We’ve learned through experience that managing work with spreadsheets and emails is not sufficient for today’s projects and lacks the efficiency necessary to complete work in a timely fashion within budget. Project management software lets you collaborate with your team, track work, report in real-time and make decisions based on what is actually happening, not what you think might be happening.
Selecting the right product for you is easy when you focus on the criteria that matter.
Here we’ll further delve into what’s important when making a choice of the various products on the market. First and foremost, you need to find a project management software tool that works for both you and your team.
What You Want
As a team manager, you want a solution that:
- Is easy to set up, so the team can use it from Day 1.
- Fits with your existing tools and doesn’t involve any hidden costs.
- Allows you to see all your company’s projects at-a-glance.
- Lets you set up and manage project teams.
- Gives you high-level project dashboards so you have a trusted view of what work is taking place.
- Fosters an environment where collaboration is the norm, breaking down silos and encouraging team work for project success.
When choosing a project management tool, look for one that gives you team management features and offers an overview of everything, rolled up into a management dashboard that covers the data that you are most interested in.
The solution you choose also has to work for the people who are using it.
What Your Team Wants
If your team are making the move from spreadsheets, the most important criteria for them will be to stop using spreadsheets. That way of managing project work is inefficient, time-consuming and difficult.
Your team members want a project management tool that:
- Lets them manage large and small projects from the same interface.
- Allows them to choose the methodology that works best for their project, whether that’s waterfall/iterative, Agile or something in between.
- Helps them collaborate with their team on documents, files, plans and decisions.
- Is easy to use.
- Lets them see where their time is being spent so they can adjust if necessary.
- Is accessible from anywhere, so they can use it on the go.
- Gives them real-time access to project tracking information and status reports.
The 4 Essential Features of Project Management Software
There are four essentials that you don’t want to overlook in your tool selection process. Let’s take a look at what they are.
Essential Feature #1: Access to Project Data
As a manager or a team member, being able to access your project data at any time is critically important.
Look for the following features in a new project management tool:
- Reports: These offer a snapshot of one or more project metrics. Typically you build them every time you need to use them, although you can automate this.
- Dashboards: These offer a real-time view into multiple metrics, giving you the total project health on a single screen. They are automatically created from the data in the system meaning you set them up once and they are there for the life of the project, reporting the status whenever you take a look.
Think about how you are going to use the data and who needs to see it. A dashboard is good for the project manager and project leadership as it shows the overall view and you don’t have to keep creating them every time you need them. Reports are good for sharing information with other stakeholders.
You may also have to grant access to third parties such as suppliers or external contractors, so if that sounds relevant to your work environment, check that you can do so with an appropriate level of security.
Finally, think about how your team is going to log on. You can get products that are hosted on your own system and only available when you are in the office in front of your computer monitor, and that might work for some highly secure situations. For most projects, an online tool is going to be a better choice.
Online access is essential because Gartner predicts that by 2016, the use of cloud services, which includes project management tools hosted in the cloud like ProjectManager.com, for business processes will have accelerated past current forecasts by 30%.
That means that cloud-hosted software products are becoming the norm. With more and more services available online this is simply the way that your team expect to work. You get all the benefits of access anywhere, from any device (and neat mobile apps to help you work on the move) plus bank-level security without any of the hassle of having to back up your sensitive project data.
Essential Feature #2: Workflow
Second, you’ll want to review the workflows you require. An example of a workflow is the process for approving scope changes. A change is raised by someone and someone else needs to approve it. “Workflow” relates to how you move the task from one person to another. In a project management system, that’s normally through adding the task to your colleague’s work queue and perhaps sending them an email alert so they know there is something for them to do in the software.
A simpler example would be assigning a task to a resource from the project schedule. Workflows help move items through an approval process or handoff tasks to colleagues.
The other resource management feature to look for is time-tracking. This is a huge bonus when it comes to finding out how your team are actually spending their time and it can help with improving your estimates.
Not convinced about time tracking? Watch this video to find out why it should be on your list of essential features.
Essential Feature #3: User Interface
You’ll want to choose a product with an intuitive user interface. It needs to be elegant and easy to learn. You might have lots of time to invest in training your team in a classroom with a bespoke course, but you probably don’t (and even if you do, wouldn’t you rather they got on and did some work instead?).
Essential Feature #4: Integrations
Your project management tool should enable your team to work effectively, so it is important that it integrates seamlessly with the other tools you use. Look for:
- Integration with other applications: For example, the ability to import task lists and project plans from other tools (and export them again).
- API: This is a way of integrating your project management software with any other software. APIs are the technical code for passing messages between systems. This reduces double-entry of data and takes out the risk of human error.
- Plugins: Plugins are another way to join systems together easily, saving your team time.
- Mobile apps: Apps, both Android, iOS and Windows, help your team keep working on the move. They offer instant online access to critical project information and let everyone stay in touch wherever they are.
Define Your Criteria
Having explored those four essential features, you’re now in a position to draw up a list of criteria that must be included for any project management tool you buy. Make your own list of what is important to you, based on this starter-for-ten:
- Task management: Either a simple tool or one with complex features depending on your needs.
- Time tracking.
- Dashboards and project reports.
- Online access from anywhere.
- A mobile app to help your teams manage their work on the go.
- Collaboration features like discussions.
- Top-grade security so you know your data is safe.
- Easy to integrate with your current environment including compatibility with Microsoft products if that is what you use.
- Simple to use; team can get started in minutes.
- Cost—you have to find something that fits your budget!
Remember to talk to the people who will be using the product. Learn what their pain points are as this will give you very useful information about what is important to them, and the kinds of problems you want your new tools to address.
Rank Your Criteria
These criteria will have different levels of importance. Take a few moments to prioritize your list so that you can rank software products accordingly. Put your criteria in order with the most important at the top.
Call out: MoSCoW
A good tool to prioritize your requirements is MoSCoW. This stands for:
Go through each of your criteria and decide if you absolutely must have it, you should have it, you would like it but could live without it or if you won’t worry if it isn’t included.
Make Your Choice
Now you know what is important to you and the team, you can shortlist products and compare them against your prioritized criteria list.
We’ve addressed the need for an online project management tool in a previous video post by Jennifer Bridges, PMP, embedded below.
ProjectManager.com balances control with collaboration. With a full suite of reports, dashboards, time tracking, resource management and other features, it’s intuitive enough to need virtually no training. And it integrates with the other enterprise applications you use every day. See how quickly you can be managing your projects more effectively. Take this free 30-day trial now.