Project Management Software
How to Choose PM Software

Project Management Software

The right project management software can help you surface useful data for decision-making on your project. It streamlines reporting, makes it easy for project team members to see what they need to do, and facilitates collaboration. In short, the right software tools help you deliver your project faster, more easily, and with everyone pulling in the same direction.

There are hundreds of software applications for project managers and teams. How do you know what the right tools are for your organization? In this collection of podcasts, we cover all kinds of questions about project management software, including how to decide on the best tools for your PMO.

Project Management Software: Featured Podcast


No matter what industry you are in, having the right PMO tools at your disposal can make a significant difference. In a PMO environment, tools provide administrative support and decision support information. But what are the right tools and how do we identify them?

In this premium episode of The Project Management Podcast, we uncover the best ways to determine what the right tools are for your organization.
Hussain Bandukwala, PMO Coach
Hussain Bandukwala, PMO Coach
Please scroll down to see the full list of our Project Management software podcasts.

What is Project Management Software?

Project management software is the tool used by a team to help plan, manage and track progress towards the project's goals.
There are dozens of popular project management software tools, each offering their own take on how to manage your work. Teams choose to use apps for workload management because software helps you control and manage what you are working on, reducing the overwhelm for the team and providing a structured way to approach the project.

Types of Project Management Software

Project management software serves many different purposes in an organization. For example, apps are used for project reporting, scheduling, estimating, discussion and tracking time.

Project management tools fall into several categories, depending on their functionality. Here are the main categories.

  • Collaboration software
  • Workflow software
  • Task management software
  • Enterprise project management tools
  • Portfolio management software

As you can see, there is quite a lot of choice, ranging from simple solutions for To Do list apps through to fully-featured enterprise-grade PM solutions to manage large complex programs across multiple sites and teams. You might find that your perfect product is a hybrid choice that fits across a couple of these categories, or you might decide a simple solution is the best.

Below we explain more about those categories to help you narrow your search.

Collaboration software

Collaboration tools allow the team to work together. They incorporate ‘chat’ or discussion features, document sharing and commenting, whiteboards and conferencing. Examples of tools used for collaboration are Slack, Google Suite and Microsoft Teams. These solutions are great for virtual teams or teams where several members work remotely from everyone else. However, they don't typically include features for managing tasks, so you'll have to integrate your To Do list app as well.

Workflow software

Workflow software is designed to handle ongoing tasks and repetitive processes, but it has a place in project and program management too. Workflows are useful for managing handoffs between individuals, or passing tasks to a colleague for review and approval. Many teams manage projects and ‘business as usual’ work and need one system to do it all. Examples of tools for managing workflow are Jira, Asana and Kanban board apps.

Task management software

Most robust project management tools have an element of task management in them, as well as the other features, but you can also get standalone apps for managing To Do lists. These task management apps, like Trello and Asana, are good if you don’t need to see a Gantt chart or do capacity planning for resources. To Do apps are best for teams with low levels of complexity in their work where you simply need to keep track of everyone's tasks in a transparent way.

Enterprise project management tools

While you can manage projects with any of the above types of tool, it’s far easier and more common to use a fully-featured project or program management platform, especially in a medium or large organization where managing projects according to a structured approach is part of the culture of doing the work.

There are lots of these available on the market including Microsoft Project, Wrike, Workfront, LiquidPlanner, Teamwork Projects and a range of agile project management software solutions for teams needing features like burndown charts. They manage the full project life cycle with all the features you need to monitor and control your project.

Portfolio management software

Project portfolio management tools are designed to show you the big picture across a number of programs and projects within the business. These are great PMO tools because they consolidate data from individual projects to give an overview of what is happening with all change projects across the enterprise. You find this type of solution in large organizations running multiple projects with a degree of project management maturity and an executive team who want to see portfolio-level reporting.

Common Features in Project Management Software

Project, program and portfolio management systems have many features and tools in common. It’s helpful to understand what the tools do so you can make the right choice when choosing one for your workplace.

Here are some of the features you should look for in a PM app.

  • Scheduling and task management
  • Resource allocation
  • Time tracking
  • Reporting
  • Teamwork
Most tools will offer these features, but how they implement them and how you use them will differ. Below we explain how many teams use these features and why you would want them in the product you select for your own team. However, remember that your team is unique so if you need something else (or don't need one of the features here) that's fine. What's important is that your working practices suit your environment and organizational culture.

Scheduling and task management

It’s crucial for project teams to be able to plan dates for deliverables so that the overall duration of the project can be calculated. Scheduling features let you visualize the project timeline, whether that’s on a Kanban board, roadmap or a Gantt chart. At the task level, you can link tasks with dependencies so you can see how the work flows together. Some tools include automations that let you alert team members when tasks are due to start or complete – so no excuses for not getting the work done!

Resource allocation

People need to know what work they are responsible for. Each task on the schedule needs an owner. Each team member should be able to see what their upcoming work is, and resource dashboards let them do that. Advanced resource management features can help you with capacity planning, resource forecasting and ensuring that no one is overloaded.

Time tracking

Time tracking features allow you to calculate how much effort has been spent on a particular task. Team members can use timesheets, or manually add time spent so you can compare that to the estimate. Time tracking data is really useful for future projects because it provides detailed information about how long the work takes. This informs the estimating process for next time.

Reporting

All this data is no good unless you can easily get it out again. Many enterprise project management tools come with built-in dashboards and reports to help you review project progress. Data can be consolidated at the program or portfolio level for cross-project reporting. This gives executives and the PMO an overall view of what is happening with project delivery.

Teamwork

Look for collaboration features that help the team work together. For example, document sharing, message boards and wikis. Anything that helps the team consolidate and share knowledge and work efficiently will be good here.

The way you want to use tools for managing projects will determine what kind of systems are most appropriate for your PMO. The way you manage work will also be a factor in deciding what kinds of tools are best for you.

For instance, if you work in an international team, you may want a product that can cope with different currencies and help with collaboration across time zones. If you work in a team using Agile approaches, you’ll need a tool that supports the way you work. Some teams will need a lot of enterprise-grade and advanced features to meet the requirements of clients; others will need a simple tool for tracking tasks and dates.

What Makes Good Project Management Software?

Good project management software is:
  • Easy to use, even if you are on the road
  • Intuitive, with a low learning curve so the team can get started quickly
  • Fast and responsive
  • Secure, with different permission levels so everyone sees what they need
  • Easy to support, with good customer service from the provider
  • Suitable for your environment, whether that’s an online project management tool or an on-premise solution
  • The right price, whether you are looking for a free project management tool or something with robust support and a per user fee.

You’ll be using your project management tool every day, making small changes to the schedule, updating actual performance and collaborating with the team. Look for features you’ll use daily!

  • Easy to use
    More and more work is done on mobile devices and tablets these days, especially with project teams who need to work from home or who are visiting client sites. Some PM jobs have a high amount of travel, and the tools you choose should reflect how your teams work. Select a product that feels like a natural extension of how they work already so it fits easily into the suite of software they use every day.
  • Intuitive
    Another consideration is that you may be using expert input from people who are not familiar with using PM tools. The software you choose should be user friendly for everyone on the team, not just the core members who are using the product every day. Choose a solution with an interface that feels familiar or that integrates seamlessly with tools they already use so they don't have too much to learn. If the tool is difficult to learn, they won't use it!
  • Fast and responsive
    How frustrating is it to sit there while a web page loads? It's annoying, and project teams often work in high-speed, pressurized environments where waiting for reports is something they simply aren't prepared to do. Check the speed of the products you have shortlisted. They need to work well even when the wifi isn't great because no one wants to spend time updating their Gantt chart only for it fail to save before the site times out.
  • Secure user permissions
    The app you choose should have different levels of security permissions, even if you are only a small team. Someone needs to have the admin role which has permission to add new users. Everyone else need access to review and edit their own tasks and see the overall work schedule for the team. You may also need additional roles, so that suppliers or other third parties can access the project plans. Finally, consider what system access managers will need. You could build them custom dashboards for reporting purposes, so they can instantly see information relevant to them.
  • Good support
    User support comes at lots of different levels. The simplest is a collection of help files and videos online as a user guide. The most advanced is telephone or on-site support from a dedicated customer service professional from the vendor. If you are installing an enterprise-wide tool and investing a lot of money in your new software, then you may get support offered because the vendor will want your teams to get started quickly and begin to see the value in the product. Think about your team, what you are asking them to use the app for, and how much support they are likely to need.
  • Suitable for your organization
    Some industries, like government and healthcare, have been slow to adopt cloud-based solutions because of security concerns and regulation. Other industries have embraced Software-as-a-Service models for speed and cost-effectiveness. Talk to your IT team about the kind of software that is appropriate for your organization. You'll also want to look at what it needs to integrate with as building interfaces with other apps is extremely useful but also time-consuming.
  • Price
    Finally, you need to consider the price. Free project management tools exist, but you'll only have access to limited features and may not be able to use the tool commercially. Check the licence model for the products you are interested in. Many tools are cheaper the more users you have, so there is an incentive to rollout the app to everyone in the business.

Project management software also needs to be implemented in the team with the appropriate change management techniques. You will probably have to train colleagues on how to use it efficiently, and over time the PMO may become the owner of software inductions for new starters.

Choosing a Project Management Software Platform

There is no right or wrong answer to what project management software is the best fit for your team, and you’ll find your needs change over time. When you come to select a product, it’s a good idea to think forward about how you want to develop the offerings of the PMO and what functionality would be needed to support that.

Here's a simple process for selecting the right app for your team.

  • Step 1: List your requirements
  • Step 2: Review the market
  • Step 3: Make a shortlist
  • Step 4: Demo the tools
  • Step 5: Make a decision
The more people involved in selecting the product, the more complicated the decision-making process becomes. However, it is best to get a wide range of views because you'll end up selecting a tool that better fits your needs. One method that we commonly see is all team members providing their input about what they would like the tool to do and then a smaller committee reviewing products and making the decision. Here is the process to follow.

Step 1

List your requirements

Make a list of the must-have features for your project app. The sections above will give you a good starting point for the top considerations, depending on how your team works. Get input from the users as well, so you create a comprehensive requirements list.

Step 2

Review the market

Next, take a look at the market and find out what is available. Look for recommendations on comparison sites, or reviews from people in a similar industry to you. Talk to your partners or vendors and see what they use to get ideas about what might be a suitable fit for your organization.

Step 3

Make a shortlist

Once you've done some general market research, it's time to narrow down your search to a shortlist of products. Take your requirements and compare them to what the products can do. Most software websites have a list of features so you should be able to easily review whether or not the tool can meet your needs -- on paper, at least.

Step 4

Demo the tools

Now you want to put those features to the test by testing out the products on your shortlist. Sign up for demo accounts or free trials and start to test the apps. Ask your colleagues to do the same. If there are only a couple you want to try, you can contact the supplier and ask them to arrange a demonstration for you. Testing out the tools gives you a sense of what they can do and whether your team would enjoy using them.

Step 5

Make a decision

Finally it's time to make a decision. Consider what you've seen in the product demos and think about what app would be the best fit for the way your team wants to work, now and in the future. You can always start small, and purchase licences for one team, before scaling the solution and offering access to everyone in the business.

As the saying goes, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.” So much of whether you get value from your project management software depends on whether you know how to use it to meet your needs. Start with what you want it to do and then find a tool that fits your requirements.

Best Project Management Software

So what is the best project management software? The best project management tool is the one that’s a perfect fit for your organization. Spend some time looking at reviews and project management software comparison grids so you have a good understanding of what is out there.

Here's a summary of some of the most popular tools to get your started.

Asana

Asana is a simple-to-use popular tool that helps you organize work visually. It uses Kanban boards and to do lists to keep the team on track. Pros include being able to create a single view of the project that everyone can see. You can sign up for a free Asana trial to check it out.

Pros

  • Create a shared visual overview of the project
  • Share feedback and files
  • Have timeline view to visualize dates
  • Built-in automation helps with workflow and handovers between team members

Cons

  • There's a lot going on and some people report that the user interface can get busy
  • The timeline is not truly a Gantt chart so it might not give you all the features you need
  • Not all features are available on the mobile app
  • There is no functionality for project cost management if you want to track the budget

Jira

Jira is a work management tool that started life as a software bug tracker but has evolved into something much more. From the Atlassian family of products, it is a mature and robust solution. It is popular with software development teams and those using Agile methods like Scrum because of the way it handles workflow and team collaboration.

Pros

  • Has a solid pedigree and is well-respected in the Agile community
  • Comes with project templates to speed up creating a new project
  • Has customizable workflows
  • Built-in features for managing the product backlog

Cons

  • There's a learning curve to getting the best out of the software
  • Some people report that the user interface is complicated with too many options and views, making it difficult to navigate
  • The tool can get messy if the team does not stick to good housekeeping practices
  • There are no built-in collaboration features to enable the team to work together outside of workflows

Trello

Trello is an online Kanban tool from Atlassian. It has a clean interface and is easy to use. That makes it popular with small teams doing simple projects where task management is more important than other enterprise-grade features like capacity planning or critical path scheduling. If you're wondering whether to use Jira vs Trello, think about the nature of the work and whether it is predominantly managing a simple task list (Trello) of whether you need workflow and other PM features (Jira).

Pros

  • Simple to use and easy to get started
  • Lots of online help and tutorials available
  • Integrates with Jira, making it a popular option for agile teams
  • Mobile-friendly app for working on the go

Cons

  • It's not designed to handle big projects, sub-tasks and dependencies
  • There is no Gantt chart or calendar view
  • Users report that the search feature is not as good as it could be
  • Task descriptions are limited in length so you have to keep your notes short

Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project has been around a long time and is still a fully-featured, enterprise-ready scheduling tool for project management today. Best known for its Gantt chart feature, Microsoft Project also offers a range of other features for detailed planning. Your company may already have Microsoft products, making it easy to integrate this one into the IT estate. In fact, if your business runs on Microsoft your IT department might already have some licences you can access; it's always worth asking!

Pros

  • Allows extremely detailed planning with multiple level sub-tasks
  • Accurately manages dependencies and critical path tasks
  • Has advanced resource management features including capacity planning and reports for forecasting utilization
  • Budget management and cost planning features

Cons

  • You'll need a training course to learn how to get the best out of it
  • Limited features for agile teams
  • Planning at the detailed level means it can be hard to see the big picture
  • Progress tracking can be difficult unless you allow the team to make updates to the schedule themselves

Wrike

Wrike is another tool that has been around a long time and has evolved over time to serve its customers. Wrike is a work management tool that suits remote teams and those looking to manage both iterative and predictive projects within the same PMO.

Pros

  • Has both Gantt chart and board view so your team can choose the best way to track their work
  • Powerful collaboration features mean you won't need to use other tools for working together
  • Suitable for managing project work as well as repetitive operations activities; in fact, anything that can be managed on a task list
  • Comes with project templates and integrations so you can get started quickly

Cons

  • Might seem like overkill for teams that only need a to do list app
  • Users report that it isn't so good at handling large file attachments, so watch your storage limits
  • The user interface can be difficult to navigate if you don't use the tool frequently or have lots of data inside it

Smartsheet

Smartsheet is built for enterprise project teams and has plenty of mature features for scheduling and work management. Smartsheet, as the name suggests, is built around worksheets like a spreadsheet package. In a Smartsheet vs Airtable debate, you'll have more out-of-the-box project management features in Smartsheet but Airtable is more similar to an 'ordinary' spreadsheet so is easier to get started with.

Pros

  • Has resource management and project scheduling to enable you to plan work
  • Offers portfolio management features for strategic planning
  • Has board and Gantt chart view so you can see your plans how you prefer
  • Manages project budgets and rolls up financial information for a portfolio overview

Cons

  • There's a learning curve to getting the best out of the product as it has many features (some of which you might not need)
  • Some features feel like a table in a database so the look and feel isn't as slick as some other tools
  • Some users report that exporting data, especially into Microsoft Excel, can be difficult

monday.com

monday.com bills itself as a Work OS: the future of how tasks will be managed. It's easy to get started and the interface looks modern. It's customizable and is another tool that has been in the space for some time, growing in popularity. In a Trello vs monday.com comparison, Trello has limited features but is easier to use out-of-the box.

Pros

  • Very customizable so you can create project boards that suit your needs
  • Has Kanban board view and timeline view
  • Enables sharing boards with contractors and vendors to make sure the whole team sees the same information
  • Includes out-of-the-box automations for workflows like moving tasks to another board when they are completed

Cons

  • While it looks simple, it's not always easy to find your current tasks when they are split across multiple boards
  • There are a lot of email alert notifications, so edit your settings so you only get relevant notices
  • There are limited resource management features for capacity planning and resource forecasting
  • There's no true Gantt chart feature
Metrics have to align to your organizational goals and strategies. They have to fit so that they really impact the processes or activities that are important to that organization. Metrics lead to fact-based decisions. You need to be able to assess and understand that metric and then impact change.
Denise McRoberts (with Cornelius Fichtner)

PM Podcast Episodes about Project Management Software

These are a few selected episodes of The Project Management Podcast, aimed at showing you the kind of things we discuss when we talk about project management software tools.

Social Media Project Management Tools

Social media has to be a fully integrated and planned part of your project’s communications management strategy. In this episode you'll learn how to use and when to use social media project management tools for your work. We discuss mapping social media tools to project communication tools, determining which tools to use on your projects, which tools can we use in which project phase or process group and more.
Bill Dow, PMP, ITIL, CSM
Bill Dow, PMP, ITIL, CSM

How to Run an Effective Conference Call

How many conference calls have you been on this week? In this interview we discuss a number of soft and hard tools that will improve the overall quality of teleconferencing on your projects. In most cases, these are easy to implement and come at little to no cost.
Gene Dutz
Gene Dutz

Project Portfolio Management Tools

We define what portfolio management is, we look at ease of implementation of modern project portfolio management tools and their benefits. You'll also learn what size company benefits most from these tools, best practices for implementation and more.
David Davis
David Davis

Summary

Project management software helps you manage the work more efficiently, effectively and with greater transparency. You can see what is happening on your project, and more easily identify where you need to change direction or manage the project’s performance in order to reach your goals.

The right tools, implemented in the right way, can improve productivity, collaboration and project success rates. Spend some time thinking about what tools you could choose to support your organization. If you already have tools in place, think about how you could use your project management software more effectively to make it easier for everyone on the team.

We have plenty of relevant podcast episodes on this topic, so pick a few and get listening!

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