Project management is a challenging field. Project teams are constantly growing and changing over the course of a project, there are multiple communication channels to manage, and customer needs always seem to be evolving.
Take into account the ever-changing competitive marketplace and the pressure to continually find more efficient processes, and the result is an increasingly stressful environment.
Spreadsheets and emails are inefficient for managing all of the balls that a project manager needs to keep in the air. Relying too heavily on these tools can lead to data errors, miscommunications, confusion, and frustration since the input is manual and multiple data versions often exist.
Your team will burn out, and your projects will fall apart if you don’t find a better way to organize all these pieces and streamline collaboration and work.
Project management software is the obvious solution. However, there are tons of options on the market today, so how do you know which is the right one for your team?
Here are the 6 questions you should ask to narrow down the playing field when evaluating the best tools for project management.
1. Does it make it easier to manage my team’s time and resources?
As projects progress, resource requirements will change, and attempting to track resources available, needed, and assigned is next to impossible in a simple spreadsheet.
But failure to conduct proper time and resource management can lead to project failure. In fact, 18% of projects fail due to poor resource forecasting, and 21% fail due to not having an adequate number of available resources.
It’s important to look for a project management tool that allows you to monitor overall resource utilization and enables you to re-prioritize projects and tasks as requirements and priorities change.
The best project management software offers a robust workload view that shows you who has reached full capacity, and who is still available to take on additional tasks.
Viewing this information in a timeline or calendar format will help you visualize which tasks are in progress now, and what activities are coming up. You can then use this information to prioritize, assign, and schedule tasks effectively.
The best project management software offers a timeline or Gantt chart view that also allows you to add or reschedule projects in a couple clicks. The best project management tools provide the ability to drag and drop projects or tasks on the timeline to change their due dates, and shift the corresponding deadlines of any dependent tasks or subtasks.
2. Will it help my team jumpstart projects quickly and effectively?
In order to create a balance between robust planning and speedy execution, it’s important to look for software that supports efficient project creation and setup. One best practice in project management is to use forms and templates to aid in the efficient processing of new tasks and projects.
For example, 2 key features included in the best apps for project management are:
- Project templates. Look for a tool that provides you with the ability to create and modify project and task templates. These will allow you to create new projects from a baseline, instead of from scratch. You’ll reduce the amount of time involved and improve planning.
- Work intake forms. Select software that includes customizable request forms. This will ensure your team gets all the important information without asking any unnecessary questions.
The best online project management tools come with a dynamic request form feature. This feature changes the form questions based on the information the requester provides as they are filling it out.
For example, if your technical lead is requesting an engineering change, the form will prompt for different information than if your sales lead is requesting a change to the contract terms and conditions. This way team members don’t have to fill out information that is irrelevant for a particular request.
3. How closely will I be able to track my team’s progress?
As your project progresses and your enterprise grows and changes, it can become difficult to track and manage projects without the help of a powerful tool. Attempting to take in details through informal conversations, team meetings, or emails can create havoc as updates are lost, misunderstood, or forgotten.
The best project management software for Mac or PC should help you track your team’s progress, so you don’t have to try to keep all the information in your head or your inbox. You need a tool that allows you to stay up to date without micromanaging your team.
Look for software that supports collaborative work by allowing you to see what’s being done in real time and that provides automatic notifications when key tasks are progressed. It should also flag tasks that are falling behind or past due.
Select a tool that provides the right level of visibility to all relevant stakeholders. For instance:
- Does it have customizable dashboard views that can be shared with the team, so that everyone can track progress?
- Does it support views that show the status of all active tasks and when they are due so that you can quickly assess progress and identify any red flags?
4. Will it streamline collaboration, feedback, and approvals?
When you promote teamwork and support diversity, the likelihood of project success increases. But, without a system that can support efficient collaboration, work can be duplicated, tasks can be missed, errors can occur, and confusion can ensue.
It’s important to select a tool that can support the gathering of feedback and the processing of approvals so that valuable information isn’t lost, and a track record is kept of all decisions and changes.
Relying on emails or shared computer drives can result in information going missing, being duplicated, or not being properly prioritized. Plus, these options don’t provide a means for tracking revisions and sign-offs.
The best project management apps allow you to bring all files and feedback together in one place. This means that documents can be tied to their associated projects or tasks, so everyone knows where to find them, and collaborators receive real-time alerts whenever there is new comment or @mention, streamlining communication.
The software should also support proofing and approvals, which will take the guesswork out of the revision process. The ability to visually markup documents minimizes ambiguous feedback and allows participants to see each other’s changes and work through conflicting edits in real-time.
Some of the best software for project management also supports integrations so that files can be uploaded directly from Google Docs, Box, and other asset management tools. Managing revisions in a single place creates a clear edit and approval trail.
5. Is it flexible enough to meet my team’s diverse needs and requirements?
Often, free project management software is focused on offering only one aspect of project management or supporting only one methodology. For example, what if your software only supports a single task view and some members of your team find it difficult to work that way?
Even the best project management tool will fail if your team refuses to use it. One of the most effective methods for increasing user adoption is making sure the software can be customized to their work styles and preferences.
The ability to customize the following 5 aspects can provide the flexibility your team requires:
- Project workflows. It’s important to select a tool that can support the processes and workflows already used within your organization.
- Status updates. Project and task statuses should reflect the progression of your project. If the options are too generic, or not relevant to your industry or business, updates become meaningless.
- Hierarchies and structures. Each company and project has its own set of hierarchies, whether it’s projects within a portfolio or subfolders within folders. These structures need to be built within the software to support strategic management and reporting.
- Approval requirements. The approval process may be different on certain actions. For example, any change that alters the project budget, scope, or schedule by more than 10% may require additional approvals. Your software should accommodate these rules.Task and project views. Changing views can promote user adoption. Some people prefer working with a task list view, while others are more visual and prefer a Gantt chart layout.
6. Will it free my team from busywork and give us more time to be strategic?
Busywork is activities that keep you and your team occupied, but don’t provide much value for your project or your organization. Examples of busywork include:
- Creating reports
- Compiling data
- Completing routine check-ins
- Logging hours worked
- Updating progress
- Answering emails
These tasks still need to occur, but the goal is to have them take up as little time as possible. The best software for project management will help automate and streamline these low-value tasks to free you up to focus on the high-value ones.
Leading project management solutions centralize conversations into a single shared workspace. This removes the need for relying on email, spreadsheets, and other messy mediums, and it saves you the trouble of combining notes and action items from disparate sources.
Look for a tool that allows for all communication to be kept in the context of specific projects, tasks, or files. This way, everyone always knows what it relates to, and you can avoid lengthy recap emails.
Integration capability is also important to evaluate when selecting your project management software. You will want a solution that is capable of integrating with the tools your team already uses daily, such as Gmail or Slack.
This integration supports one single source of truth, while still supporting the access and entering of information through the existing tools. Their ability to “talk to one another” effectively centralizes communication, while still allowing contributors to work however they’re most comfortable.
Templates are a great way to free your team from busywork within the project. The best software for project management will allow you to save common tasks, initiatives, and structures, so you can simply clone them each time you start a new task, log a new risk, or propose a new change.
Rather than starting from scratch, key components like dependencies, task duration, assignees, and reports are automatically copied over. Knowing exactly what your new initiative entails makes scheduling and execution less stressful and more efficient for everyone involved.
Evaluate your software options
With hundreds of project management tools on the market, finding the best one for your team may take some work. Asking these 6 questions will help you to identify the key features that are important for your team and narrow down your options. Check out our picks for the best project management software review sites.
Why not try out Wrike for free today? Our award-winning project management platform may be exactly what you need to jumpstart projects, streamline collaboration, make smarter decisions, and so much more.