Buyers Guide

 

Our Guide To Project Management Software

As the business landscape has taken a distinctly digital focus, we have seen the emergence of project management software - a range of solutions used by project leaders and participants to manage progress from the outset of the planning stage, right through to completion. Rather than managing projects through disparate platforms for each element involved, project management software offers the advantage of a single integrated platform, with benefits in the form of enhanced organisation, communication and speed. Areas covered by project management software can include planning, invoicing, budgeting, human resources, file sharing, task management and stock control/inventory. A new level of clarity and transparency has been achieved by project management software, and this guide will run you through some of the key features to look out for, as well as identify the main benefits and analyse key trends.

Key features

When you are assessing the project management software available to you, there are a few key features to look out for. It might be essential for your organisation to use all, or some of them, so it helps to know the main components of the leading software on the market:

Planning

Planning is a hugely important component of project management software, and is achieved by tools which allow tasks to be assigned to various team members involved in a project, deadlines to be set, and activities to be prioritised. Planning functions of project management software are typically backed up by a notification system which reminds users of their tasks and the deadlines attached to them.

A shared team calendar is another common feature related to planning - this is seen as a 'must have' for the scheduling of meetings with a project team, and can often be synchronised with calendar tools which are already widely used. An agile task management tool can work alongside the shared calendar, and often provides a closer look at individual team members' hours and tasks, allowing a project leader to see when they have free time.

Documents

Project management software offers the advantage of making all data accessible in one place, from project resources and customer data to invoices and much more. It can provide a welcome alternative to the use of Excel sheets and gives less chance for errors to crop up. This is an area of project management software it is important to ask questions about during the buying process. Can a piece of software handle invoices, or assimilate customer relationship management information? The onus is on you to find out.

Collaboration

A major advantage is the enhanced collaboration methods which project management software can bring, especially if projects involve a large number of team members, or individuals and teams working across different regions, and in different disciplines. You can expect file sharing to be a standard feature in a lot of project management software, and this makes for both quick communication and access to the information team members need. Many platforms now have in-built instant messenger apps which lend themselves perfectly to mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

Management of resources

Project management tools may use elements of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to help project leaders keep their eye on resources - this can be everything from raw materials, in the case of sectors such as construction or manufacturing, or other finite resources such as meeting rooms and human resources. You are typically able to plan, schedule and calculate resources, ensuring they are not drained and that team members are able to perform tasks effectively.

Reporting tools

Measurement is an important aspect in project management, and for this reason, the ability to analyse and report on progress is seen as a major benefit of project management software. A KPI dashboard and the ability to create insightful reports are two common features which facilitate effective reporting, and reports are usually customisable in their nature, allowing a user to select project management data for inclusion from the information they have gathered.
 

Budgeting

Budgeting has moved on a lot since the days when Excel sheets carried most of the load. On many project management tools, you can now document and manage expenses related to the project, from the planning stage to the period it is in progress. As outlined in the previous section, reporting is a big benefit, and this is especially true in the case of budgeting, when providing clear and accurate overviews is essential. You can usually choose between weekly and monthly methods of budgeting, and most tools will show clearly when you have gone over budget in the course of a project.

Benefits

The major benefits of project management software can be summarised as follows:

- Improved integration - the advantage of possessing tools for multiple purposes on the same unified platform. This offers potentially significant savings in both time and money, not to mention reducing the risk of errors which can come with using conflicting tools.

- Better collaboration - the opportunity to streamline processes for split site teams and individuals by uniting them on the same software.

- Enhanced communication - the compatibility of new project management software with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, as well as the in-built instant messaging services used by many platforms, mean communication has never been quicker, or more flexible.

- More accuracy - the reporting functions available with many project management platforms, coupled with the advantage of teams working in the same way, provides more accuracy when it comes to task management, timelines and statistics.

Current trends

Among the project management software characteristics we are seeing more of in 2017 include people analytics, which allows for a better monitoring of team members to ensure they are fulfilling their roles; artificial intelligence (AI), which is presenting the possibility of more 'machine learning' in project management processes; and personalisation, which offers the benefit of being able to tag tasks and messages to specific kinds of team members, also meaning individuals new to a project can be brought up to speed quicker.