Everybody tells you to have the right tools if you want to get the job done right. You must have an online project management tool that does this, that and the other thing.
Okay. But there are so many choices on the market. Do you just need some Excel and Word templates or a more robust software that is cloud-based and fosters collaboration through easy file sharing?
The truth is there are a lot of great PM tools out there, chock full of features that are designed to help manage your project.
- Project Planning
- Task Management
- Workload Management
- Online Gantt Charts
Before you run out and start using one, do the research to determine which is the right solution for your project.
To get you started, we’ve compiled a helpful guide to PM tools, detailing their different functions and how they can help you work more productively as you plan, execute, monitor and report on your project.
A dashboard is a quick way to get a view of your project. Like the dashboard on your car, you can see at a glance how the project is running and if anything is moving into the red.
When you have an online PM tool, the dashboard is instantly updated when a team member updates their status or timesheet. That way you’re on top of everything and can act before the project goes off track without having to put in the time and effort of manually inputting data to a spreadsheet.
If you’re running multiple projects they can all feed to one dashboard, so you can monitor the workload, budget and progress across your entire portfolio. Of course, you can drill down to one project if, say, you need to look more closely at its budget. And with an online project management tool those details are in real-time.
The dashboard is made up of charts and graphs offering a visual accounting of your resource allocations, budget tracking, task management and more. You have control to view the dashboard view the way that works for you by customizing the dashboard by team or customer or department.
Another great feature of a project dashboard is that all of these graphs and charts can be easily printed or shared with a keystroke. Now you have an easy way to generate materials for a meeting or to share via email with team members, stakeholders or clients. And you can customize the view to reflect the target audience.
PM tools should integrate with your Excel spreadsheet, so it’s easy to import your task list. But if you want, create a project plan and then just fill in the blank fields on the project plan template when you create a new project.
Once you’ve got those tasks listed, update them with the planned due date and the Gantt chart on the right will reflect the duration of those tasks in a timeline. Those timelines will get shaded as your team members progress through their tasks and update their status, so you can have an accurate view of the project as it progresses.
You want to be able to invite team members to the project plan so you can then assign them to specific tasks. That way they can collaborate with you at the task level by adding files and comments. If the PM tool is online then your team can simply update their tasks from their desktop or mobile device, depending on where they are when they finish the task.
If you’re project planning is cloud-based and updated in real-time, you get the added benefit of seeing activity on that plan as it happens through automation like email alerts. You can set these for yourself or the whole team, so everyone knows when one task is complete and another can begin. It keeps everyone in the loop.
There are tasks to manage for your team, of course, but also for yourself. Therefore, you want a project management tool that can give your team and you a task list to see what needs to be done today, even if you are working on multiple projects at the same time.
You want a task list that can be accessed online so it can be updated easily. It should be able to also have attachments, so you and your team can add notes, files and links that relate to the task and any discussions around the work. This will facilitate collaboration in real-time.
To never miss a deadline, the task management tool should have integrate with your email to automate alerts. This keeps you and your team on the same page, reminding them and yourself when work is due. To that end, sharing should be simple, too, so those tasks can be share the tasks with anyone in the system.
You know that you want to be able to generate a report with one click, whether it’s the project status, tasks, timesheet, workload, expenses, etc. And those reports should be easily customizable, allowing you to filter information so that the data you share is appropriate for whomever is receiving the report.
But you need reports that can calculate planned versus actual progress in the project, too. Whether it’s to tell you the number of days you’re ahead or behind schedule or how close you are to meeting the estimates on your budget, reports can help you identify when an aspect of your project is moving off track.
If you’re investing in a reporting tool you are going to want it to have access to all the projects in your portfolio, so you don’t have to move from one program to the next to get that data, and drill down to get the details you need.
Those reports should be able to run in any format, whether you need to print it, export and share online or offline as a PDF, Excel or CSV file. By having them easily shared you, again, are making collaborations possible. Whoever you share with is notified in the system and by email, all the comments and emails exchanged are saved in the system, so conversations are in one place.
You want a project management tool that makes time tracking easy to use, with timesheets that are easy to share with team members, so all they have to do is enter their hours. Then you can access their timesheets and approve the entire team’s workflow, or lock them and send out email alerts.
Better if you can get those timesheets synced to the tasks on your project plan. That way when your team updates their tasks and timesheets both are updated to your dashboard. It’s another way to give you a clear picture of the project’s progress. You can track costs, tasks and resource progress in real-time.
There are other uses for timesheets that might not come immediately to mind. They can help you determine what team member is right for which task or point to those on your team who may need further training. Timesheets also are a good matrix for measuring team efficiency. So, you want PM tools that give you timesheets with flexibility to take full advantage of what they can do.
It’s best to have a workload management tool that puts all the work across your team on one page. That way you are able to schedule ahead because you know how much work everyone on your team has been assigned. You can see if someone is over- or under-assigned, making it easier to balance the workload.
Knowing where to allocate resources is important. But just as crucial is the ability to assign more or less work to a team member with but a click of your keyboard. And if workload is color-coded, so that one color means over-allocated, another color indicates someone is under-allocated and yet another indicates vacation, balancing workload is even simpler.
Naturally, you want this data all collected in real-time to help you monitor the true workload and not capture a picture of the project that has already passed. It should also, like your other tools, be easy to export and share, allowing for comments to assist in more efficient resource management.
Online Gantt Chart
Gantt charts were mentioned briefly above in the section on planning, but there’s so much more you can do with this valuable PM tool. A Gantt chart is great for noting task dependencies, when one cannot be started until another is completed.
Thought Gantt charts are often thought of as difficult to create and edit, a Gantt chart tool that offers drag-and-drop editing, where you can adjust start and end dates with your cursor, makes them a breeze to use. And color-coding adds to their readability.
When the Gantt chart is online it’s even more useful as a collaborative tool. Team members can discuss tasks at the task level, attaching files and notes as needed. Plus, when cloud-based, updates are instantly populated to your dashboard. It’s a great way to track real-time project performance.
This Is Just a Quick Guide to PM Tools
While this overview is helpful, there is so much more that project management tools can do. The best PM tools can be used with big and small projects, so they can in a sense ebb and flow as needed. See what tools are right for you and get on the road to project productivity.