Project Management Software Buyer's Guide
Many business managers struggle to understand the stage at which they need to start using project management tools. They have a point. If you start too early when your projects are smallâ€”both in number and complexityâ€”you could be adding an unnecessary complication. Whereas if you delay getting one when you really need it, you could be losing efficiency and jeopardizing the success of your projects.
Do You Really Need a PM Solution?
Here are some symptoms that indicate that you need project management software:
- Communication Issues: You find communication within your project teams is jagged, details are lost, and misunderstandings arise leading to mistakes and frustration.
- Difficulty Collecting Information: Searching for data takes a lot of time, duplicate data may exist, and several versions of information may exist. All of this adds to confusion and impacts efficiency.
- Incomplete Data: Missing data points begin to impact the quality of your business decisions, leading to slippage in project schedules.
- Missed Goals: Targets and deadlines are missed, client relations get impacted, and loss of revenue occurs.
- Faulty Procedures: Employees are unclear about what needs to be done and how it is to be done. Communication, work assignment, inventory management, and invoicing all suffer.
Even if you are somehow holding things together, there is a difference between project management and fire fighting. If you feel that you are fighting too many fires, it is time to consider a proper project management solution.
Types of Project Management Solutions
Project management tools come in five distinct classes. These begin with the most simple, stand-alone project management templates to manage small projects individually. At the other end of the spectrum are project portfolio management tools that allow large numbers of projects to be managed synergistically. In most cases, your requirements will lie somewhere in the middle. What follows therefore, is a brief discussion of the various types of project management tools.
Basic, Stand-Alone Tools: These are the most common. These cover tools such as spreadsheets and simple collaboration tools that allow people to work together and share basic data. Learning how to use these tools is easy, but productivity is low and each user can only work on one project at a time.
Collaborative Tools: One step above the basic tools are project management tools that centralize data and allow users to work together over company networks. In many cases tools are browser based and many users can use them to handle multiple projects. These tools tend to keep things simple and may lack features, such as project scheduling and costing.
Mid-Range Project Management Tools: Mid-range tools strike a balance between the simplicity of collaborative tools and the power of enterprise-class solutions. These tools will have a very wide feature set and will certainly require users to be trained before they can exploit the solution.
High-End Project Management Tools: These tools are very powerful, can tackle hundreds of projects simultaneously, need users to be extensively trained, and can be really complicated to use.
Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Tools: PPM tools go beyond project management and look at managing portfolios of projects. PPM tools can be very complex to use and can only be used by organizations that are mature enough for their exploitation. Using a PPM suite will really be a strategic decision for your company.
Key Questions to Ask
Regardless of the class of project management software you think is right for you, there are some basic selection criteria that you will always consider:
- What class of tool does the solution offer? Does it meet your needs?
- Will the tool adapt to you or will it force you to change your work methods?
- Does it meet your requirements completely?
- Is the tool easy to use?
- Is the vendor responsive?
- Is it affordable? Do you pay an outright fee or a take a subscription?
- What features are a must-have for your business?
The project management solution can be hosted on your own premises or in the cloud. Many users are uncomfortable with keeping their data in the cloud and therefore still prefer to use a premise-based solution. Nowadays, however, most cloud-based project management solutions are administered more professionally and can have better security than solutions that run off your own servers. You do not need any specialized staff to manage a cloud-based solution. Users simply log into the website and work.
Cloud solutions are also natively available on smartphones and tablets. This gives you the added benefit of mobility. A project management tool that can be accessed while on the move can be a real force multiplier. With a premise-based solution, you will have to take extra steps to ensure that the solution supports mobile users.
Integration with Your Accounting Systems
Accounting is a very important aspect of project management. Ideally, the project management solution you select should integrate directly with your existing accounting solution.
A simple checklist will help you select the best project management software. When you have shortlisted a few solutions, use the checklist to assess the compatibility of the chosen vendor. Here are a key elements that should be included in your list:
- Project Gantt View
- Resource Management
- Portfolio Management
- Time Management
- Cost Tracking
- Risk Management
- Document Management
- Change Management
- Workflow Management
- Ticket Management
- Web Services API
Ease of Use
- Customizable Dashboards
- Intuitive Operations
- Custom Fields
- Custom Forms
- Custom Reports
- Training Options
- Update Frequency and Costs
- Vendor Response Times
- Pricing Model
- Cost of Ownership Over 3 to 5 Years
Ask vendors to demonstrate their project management templates using a project that you most often execute so that you can see how the solution will work and whether it will really make a difference to your projects. There are a large number of project management solutions in the market and if you research carefully, you are likely to find one that fits your needs. A good solution will help you cut down on chaos and clutter, and will keep your projects on track. Selecting a solution can be a complex task. Careful evaluation and selection will ensure that you get the best possible return on your investment.