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Project Management - Software - What to Look For
Project management is a rigorous discipline that needs skill, expertise and experience. If you're a project manager, finding the right type of software to help you manage your projects can make things much easier. Project management software is designed to help project managers and project teams plan, carry out and deliver projects from the initial stages through to successful delivery and beyond.
There's never been more choice in project management software and whether you want locally installed software or a cloud based application, there are hundreds of options. This article explores the main functions of project management software to help project managers narrow down the type of software that will work for them. We'll explore:
- Planning and scheduling tasks and actions
- Managing resources involved in a project
- Allocation of tasks to the right areas
- Tracking progress against tasks
- Tracking issues and risks
- Reporting on progress
- Financial and budget management
- Other areas to consider
Planning and scheduling tasks and actions
Whether you need to understand the high level project plan or break it down into individual tasks and actions, project management software should provide both summary and detailed views of project plans.
This will help you understand exactly what needs to be done, when and by whom.
Managing resources involved in a project
Whether you're managing people, processes, third parties or something else, it's vital to understand the resources that you have available to complete your project.
Project management software should have resource management built in, so that you can understand all of the resources that are available to you at any moment in time.
Allocation of tasks to the right areas
Once you know the tasks that need to be completed and the resources that you have available to complete them, the next step is to assign those tasks. As the tasks are assigned, it's vital to let the relevant areas know that they have tasks allocated to them.
Good project management software should help to automate some of these processes for you and may have communication and collaboration facilities built in.
Tracking progress against tasks
As tasks are progressed and completed, activities can be recorded in the project management software. This means that a project manager should be able to get an overview of what's being achieved and delivered across their project.
Tracking issues and risks
Issues and risks can have a significant impact on a project and need to be carefully planned for and mitigated if they happen. Good project management software should have issue tracking and risk management and planning built into it.
Reporting on progress
Reporting and keeping stakeholders informed is a big part of a project manager's role. Project management software should allow you to quickly and easily produce reports that you can then send to interested parties.
Financial and budget management
It's important that projects are able to deliver on time, on scope and on budget. If you're working to a tight budget, having a day-to-day understanding of where money is being spent is essential.
Other areas to consider when choosing project management software
In addition to the specific activities where project management software can assist you and your team, you might want to consider the following:
- Collaboration - How easy is it for multiple people to access and use the software at once?
- Communication - Does the software have appropriate communication tools built in such as email, SMS or instant messaging?
- Ease of use - Is the software quick to learn and use and is it intuitive?
- Document repository - Does the software allow you to store and update documents related to the project like project plans, schedules and reports?
The main types of project management software
There are two main types of project management software:
- Locally installed software, distinct to your PC.
- Cloud-based applications, accessible via a web-browser.
Locally installed software
Until fairly recently, locally installed software was the normal choice for most businesses, and the most popular program by far was MS Project. MS Project is a very mature piece of software that has been refined and developed over many years and works closely with Sharepoint, Microsoft's online project repository.
If you want locally installed software, MS Project is almost certainly the most fully featured project management software that you can find, although there are a number of alternatives, many of them free.
Over the last few years, cloud-based project management applications have become very popular. These have the advantage of allowing for easy collaboration between teams and providing one central, constantly updated place to manage projects. Some of the more well-known cloud-based project management applications include Basecamp and Asana.
Most project management software offers a free trial; you can easily download some local project management software or sign up to a limited time trial on a cloud-based application, try them out and see what works for you.
Read more of our helpful, expert guides to successfully managing a project:
Introduction to project management - The main concepts of project management
How project management can help your small business - How project management can help your small business launch new products, services and processes
The main objectives of project management - The things project management should accomplish
The project management plan - One of the most vital aspects of getting a project right
What is a project baseline? - How to baseline a project
Resource scheduling and planning - Making sure the right people do the right things at the right time
‘What If?’ scenarios - A critical part of risk and issue management
Project portfolio management - For when just managing one project isn’t enough
Communications management for projects - Getting your project messages read and acted on
The right project management software - Essential to running a project well
Get project management experience - Want to break into the field? Here are some tips and tricks
Project management training - How to find the right training course for you
Project management consulting - Learn about consulting for project management
Choosing the right specialist - Make sure you get your money’s worth
Project management and project planning
Do you use project management software?
Ultimately, it's down to individual project managers to choose the best type of project management software for their needs.
There's no shortage of choices out there; thinking about the functions you need the software to perform and asking the right questions will help you to find the perfect solution and make managing your projects that much easier.