The Definitive Guide to Project Planning Software

Every successful project needs a great plan. But how can you develop a project plan that’s actionable and easy to implement? 

More than 28% of projects end up failing due to inaccurate estimates and poor project planning. For companies that don’t realize the value in project planning, it could mean a lot of wasted time, resources, and efforts. In the United States alone, project failure costs about $50 billion in poor performance and revenue loss. 

From minimizing stress to eliminating scope creep to managing difficult deadlines, having a simple roadmap of all project activities ensures that the team knows what to do and how. Planning out a project helps project managers to design its scope, assign necessary responsibilities, create budgets, and decide the future course of action.

What is project planning?

Project planning is a critical step in the project life cycle that guides the team in creating its scope, monitoring deliverables, and executing the project. 

It helps the team get clarity on the project's end goals and how they can be achieved within predefined budgets, timelines, and schedules. 

Project delays, budget overruns, and unnecessary rework can be avoided with proper project planning. No matter how simple a project may look or the pressure upon you to start, spending time on planning is well worth the time and effort. A detailed project planning exercise can help define the project activities, future roadmap, and project schedules. The steps include identifying:

  • All project activities (including the name of the team member assigned to each task and estimated time for completion)
  • Project milestones
  • Project deliverables
  • Interdependencies of milestones and tasks 
  • Resource requirement lists and plan of allocation
  • Task durations and predetermined date of completion, including estimated time frames 

What is project planning software?

When more than 77% of high-performing projects use project plan software, you surely don't want yours to be left behind.

There is no need for your team members to drown in multiple spreadsheets, sticky notes, or weekly Zoom meetings to stay on track. Project planning software can do that for you.

Project planning software helps teams plan, organize, and implement projects efficiently. It automates workflows, facilitates seamless collaboration, and accelerates project delivery.

With an appropriate project planning tool, your team can focus on what's important and let the software do the heavy lifting. Powerful project planning tools like Wrike can help you monitor work progress, collaborate on shared documents, and communicate in real-time with your team.

Teams with simple project needs may choose a Kanban board or simple checklist. Teams working on complex projects may require more robust tools to help them iterate faster, showcase customized progress reports, or effortlessly manage a multitude of Agile projects.

Using project planner tools can streamline project planning and optimize resource management to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Different types of project planning software

If you are deliberating the installation of a project planning tool, first find out the type of software that will likely suit your team's needs. 

Let's dive deeper into the different project planning tools, how they can help, and why you should consider project management software in the first place.

There are two different kinds of project planning software:

  • On-premise software: On-premise software is based in the company's data center and managed by an in-house team of information technology professionals.
  • Cloud software: Cloud project planning tools are based online and delivered as a software-as-a-service by the service providers. Widely used by small and medium companies, this project management software is managed by the service provider's support team.

Do you need project planning software?

Choosing a project planning tool need not be challenging. If your team knows what they want, they can simply choose the software that best matches their list of needs.

But what if your team is unsure of the features required? In that case, you need to ask the right questions to identify where they need support.

Since every tool has different features, functionalities, and prices, these questions can help eliminate what the team does not want. To start, take a deeper look into your project planning, workflows, and work in progress to notice if any of these symptoms exist:

Lack of effective organization

Does your team struggle with organization issues? Some of the telltale signs can be missed deadlines, misplaced files, or a lack of mutual understanding amongst team members.

If you notice anything like this, it’s a pretty good indicator that your company can benefit from a project planning software such as Wrike, which can help your team get more organized. Real-time communication, a clear view of project milestones, and a holistic snapshot of project progress can help prevent any delays.

Issues with team communication

More than 29% of projects fail due to poor team communication. When there are many stakeholders involved, fast and seamless communication is essential for project success.

If you're facing issues with facilitating a clear channel of communication between cross-functional project team members, external consultants, and end-users, consider introducing project planning tools into the equation.

Quit sending multiple emails — instead, tag users within Wrike, where they can access a centralized hub of files and documents. Keeping everything in one place allows teams to work more efficiently, reducing time and resource wastage in the process.

Inaccurate project planning

Lack of project planning is one of the biggest challenges facing project teams. As per the State of Project Management survey, more than 42% of project managers report that they require better planning support.

Using project planning software, you'll be able to turn discussions into real results by creating the right waterfall or Agile plan. Visualize critical path analysis and deadlines by using Wrike’s one-click Gantt Charts.

Since your project planning tools can store all your project data, teams can easily review previous project timelines and budgets. This will assist in making clearer future project estimates for your team and client quotes. 

However, having project planning software will not automatically be a panacea for everything going wrong in a project. Though it does give your team the right tools for the job, they will still need to know how the tool can help them.

Understanding the benefits of project planning tools

Rushed planning can disrupt team communication — and stress out the entire team if any project activity does not go to plan.

Introducing project planning software can help boost team collaboration and simplify file sharing, enabling your organization to scale faster and more efficiently. Online planning software can be highly flexible and adapt well to team workflows and needs.

Let's take a closer look at how project planning tools can help streamline your project and accelerate faster and on-time delivery.

Improved planning, organizing, and scheduling

Planning and scheduling are critical for project success. Utilizing a project planning tool can help assign resources, delegate tasks, schedule timelines, and create project milestones conveniently.

Even though software isn’t strictly necessary for this, having it helps your team plan the entire project from initiation to the final delivery. Prioritizing tasks, automating routine workflows, and identifying dependencies becomes so much easier. 

Faster collaboration

Poor stakeholder collaboration is a common reason for project failure. More than 55% of project teams say that they are not clear on the ultimate project goals.

Since most project teams are made up of interdisciplinary employees, they need to be in touch with each other consistently. Communication gaps can cause otherwise avoidable delays and wastage of resources.

Simplify your team collaboration using a project planning tool that keeps all communication in one place. With team collaboration templates, custom dashboards, and tagging features, Wrike makes collaboration easier for teams across floors, countries, and even continents.

Easier delegation, file access, and sharing

Project planning tools provide visibility into team workloads, allowing managers to delegate project tasks efficiently. With powerful software such as Wrike, you'll be able to view assigned tasks by due dates and priority, visualizing work progress and increasing focus automatically.

Team members instantly know their assigned tasks and can complete them as per predefined priorities. Any potential slip-ups are minimized with automated reminders sent to the team before deadlines.

Project planning tools offer a centralized cloud database to securely store files and documents. Wrike lets users make changes to the original file, leave comments or any annotations, and maintain a change log to boost transparency.

The Definitive Guide to Project Planning Software 2
Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Improved risk mitigation

Every project manager knows how to firefight. Not literally, though! Great managers always keep a bird's eye view of project progress to ensure everything goes to plan, identifying and eliminating any potential bottlenecks as and when they occur.

Project planning software like Wrike can be a project manager's best friend. It helps with risk mitigation strategies, preventing scope creep by deploying immediate countermeasures to avoid delays or slippage. This in turn improves overall team efficiency, optimizes resources, and keeps the project budget in check.

Enables remote working

Do you manage teams located across countries or continents? Bring your employees together by integrating an online project planning tool that uses customized workflows, a digital workspace, and a powerful reporting functionality to keep all stakeholders informed.

Use Wrike to limit work-in-progress, prevent delays, and dismantle silos in geographically distributed teams.

Manages complexity and helps project teams scale 

Many teams prefer keeping project planning simple by using sticky notes or spreadsheets. With one person in charge of all the data, teams end up spending considerable time trying to get project updates. 

For project teams to succeed and stay competitive, deploying suitable project software is a must-have — especially when managing project portfolios or more complex tasks.

What are the challenges of project planning software?

Project planning can be complicated, requiring teams to have industry-specific skills and the necessary project planning expertise. In addition to being informed of the latest project techniques, you need to ensure that the project stays within the predefined time limit, scope, and budget.

Projects fail even with the most effective project planning tools, hybrid project management methodologies, and  project teams. 

Before purchasing project planning software, consider the challenges your team may face in implementing and managing it.

Legacy systems and infrastructure issues

Legacy systems are software housed in the company's servers in their physical offices and managed by the internal IT team.

Understandably, organizations have invested considerable resources in purchasing, implementing, maintaining, and upgrading these systems. They may not realize that these legacy systems are no longer relevant, competitive, or even suitable for their employees’ advanced needs.

Many stakeholders may not want to use innovative new project planning tools, even if they're aware of the potential benefits. 

To modify any change-resistant personas and get executive buy-in, project managers will need to communicate the enhancement in organizational outcomes that will come as a result.

Sufficient software specific expertise

Purchasing a project planning tool may be simple, but finding the team members with the knowledge to implement it can be challenging.

Complex or larger project planning software implementations typically require a greater level of expertise and execution experience. 

Smaller companies may have to spend some time finding the appropriate talent with the right blend of skills and experience to enable effective implementation.

Complex user-level permissions and requirements

Every company needs secure systems that are password-protected for all its stakeholders. Implementing a project planning tool will require various internal team members, managers, and executives to have their own user-level permissions and rights based on their roles and responsibilities.

For example, an IT team member may be given complete access since they need to make updates, upgrades, and relevant changes to the tool. An employee attached to a specific project need not be given access to any other project space except their own.

Many financial project planning tool implementations may also require legal and statutory compliance with company policies, industry-specific standards, rules, and regulations.

Third-party integration and interface issues

No company uses just one software. Even smaller firms use 25-50 software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions on average in 2021. It's essential for a project planning tool to be compatible with other software.

Project managers need to be aware of software compatibility and the integration needs of different tools to understand how they complement each other.

For example, a financial project planning tool needs to be compatible with the tools currently used for managing projects, payment and billing, contract management, CRM, etc.

What features should you look for in project planning software?

Are you all set to get a project planning tool for your company? Before proceeding, check out the top features to consider when searching for the right one.

All tools are not made the same. Although many project planning tools come bundled within broader project management software, their functionalities and uses may differ.

Here are a few parameters to consider when perusing project planning software options:

Ability to scale

Growth is the number one objective on every CEO's to-do list. 53% of company executives understand that growth is the key to the company's survival and success.

A project planning tool that offers limited features will not be able to match up to the business dynamics or evolving market needs in the future. 

When a company grows, its needs, priorities, and objectives change as well. Ensure that your project planning tool becomes a growth enabler and not a growth disruptor. Pick one that lets you add new functionalities, additional modules, storage space, or more team members.

Customizations and reliable integrations

Every company's needs and priorities are different. Versatile project management software will let you configure the tool for the specific needs of the internal team, business objectives, and external stakeholders. 

An online project planning tool such as Wrike lets project teams access files from anywhere, customize dashboards, and toggle between diverse views based on their priorities.

Make sure that the project planning tool you choose is also compatible with third-party software. Since companies use multiple programs for their work processes, having tools that are compatible with each other helps streamline workflows and accelerate project delivery.

Suits your needs

Just like a to-do-list helps when you go shopping, having a list of must-have features helps when choosing between online project planner tools.

Classify your needs into ‘must-have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ lists. Compare the different tools based on their features and see if they can help your team plan projects successfully.

Once a specific tool checks off all the boxes in the must-have list, move on to the nice-to-have list. This can help you quickly narrow down the options to find the one that’s right for your company’s unique needs.

Supports your project management methodology

60% of project managers prefer using a hybrid approach that combines iterative and predictive methods to deliver projects.

Most project managers have a favored project management methodology. Even if they don’t choose one approach, most of them use a combination of two or more to improve their project success rate.

Here are a few of the most popular and widely-used project management methodologies that the majority of project planner tools work with:

  • Gantt charts: A Gantt chart visually represents the project plan, activities, and tasks to be completed. It reflects various interdependencies, project milestones, and the duration of each project task.
  • Critical path analysis (CPA): Critical path analysis is a diagram that creates a project timeline by estimating the number of tasks to be completed, their dependencies, milestones, and timelines.
  • Kanban: A Kanban board is a visual project tracking tool that lets you move tasks as their status changes. It helps the team understand the status of different activities and estimate the time required to complete them.

Opportunity for a free trial

Buyer’s remorse is real. Why not take a free trial before purchase and see how it works?

Find out if the project planning tool gives you the ability to test drive the software for free. Doing this will help your team understand what they are looking for from their project planner tool.

Find out if the tool can be customized, is compatible with other tools you use, and simple enough to integrate with your internal workflows.

No tool is perfect, but with a bit of research and thorough review, you’ll be able to find one that ticks most of your project planning needs.

How much does project planning software cost?

The cost of project planning software is a significant factor in its purchase. Every company has a software budget irrespective of their size and nature and wants the best return on investment.

Since project planning tools are priced differently, take a close look at how their pricing is structured. While many companies charge a fixed cost per month, others have a monthly fee per user.

One of the best ways to decide if a tool is right for your company is to determine the biggest savings or gain it could give you. If the project planning tool helps you automate manual tasks, optimize resources, and boost on-time project delivery, it could be a great fit.

Why try Wrike as your project planner tool?

Project planning software that helps you map out your projects, generate customized reports, and enable seamless communication amongst team members may be just what your project needs. 

An intuitive, simple project planning tool like Wrike can help your teams work more efficiently together.

Wrike helps teams plan, develop, and execute projects smoothly from initiation to launch and achieve their individual, team, and organizational goals. Try a free two-week trial to see how Wrike can help you transform internal workflows, align stakeholders, and seamlessly execute all projects.

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