Project Management Tools Overview
Uniting your team and preparing them to work as a unit is integral to the success of your projects. But without the proper tools to manage these projects, you may be doubling your efforts instead of optimizing it. By spending time maintaining a dozen spreadsheets and trying to stay on top of an overflowing inbox, you will be missing the opportunity to be strategic with your time. This is the importance of using the right tools for the job.
Below we tackle two general groups of tools that you should use for managing work more efficiently: your work management/collaboration tools and your personal productivity tools.
Project management tools can vary from team to team, but they are more commonly used as computer programs enabling project managers to plan, execute and manage their projects in one centralized virtual location.
Project management software can be used for any of the following:
- Project planning
- Project scheduling
- Resource allocation and capacity planning
- Budgeting and monitoring project costs
- Quality management
- Storing and sharing documentation and project records
- Creating and publishing project reports
- Tracking the actual time spent on project tasks versus plan
- Analyzing trends and forecasting
Who should use project management tools?
Anyone that manages projects can benefit from a project management software. Even if you don’t run formal projects or don’t have “project manager” as your title, project management software still provides value.
In fact, many companies that don’t run formal projects still use project management software to plan, organize, track, monitor and execute their projects.
Why use project management software?
Managing a project without the proper software is possible, but it will increase the risk of errors and add inefficiencies to the process. Project management software allows for visibility and team collaboration that can otherwise be difficult to attain.
For example, while it is possible to use spreadsheets for project tracking,
it takes a lot of time and effort to do correctly. In addition, manually updating spreadsheets increases the risk of manual errors and, in order for the rest of the team to see the update, the spreadsheet has to be re-saved and re-uploaded to a central location.
Other issues project managers have with spreadsheets are:
- Multiple versions of the same file existing and constantly having to identify which is the most accurate and up to date
- When more than one person needs to update the spreadsheet at the same time, it can be tough to sync each version or work together in real-time
- Security can be an issue when the spreadsheet is being uploaded and downloaded multiple times in multiple places
- There are often delays between activities occurring and updates being recorded
Project management software is designed to overcome all of these issues.
Here are fifteen additional reasons why people choose to use project management software:
- Creating new projects and tasks from old files and templates is easy
- Modifying existing projects and tasks automatically updates linked tasks, dependencies, and other variables in real-time.
- Building reports and dashboard views to visualize project performance is easier.
- There is less risk of losing your progress than with manual tracking methods.
- Stakeholders can be granted access to view real-time progress and reports for greater visibility.
- When everything is in one place, you get a clearer overview of the project’s overall health.
- Automated notifications can be set up to alert you when certain actions occur, such as when a task is assigned to you or if a task is past due.
- Lessons and learnings from previous projects, as well as documentation, can be stored in one centralized location.
- Certain project management platforms integrate with other applications you, your team or your customers use, increasing efficiency.
- Project management software can coordinate tasks and automate workflows, so that team members are notified when one task is complete and another needs to start.
How to select the best project management software
There are a variety of project management softwares in the market, but choosing the right one for you and your team is critical. Here are some questions to ask when assessing project management software options:
- Will my team actually use it?
- Can multiple departments use it?
- Does it support transparency and clear communication?
- Is it flexible?
- Can you generate custom reports?
- Does it easily (and securely) allow for external communication/users?
- Does it integrate with other tools we use?
One of the most important things to think about is the the long-term strategy when selecting your software. Getting your team familiar and comfortable with a project management software takes time and resources. You want to make sure you’re choosing one that can grow and adapt with your team, not limit it.
Key features when selecting a project management software
Identifying key features your team may need as they adopt project management workflows in your tool is crucial. A few things to look for:
- Real-time collaboration. Project management software should allow for collaboration between team members and stakeholders. People should be able to access and make changes to the system at the same time.
- Sharing & storing documents. Project management software should allow for the sharing and storage of documents. This provides a knowledge repository for your projects.
- Cost management. Tracking and reporting of costs as well as monitoring for potential overruns.
- Reporting. Customizable reports and dashboards that allow for real-time reporting. You should be able to filter and format based on the criteria that are important to you.
- Ease of use. If the system is too complex, your team will not want to use it.
- Template creation. It’s important to be able to create and customize templates so that you’re not building each project and activity from scratch.
- Warning flags. The system should be able to trigger alerts or warnings when things go off track, such as when an activity is late.
- Scheduling. You will want a software system that allows for the creation of a schedule baseline, and the ability to monitor your actual schedule against it.
- Time management - Actual time worked will need to be tracked in the system to monitor progress and manage both labor costs and resources.
- Resource allocation - You should be able to assign resource roles (i.e., accountant), and individual people (i.e., John Doe) to tasks in the system.
- Customization - Software should be flexible enough to adapt to the different projects and processes that your organization has.
- Controls & governance - While flexibility is important, a system also needs to have sufficient controls and restrictions in place to ensure data is secure and approvals are tracked and recorded.
- Integration capability - The software should be able to integrate with your other business systems such as your financial management system.
- Unique calendars - You will want to have calendars that can be changed to reflect your work days and hours, as well as updated to reflect any shutdown periods or vacations.
Other Essential Project Tools
Projects come in various complexities. Some are simple three-step processes involving two people, while others are intricate sequences of tasks involving departments that span the globe and can take months or even years to complete. In order to manage projects efficiently and stay on top of the collaboration and teamwork needed for each project, you will need the proper tools. Here are three categories of tools that will help you manage both tasks and teamwork:
A. Real-time Instant Messaging Tool
You will need a tool that allows people to talk or video chat with remote colleagues in real time. It’s an integral part of any meeting to hear your colleagues, and even better if you can see them (non-verbal communication is just as important).
This is another area where there is intense competition. The instant messaging market is dominated by tools such as Skype, Yammer, Google Hangouts, Chatter, Facebook Messenger, and a growing number of mobile-first applications.
B. Knowledge Base Tool
This is where you store the combined wisdom of the team, accessible by all members via a searchable database. Think internal blogs or wikis (and Wrike can do this very well too). The knowledge base tool will allow processes to be documented and expertise or best practices to be recorded and shared with the team so knowledge is accessible to all.
C. File Sharing Tool
In order to get collaborative work done, you will need tools to share files. This tool should allow you to easily save, sync, and share files with the team.
Apart from attaching files to emails (which is highly discouraged since it leads to many problems and much time wasted), there are many other options available. Some of the big names in this space include Box, Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive — all of which integrate directly into Wrike. Which means if you use Wrike, you can easily attach all work files from these services to your tasks.
Personal Productivity Tools
The average worker is distracted every 11 minutes. The struggle to fight off interruptions and focus solely on work becomes exhausting if you’re not using helpful tools. Fortunately, there is a great variety of free tools available for the picking. These are apps that can kill alerts and notifications, force you to focus on one browser tab at a time, drown out the general office noise around you, and organize your work. We’ve listed 10 useful tools here: 10 Free Productivity Apps for Getting Things Done.
See Wrike’s collaborative work management platform in action. Learn how it can help your team increase productivity, enhance team collaboration, and do transformational work. Tour Wrike Now
Now that you’ve read about the tools for the job, and you’ve prepared the team to work as a unit, we will tackle one more topic that is an absolute necessity for your project’s success: collaboration.
In the next section, we tackle how to prepare your team to work as a cohesive unit.