Even the most methodical and well-organised project manager can benefit from the helping hand of an effective piece of software for developing plans, budgeting, allocating resources, managing risks, tracking progress and analysing workload. Indeed many of the best project managers have their favourite project management tools and apps. Why? Because they can, quite simply, help you to do your job better and quicker.
Software tools for project managers are widely available so why not use them to your advantage by helping you stay organised and ensure you have firm control over your projects? Good PM software can enable you to hone your organisation skills, refine your scheduling and have a better understanding of your project costs and risks.
There are plenty of well-known project management software solutions out there and plenty of reviews to help make specific decisions but let’s not look at specific packages but rather the different types of software and how they can help improve project outcomes.
Some software solutions have a wide range of different features and functionality but others specialise in just one area of project management so consider carefully the parts of your projects that might have room for improvement and trial various solutions first to determine which are most suitable for you and for your organisation. Some PM apps are free but enterprise level software can be a major investment so make sure you know what you need and exactly what the advantages of a particular package might be.
How Can Software Help a Project Manager?
Software cannot teach you to be a good project manager; it is not a short-cut to professional training and hard-won experience but for PMs with a good grasp of a particular methodology and several projects under their belt a good tool can help reinforce a methodology and help prevent chaos developing on large or complex projects.
There are tools to help at the initial planning stage to ensure resources have been accurately assigned to prevent future problems; there are tools to keep control of change management to ensure the project stays within budgetary boundaries and within scope. There are tools for managing requirements documentation and other project documentation to ensure everyone involved always has access to the latest version of a document and knows where to find it. The right software can help with establishing priorities and maintaining the right priorities going forward; it can help with setting and changing milestones and deadlines.
With so many real-world projects being run on a global basis involving disparate teams there are also tools that can help you manage these different teams, ensure everyone, whatever their location or time zone, has access to the same up-to-date project information and that teams can communicate and collaborate effectively. And there are time tracking & task management features to ensure you can manage the people in those disparate teams efficiently.
From enterprise level Project, Portfolio & Programme Management Software to small apps designed for specific industries or small companies, there are literally hundreds of different software tools and apps to choose from. From installed software to web-based, cloud-hosted products and mobile apps there are tools that can improve your life as a project manager.
Depending on the maturity of project management within your organisation you may be looking for a good ‘all-rounder’ to help organise the general day-to-day activities of running a project and keep control of schedules, task lists etc.
Many tools combine a range of features, for instance, resource planning, budgeting, scheduling functionality and much more can be found within a single tool. Some examples of such tools are MavenLink, which helps to efficiently balance parameters such as budgets, timelines, and people, particularly in service organisations in the Engineering, Architecture, Technology and Marketing sectors. Or LiquidPlanner, which is ideal for either simple or complex projects, especially IT projects and can also be used for managing portfolios. Some include reporting capabilities at different levels for the team, stakeholders or senior executives, such as WorkFront.
Planning software could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or MS/Project but if you are really going to improve how you plan, schedule and report progress you need to be sure you use a tool that makes it easy to communicate your plan to others.
One of the biggest issues with running a project is keeping stakeholders and senior executives engaged throughout the life of the project so using a software tool to help stakeholders and clients visualise and truly understand progress, dependencies, critical path, resources etc can ensure they stay engaged after the initial excitement of project launch and that your communications with them are always clear and engaging so that there are minimal opportunities for misunderstandings.
That’s also true throughout the project so a small, simple project may be fine using basic tools but as the size and complexity increases a software tool designed specifically to help project managers keep control of their schedule and resources will serve you better.
Software for Project Financials
Often in mature project management environments the typical areas of project management are well-controlled with established methodologies and good all-round PM tools, but these types of environments could also benefit from more detailed insights into project costs.
With so many businesses now being project-focused there are also tools such as FinancialForce that are specifically for the financial side of projects; and not just for managing budgets but tools that provide insight into the overall cost of all projects (both internal and external costs) to enable business-wide decisions to be made regarding which types of projects to focus on.
Collaboration tools are able to provide social collaboration features for growing companies to help keep track of who is working on which task or project, seeing where there are bottle-necks or unused resources, co-ordinating people and teams, setting priorities and having an accurate overview of progress.
Organisation and Team Size
Project management software comes in all shapes and sizes so it is important to look for a tool aimed at organisations and teams of your size to avoid either paying for a whole array of features that are irrelevant and that you will not need or, conversely, finding the tool is lacking some essential feature for your projects’ size and/or complexity. Small businesses don’t want or need enterprise level software, but something they can get up and running with quickly and easily. Fortunately there are plenty of tools aimed at this market.
Whilst, in theory, a project is a project, many software tools are specifically aimed at certain industries such as IT, communications companies, marketing and advertising, creative industries. Choosing the right tool for your industry will ensure the tool and it’s features are meaningful to the people using it.
There are a number of software tools such as TargetProcess and MeisterPlan that have been designed specifically to support agile approaches like Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Kanban, DSDM and Agile Unified Process (AUP). The best of them are adaptable to a particular approach and the needs of the organisation and some can be integrated with other PM tools or used stand-alone.
All too often the important lessons and best practices that should be learned from previous projects is not properly captured for use in future projects but there are even tools which specifically provide a database in which this information can be easily recorded and made available for future use to improve subsequent project outcomes.
Specific time management software and apps are always useful in project management. We all know that every project manager is short of time at some point, if not always. Even if you are not going for a fully-featured software tool there are plenty of apps that can help you streamline your schedule in such a way that you’re working as efficiently as possible.
Large organisations may want the control of having software installed on their own systems but many tools that are now available are completely web based so there is no software to install. This, of course, keeps the costs down for small companies without the resources to manage software installations and handle the data security issues. These tools can offer cloud and mobile support for project management professionals from any location.
Clearly there is plenty of choice when it comes to project management software, whether it’s for a small, growing business or a well-established corporation. Whether you just want to capture and organise activities on a Gantt Chart, assign tasks, and follow team activity or want to better organise your project documentation. You may want social collaboration features such as chat facilities, alerts and integrated calendars or need a financial overview of the costs of all your projects.
One thing to remember about any PM software is that it has to be intuitive and easy to use so there is no steep learning curve and you can start to take advantage of the capabilities to efficiently manage your projects straight away. Advanced features are of no benefit if they are complicated to use. You want a tool that doesn’t require you to be tech savvy to operate. Some level of flexibility to tailor the tool for your organisation’s needs is also beneficial, with the ability to grow if you do need more advanced features in the future.