task assignment email, reminder email||
|Charter||Create project charter||
|Mobile App||Android, iPhone, Tablet App||
|Nice to Have||Stakeholder||Identify Stakeholders||
|Stakeholder||Collaborate with Stakeholders||
|Need Not Have||Time Tracking||
If an identified project management software has a given feature, you mark One (1) in the next column, else you put zero (0). The multiplication of last two columns will give you absolute number, summation of these absolute number for a given project manager will give you its rank.
Higher the number, higher the rank of the PM tool. This way you will be able to make a short list of highly ranked project management. The tools ranked top of the list are the ones you have to take up for further evaluation.
Note: And also it is very important to understand that organization can not jump from project management maturity level-1 to maturity level-5 overnight. It has to be gradual process in order to be successful. Hence while navigating from maturity level-2 to maturity level-3; you may not need every other project management feature. However the PM system that you are going to select, should allow you to have those features in the future.
Available Budget, Cost
Had it been the ideal world, you can crete a custom software for your company that meets possibly every requirements your business may have. But alas, we live in a real world, it means that we have limited resources: including budget available for a PM tool.
We do see list of free project management software floating in social media every other day. Those who realise that There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch have done better in managing project; and those who go for give-me-everything-free have seen spending more time & struggling more with the free project management tool.
Alternatively those who pay too much for expensive tools, without understanding/capitalizing user interest, tool adoption see the PM tool implementation falter, worse turning out to be a disaster for entire department.
In our experience, we have seen smart decision makers, who are clear about requirements as well as the budget. They can quickly throw-out the tools not-meeting these criterion out of the shortlist. Such clarity of thought is important for better and faster decision.
There are all sorts of PM tool : free to extremely expensive. Since it is a money matter, it is crucial to understand what is your budget, are you getting the value for your money.
Intuitive Interface, Ease of Use
Without a doubt, world over users are emphasising on intuitiveness and ease of use of the software. Popular products (remember SAP in early 2000, Tally of same time frame) launched in last couple decade were highly focused on functionality than usability. It would require heavy training to understand and get started using SAP, Oracle, Tally of those days.
The situation has changed upside down. We have consumers using Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn and similar social media sites; it has transformed users expectations from enterprise software. Any enterprise software, irrespective of complexity of features it offers, users are expecting it to dead simple to use. Though it is becoming a difficult and tricky part for the software vendors (tradeoff between offering more features vs retaining simplicity of the software).
But rightfully so, high learning curve would be the last thing a project manager or any team members would expect, when the project are going through rough sea waters. Simple ways to create project schedule, manage tasks, dependencies in Gantt chart, interactive Gantt chart, quicker/better ways to update schedule, add comments to issues, tasks, discussions, etc is what team members want.
So, while selecting a project management software for your department & team members check
- Is PM tool easy to get started for PMs, team members?
- It the PM tool simple to use for PM & team member on a regular basis?
- Can they quickly create project, update task schedule, review risk, timesheet
- Can team members easily update task status, progress
- Does it work with email?
- Does it require lengthy training to get started?
- Are there training, user guide, videos, etc easily available, accessible?
- Do you have to contact support team to use newer features/functionality?
Anytime, Anywhere Access, Mobile App
We live in a time when almost all businesses are connected to one-another, possibly across geographies. The changing dynamics of the business have simply reinforced the rule of ‘fittest survival’. It means that project teams, sponsor, customers are spread across the world. Remote project team is no longer a fancy terms, it is a reality. So this means that project teams have to use a project management software that is always accessible, from anywhere in the world, at any point in time.
When you look at your team composition, project sponsors, PMO teams, project customers, you may see a potential time & usage patterns of a PM software. Even if project teams are colocated, it doesn’t rule out the need of central collaboration platform.
What we are suggesting here is to evaluate whether you would like to restrict your teams to desktop based, access-only-locally software software; or you would like to to make them collaborate as and when needed, from wherever they are (home or your office or customer’s premise).
Three important factors you need to consider and evaluate about a PM tool:
- Is it available all the time?
- Can it be accessed from anywhere in the world?
- Will my team and I, be able to use it on the go, using smartphone/tablet?
Businesses relying on desktop based tools, self-hosted PM tools are more like to end up wasting efforts of their teams. We are convinced that cloud based PM tool is the need of this hour and is unavoidable in the future.
Can Team Update Status Easily? Can PM Get Real Visibility?
One of the core expectations business should have from the PM system is – can project team members and project managers stay on top of the project activities?
This expectations may not be explicitly considered and evaluated while selecting the most suitable project management tool for your company; but it has considerable impact on the productivity of the team and effectivity with which projects are executed/tracked. To help you understand better consider some of the following example.
For Project Team Member
- How do team members know which tasks are assigned and when they are due?
- How do team members know which all tasks are due? How much progress should s/he have made on each one those tasks?
- Can project team member update progress of tasks assigned to them – on the go? Over Email- either by logging in to system or without logging in?
- Is team member reminded of the tasks pending on his/her name?
For Project Manager
- Can a project manager get real status of a project giving him/her a Holistic picture?
- Can PM check project status on the go – using mobile app, via email?
- The way project status is presented to PM by system, can PM take necessary steps which are possible in the system?
- Can project manager proactively collaborate with team members to seek update about tasks, issues, risks, change requests, discussion posts?
For Portfolio Managers/Senior Management
- Can senior management check holistic and real status of portfolio of projects emailed to them every week or on a regular interval?
Opportunities For Team Members & Project Customer to Collaborate
Project delivery is a team effort. It can be successful only if team is collaborate well around deliverables. Clear & timely communication are pillars of effective collaboration. PM software that you are going to use should enable effective collaboration among project team, project stakeholders.
Gone are the days when project team members used to rely solely on emails and phone calls for further project update/information. If project teams are to become agile, there is no alternative to collaboration.
By the way project collaboration is not limited to document sharing or email. It is also about
- Communicating project timeline, tasks schedule changes asap
- Allow team members to share their ideas and work together easily
- Enable teams to respond about task progress, issue, risks, change request
- Ideating and discussing using project discussion forums
- Involve project customers to collaborate using common project portal
- Enabling project team to share documents with customers, enable customers to share documents with project team
- Allow project customers to create project issues, add issue comments, be assigned tasks, add task comments, etc
- Allow project collaboration using web application, mobile application or email
The idea of good project collaboration platform is to save people’s time from waiting for other team member’s response or customer’s response beside obvious reasons. Project collaboration with customers is all the more important for professional services organizations. Let team use their skills to the maximum level and seamlessly collaborate with others.
Customisation to Suit Your Business Needs
Any reasonable cloud based PM software vendor will always provide options and ways to customise its software to suit customers’ need. The extent of customisation may vary from one vendor to another. Generally customers who are aware of power as well as the limitation of commercially off the shelf products, can adopt the product well, by exploiting good features available in the tool, sometime changing/complementing their own processes/practices to overcome few limitations of such tool.
Nevertheless, a good PM software will allow you to enable, disable features you need, add custom fields, add custom reports, set custom workflow, etc. More often than not, professional services team of PM tool vendors work with customer to tweak the ready-made software to suit their need: as there is no-one-fit-for-all software.
At the same time, keep in mind whether you not want to reinvent the wheel?That’s why you are on the mission to search the most suitable project management tool. There will always be difference between custom made software and commercially off the shelf software (COTS). As one know the time, cost and risk to build a custom PM software is way too high compared to using already available cloud based PM tool. So cloud based tool may not provide you perfect customisation, if the cloud software provider is flexible, lean you may even get luckier – instead of the struggle involve with custom software development.
Integration with Other Tools
You might be using some software for storing documents, managing user logins to your network, sales information, etc. already. While you would like to use the PM tool, you would also like to use existing tool to talk to new PM tool. That’s the integration we are talking about. e.g.
- If you would like to attach an existing Google Doc/Spreadsheet/Presentation to project task, issue or risk or change request.
- You may want to import existing project schedule created using MS Project to PM tool
- You may want to orchestrate user logins based on your existing federated services like LDAP, etc.
So evaluate what all tools you would like to integrated with a PM tool, why/how/what level of tight/loose integration you are expecting.
Scalability of the tool
In this world of agility, teams are becoming becoming more receptive to newer technologies, processes, etc but you do not want to take a chance and see things boomerang. It is advisable to start a PM tool with a small group of highly receptive, enthusiastic users and then expand the user base, without any additional cost. In fact, as you will add more users, overall cost should come down.
Hence you should look for a tool that allows you to start small or big and also add more users whenever you would like. You need not get into three year or five year contract without being absolutely sure about the tool’s success. Not only scaling up, but also check if PM tool vendor allows you to scale down the user subscriptions.
Project Data Aspect
As you may use a project management tool over the years, it means you will have high amount of projects, tasks, users, issues, risks, change request, documents, timesheet, expenses, customers data generated.
It is important to check whether a given project management system allows you to view as well as manage high number of projects. It should be slow to render when you have high number of ongoing, completed projects. There are PM tools that can not show more than 20 projects in dashboard or even in the list. So be careful while you include such tools in your shortlist.
Software & Data Security
Project managers or project directors responsible for selecting PM tool are generally not aware of the software and data security aspects or it is not fully understood by them. For businesses, their project data, user data is highly sensitive information hence before business commits itself buying a PM tool, it needs to make sure that the software and project data security is handled with a great care by a vendor.
More often than not, the PM tool selection committee or team is exhausted during the feature evaluation itself that they tend to ignore important aspect: software & data security. You need to select a well-developed/built and highly secure PM software as you do not want to wake up some day to realise that your project work is not safe from hackers.
Whether or not your project information is sensitive in nature, you would like to make sure your project work information safe and secure, always. Here is a set of sample questions you should have satisfactory answers for:
- Where is the data stored?
- How it is backed up, how frequently?
- How much secure is the data?
- Who has access to the data?
- Have you performed security tests: penetration test?
- How frequently does a vendor upgrade its software?
Try it, see yourself & then Compare
Once you have a shortlist of PM tools that meet above mentioned criteria so far, you should ask for free trial to PM tools vendors.
Seeing is believing. Rather, experience will clear out most of the ambiguity, doubts about features/capabilities, performance, support of a PM tool during its trial. Getting hands on experience of a PM tool during its trial proves immensely useful in making the right, judicious decision.
As a best practice, we always recommend customers to sign up for a free trial of ZilicusPM, invite handful of project team members, managers, portfolio managers to experience, collaborate using the PM tool and thereby make a collective decision to decide whether a given PM tool is right or not.
Additional readings about project management, leadership
- Case Study: What Happens When Project Team Has Dual Reporting
- Avoid These 10 Most Common Mistakes That Leads to Project Failure
- Back2Basics: Ultimate Project Management Guide: Project Planning
- 8 Reasons to Decide Whether Your Organization Needs Project Management Office
Your life can be become easier with the right project management system. ZilicusPM is the right PM tool for you and your team. Get started now.
Zilicus offers All-In-One online project management software ZilicusPM that provides complete project management control for project and portfolio managers; at the same time makes it really simple for project team members to stay on top of things. If you have been managing projects with conventional spreadsheet/ MS Excel templates or emails, it is the right time to start using online project portfolio management software. ZilicusPM is great platform for better project collaboration. Take a screenshot tour of project management software tour of ZilicusPM and Sign up for 30-days free trial of project management software ZilicusPM