Project management software is a very broad area in two ways. On one level, platforms can extend from simple apps to sophisticated software stacks with deep levels of functionality. On another level, projects that are being managed are as broad and differentiated as the businesses themselves. Project management software, in short, is a big category.
Jonathan Anscombe, a partner at A.T. Kearney's Health and Digital Transformation Practices, told IT Business Edge that the new reality is that most of what an organization does is structured as a series of projects based on transformation and change, as opposed to the traditional structure of simply managing transactions. Project management software implementations now are more or less synonymous with managing the organization as a whole.
Considerations When Choosing Project Management Software
This suggests that organizations must think expansively when researching the best platform to use. Mavenlink, in unattributed answers to questions from IT Business Edge, provided four considerations:
On Premises or Cloud Based
Enterprises must choose between on-premises or cloud-based platforms. The fact that teams are ever-more decentralized could give an extra impetus to go the cloud route.
Organizations must develop a clear understanding of how the project management software will integrate with existing software the organization is running. It is important because the data that it needs to do its job (such as business intelligence and project accounting) requires very close coupling of installed systems with the new project management platform.
There must be a way to migrate relevant historical data into the system in order to create a record capable of identifying trends over time. These trends are an important element of the decision making process.
Budget and Training
It is important to set aside money and time to properly train the people who will use the new software.
Understanding the Shift Towards Agile Project Management
Organizations also must think carefully about the future. In the bigger picture, it is clear that the nature and speed of projects are changing radically. Time frames are shrinking and formerly linear tasks increasingly are conducted concurrently. DevOps, for instance, collapses tasks that formerly happened in succession into continually overlapping activities that are designed to incrementally improve the final product. In this approach, that final product is released and utilized by the end far earlier in the process than in the past. Problems are tackled and improvement made as time goes by. The bottom line, according to Anscombe, is simply that "everything is going agile."
This means that project management software must change as well, and Anscombe says that the company is working with Sensei Labs. The company is using the firm's Conductor project management software platform internally and recommending it to its clients.
Features of the New Approach
The new approach that project management software must bring in general – and what Anscombe believes Conductor delivers – has two main features: They can manage large transactional programs and are transparent.
The transactional capabilities are enabled by providing access to multidimensional data sets. These data sets can dig down to manage almost any sets of data. For instance, sales of a new product can be measured by daypart, city, state or region and compared against other important elements such as the impact of demand from each of these places on the supply chain. In short, any set of granular facts can be compared. Doing this facilitates actionable insights.
The transparency must exist from top to bottom. In current platforms, Anscombe said, only project managers and high-level executives have total access to what the project management software was producing. This type of hierarchal approach no longer is applicable, he said.
Scalability and User Interface
Traditionally, companies hire project managers whose job is to supervise and drive the team, Anscombe said. In today's world, that model won't work. "That isn’t going to be scalable," he said. "You have to be able to manage large projects as a core skill of the organization. Delegating to a project manager doesn't work so well when the ability to deliver projects is the core value driver of the business. There is the need for direct engagement of leadership."
The next generation of project management software is predicated on transparency and simple user interfaces. "We've deployed in large organizations so that a CEO can get up in the morning and see all the benefits throughout the organization on his iPhone."
Top Project Management Software Comparison Chart
Huge numbers of project management software offerings are available, ranging from smartphone apps to deep and sophisticated platforms. Here is a sampling.
Best Project Management Software Vendors
Workflows designed around execution. For creative and marketing personnel, that includes proofing and approval tools, custom workflows, and request forms for briefs or any other requests. Also includes project timelines, resource allocation, time tracking and live collaboration tools for copy writers.
For non-marketers, many of the same tools are valuable, including document versioning, change tracking, and workflow automation for making sure work moves from person to person efficiently.
Assembla hosts Subversion, Git and Perforce in the cloud. This allows teams to work on and manage their projects while being able to choose the best version control software for their team.
- Assembla operates within the SOC2 framework.
- Compliance-ready for users that need backup logs and user activity reports.
- The platform offers code security scanning so users can identify vulnerabilities in their code as early as possible.
- A built-in project management tool offers interactive tickets and cardwall features so users can manage their development tasks without having to purchase additional tools.
ProjectManager.com is adaptable to fit the needs of any size of team and most industries. The software’s feature set allows professionals in IT, construction, manufacturing, marketing and large enterprises to customize the features that best fit their needs. Its Gantt chart functionality updates automatically and allows users to track progress simply.
Users can create and modify app templates to manage projects, deliverables, meetings, clients, designs and content calendars. These apps can be powered up with customized views, filters and reports, which gives the app creators control over data input/output. To help with team productivity, Podio offers customized views for projects and deliverables in the app dashboard along with custom fields. Task management, chat and video capabilities help users collaborate.
Podio Premium includes advanced workflow automation that allows users to automate business processes and automatically create and update work based on if/this/then/that logic and time-based triggers. The workflow automation includes integrations to ShareFile and RightSignature (Citrix products) to enable the user to create content in Podio and save data as a PDF in ShareFile, then route for signature.
5. SenseiLabs' Conductor
- Enables all project work to be performed in the platform; aggregates all data, down to the task level, to provide transparency, accountability and real-time project status.
- Provides customized real-time training, knowledge sharing, and professional development alongside project delivery.
- Codifies team members’ qualitative feedback alongside quantitative performance metrics in real time.
- Schedules regular check-ins that record and share all team members' "gut feel" on a project to flag issues early, allow for quick course correction and eliminate time and budget overruns.
- Provides team members with tailored views of their most relevant data, scoped to their role.
6. CollabNet's VersionOne Lifecycle
Lifecycle is far more flexible and customizable than other options. It is specifically designed to support SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) and integrates with DevOps. Management visibility is another huge differentiator since Lifecycle really allows all levels of the business visibility into projects, people and tools.
Trello is ideal given that it is a flexible workflow and can be structured however the user sees fit.
A key differentiator for Mavenlink is that it unifies all critical day-to-day operations for the majority of services work on a single, core system. This allows service organizations to run an agile business. Specifically, these integrated capabilities include project management functionality, collaboration tools that connect remote teams and subcontractors, the incorporation of key project accounting data, and long- and short-term resource management.
It's an end-to-end project platform, reuniting time tracking, resource scheduling, and billing under the same roof. Robust time tracking and easy resource scheduling capabilities.
10. Zoho Projects
Project management has three elements: Planning, tracking and collaboration. Most tools focus on one of these bits and are hence incomplete. Zoho Project addresses all three. The UI is designed in such a way that the features don't get in the way of someone who doesn't need them. It is an intuitive, easy-to-learn tool and most users have gotten the hang of it with no training.
- Flexibility in how you adapt tools to your team.
- All products integrate with one another. For example, you can create a task from a conversation happening in Teamwork Chat or from a ticket in Teamwork Desk.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.