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Choosing the Best Project Management Software
Each organization will have different needs when it comes to using a project managements software. Finding the right product is important because switching products can cost time and money. The lists below aim to connect a larger organization to more comprehensive products, simple products to smaller businesses or startups, and even help students pick the best software.
The 5 Best Project Management Software for Students
Students are likely looking for very different things in their project management software than a company would. Keeping costs to a minimum will probably be the highest priority, and having access to strong document management and collaboration tools will also be important. A mobile app can be a great way to stay connected to your projects while on the go. Reporting tools and customizations probably won't be as important to students as some of these other features. Task management should also be a focus, as the majority of projects are centered around tasks. There are a variety of good options out there that meet this criteria, and five of the best are listed below.
The 3 Best Simple Project Management Software
Simple project management software has many of the same features that comprehensive project management software does, though it generally lacks tools to track resources and finances. However, even without these features, simple project management software still has quite a bit to offer businesses, including an easy way to stay organized and keep track of tasks and projects. These software often include functionality for collaborating with other team members and sharing files within the system, and many of them even integrate with email, allowing you to work on projects without ever logging in. Simple project management software is also much more budget-friendly than more comprehensive software. The following three products listed below represent the best of the simple project management software.
The 3 Best Enterprise Project Management Software
Full-featured project management software programs enable enterprises to efficiently track finances, resources, and tasks. Because corporations likely have a large number of users on their account, project management software that offers the most features at an affordable rate is optimal. Strong reporting tools are also probably very important to enterprises. From there, the best project management software depends on what each organization values most. For some, it's the ability to customize the system to their liking, while for others, it might be strong email integration and mobile apps to help users stay connected when they're not in the office. The three products listed below represent some of the best in the industry.
What Project Management Software Features Matter and Why?
Financial Management encompasses all the tools that the project management software provides to help project managers keep track of their finances. This includes revenue and expense tracking, as well as the ability to keep track of estimated and actual cost of a project or task. These tools are not often found with simple project management software, so those interested in these resources will want to search for a more comprehensive solution. This category will likely be extremely important, particularly for larger organizations, when choosing a project management software.
- Budgeting - You can set a project budget and measure an outcome against that budget.
- Estimated and Actual Cost - You can estimate the cost of a work item or resource and then input the actual cost.
- Expense Approval - Expense requests can be submitted by users and approved by managers.
- Expense Tracking - You can track expenses for a project or work item.
- Financial Indicators - You can view the financial health of a project in terms of budget.
- Fixed Price Rates - You can set a fixed price rate on a work item, such as a task, to indicate the price of fixed cost items on a project.
- Job Role Rates - You can set a rate for specific job roles to automatically calculate cost.
- Revenue Tracking - You can track revenue for specific project and work items.
Project Management is the category of features related specifically to managing projects. In one way or another, every feature in project management software is somehow indirectly related to Project Management. However, these are the features that directly impact the category. Some project management software allow project managers to create a hierarchy, including sub-projects, for breaking large projects into more manageable chunks. The best project management software will allow users to create templates, which can save a significant amount of setup time when beginning a new project. These features are undoubtedly valuable, but many companies score well in this area, so the category itself is not quite as important.
- Calendars - A calendar is available to help you manage important dates and events.
- Critical Path - The software calculates the earliest and latest that each activity can start and finish to show the longest path to the end of the project.
- Cross-Project Dependencies - You can set dependencies that span across multiple projects.
- Issue Management - You can track issues, submit bugs, and view fixes in real time.
- Milestones - You are able to set up alerts for events that require special attention.
- Portfolio Management - You can analyze, prioritize, and manage a list of projects in order to achieve specific business objectives.
- Project Hierarchy - You can organize a project by creating multiple levels of sub-projects for better organization.
- Project Templates - You can create a template from a current project for future use.
- Project Timeline/Roadmap - You can view the high level plan of a project, including key milestones, in chronological order.
Reporting is everything to do with running reports related to the work being done in a project management software. There are a variety of different approaches to reporting that are used. The bottom line is that each individual will want to report on all sorts of different things -- some may use the reports for tracking expenses and others may use them for looking at the time allocated for certain tasks. The more options a project management software offers, the better. Reporting is extremely important to project management as it is what allows high-level individuals to see what they need to see. In many cases, reports drive the process of managing projects. However, reports may not be as necessary in cases where simple project management software would be used.
- Budget Reports - You can create reports to view budgets on different elements of projects.
- Client Reports - You can create reports exclusively for clients.
- Custom Reports - You can generate customized reports based on the data within your projects.
- Email Reports - After running a report, you can email the results.
- Executive Reports - You can create reports exclusively for executives.
- Expense Reports - You can create reports to view expenses.
- Report Exporting - You can export/download reports into various file formats.
- Resource Reports - You can create reports to view current resources and resource allocation.
- Task Reports - You can create and customize reports around tasks.
- Time Reports - You can create reports to show the time allocated and/or spent on certain tasks or projects.
- User Reports - You can create and view reports on each user within your projects.
Resource Management details all the tools the software provides to help project managers keep track of resource allocation and permissions. Managers can assign job roles to all of their team members and dictate what they are allowed to access and what they are not. Resource load charts and calendar views are very helpful for determining who is available and whether resources are being over- or underused. This category is more important to those interested in a comprehensive project management software because most of the simple products don't offer extensive resource management.
- Custom Work Calendars - You can customize the workdays and work hours for each resource.
- Events/Holidays - You can adjust the resource calendar to account for company time off for special events or holidays.
- Project Roles - You can assign a user or resource a specific predefined role for different projects.
- Resource Calendar Views - You can view your resource allocation on a calendar to get an overview of resource usage.
- Resource Exceptions - You can adjust the resource calendar to account for a resource or team member's time off.
- Resource Load Chart - You can get a real-time view of the workload and availability of each resource.
- Role Permissions - You can assign specific permissions to each predefined role that you create.
- User Groups - You can manage different users by adding them to specific groups.
- User Level Permissions - You can set access and permissions on specific areas of your portfolios or projects based on user levels.
- User Permissions - The administrator can determine the level of user access within the project management software.
Task Management is made up of every feature that enables a project manager to create and manage tasks or action items. A project management software that offers task dependencies, subtasks, and recurring tasks is going to score well in this category. It also helps to be able to import tasks via Excel or CSV and assign multiple users to the same task. For most, task management is the cornerstone of project management. Just about everything revolves around a group of tasks. Because of this, it is extremely important to look closely at this category when selecting a project management solution.
- Comment on Tasks - You can comment on individual tasks.
- Custom Task Fields - You can customize the fields related to a task, like the status, to fit within your workflow.
- Dependencies - You can set dependencies (finish to start, finish to finish, start to start, start to finish) to indicate that a task relies on the status of a separate task to be performed.
- Import Tasks - You can import tasks in bulk to avoid manually creating individual tasks.
- Multi-User Assigning - You can assign multiple users to one task.
- Recurring Tasks - You can set a task to repeat at a specific time or date, if it occurs on a regular basis.
- Sub-Tasks/Hierarchy - You can create sub-tasks and a task hierarchy to manage the smaller tasks that make up a larger task.
- Task Duration - You can set the length of time it will take to complete a task from start to finish.
- Task Notifications - You can receive notifications about the status and progress of a task.
- Task Templates - You can save time by creating templates for common tasks for later use.
- Task Work Hours - You can set the amount of hours it will take to complete a task.
Email Integration is the ability to use the project management software with email. This includes the option to receive automated progress reports, and respond to comments or discussions through email, without having to log in to the system. Some project management software even allow users to create tasks or add progress updates from their email. For many, email is a way of life. Most are comfortable with email, and have grown accustomed to it. For that reason alone, Email Integration has the potential to be a make-or-break category of features.
- Automated Reporting - You can choose to receive automated email reports to track the progress of projects.
- Comments and Discussions - Comments and discussions can integrate with email, either by default or as directed.
- Create Tasks - You can create new tasks from your email.
- Provide Progress Updates - A resource can provide progress updates on tasks through email.
- Receive Progress Updates - You can receive progress updates from resources via email.
Scheduling covers all of the features that allow project managers to schedule out tasks, timelines, and roadmaps. This includes the ability to set deadlines and view project timelines in a Gantt chart. For comprehensive project management, Scheduling is one of the most important categories of all. Without these features, it's very difficult to forecast, estimate, and manage the time of resources (employees). The purpose of using simple project management software, on the other hand, is often to cut out the headache of scheduling and granular timelines, making these features less important for that type of project management software.
- Deadlines - You can set deadlines on overall projects, sub-projects, and tasks.
- Gantt Charts - The software offers a Gantt chart to illustrate start and finish dates as well as the summary elements of projects.
- Virtual Assigning - You can assign a task to a temporary resource as a placeholder to help determine resource needs for upcoming tasks.
Support covers all of the features the company offers to help interact with the user. Having the ability to use live chat or speak to someone in person when there is a problem with the software is very important. Additionally, companies that have a presence on social media will generally respond to inquiries on those channels as well. The top project management software will have most or all forms of support and be open to communication with their customers.
- Email/Ticket - The software company has an email or ticket system dedicated to support.
- Live Chat - You can contact the software company for support through live chat.
- Phone - You can contact the software company by phone to get support.
- Social Media - You can contact the software company with questions through social media websites.
Team Collaboration measures the features that allow a team to work together online within the project management software. Many products allow team members to stay up to date through an activity stream displaying the recent activity on projects and tasks. Others offer designated discussion sections, wikis, and sharable notes to facilitate group communication and collaboration. As technology advances, more teams are being managed virtually, making strong collaboration tools like these a necessity for any great project management software.
- Activity Stream - The software has a stream of recent activities, usually located in the dashboard.
- Discussions - You can collaborate with other team members using a designated discussion area.
- Notifications - Notifications for important updates are automatically sent to resources, like being assigned a new task or removed from a task.
- Private Messages - You can send private messages to other users through the software.
- Sharable Notes - Team members can create and share notes within a project.
- White Boards/Wikis - You can create a document within the software used for brainstorming and collaborating in real time.
Customizations allow someone to control the look and feel of work areas within the project management software. For some, this is trivial; for others, this makes a big difference. This could mean anything from being able to upload a custom logo all the way to completely customizing the structure and foundation of the dashboard or workspace. At the end of the day, however, this is probably not something that will make or break a decision to use a project management software.
- Additional Languages - The software is available in other languages besides English.
- Custom Branding - You can customize the look and feel by changing colors and/or adding a company logo.
- Customizable Dashboard - You can customize the display and layout of your dashboard.
- Customizable Workspace - You can customize the display and layout of your work areas.
File Management hits on all of the features related to managing files and documents within the project management software. File management can easily be handled with a third-party document management solution like Dropbox or Google Drive. For many, though, the ability to manage files directly within the project management software they are using is important. Oftentimes, there is a central file storage system within the software for this purpose. Team members can then attach files to tasks or comment directly on the files themselves, so that everything is conveniently located in one place. Sharing files is something that most groups do on a daily basis, so it is important not to underestimate this category when choosing a project management software.
- Attach Files to Tasks - You can attach files directly to a task.
- File Comments - You can comment directly on an uploaded file.
- File Organization - You can organize files within a central file storage location.
- Multi-File Upload - You can upload multiple files to the software at the same time.
- Storage Space - You receive storage space as part of your package.
- Third-Party File Storage - You can store files by integrating with a third-party application.
- Version Control - Multiple users may edit files simultaneously, with each version being tracked and saved.
Integration features help maximize a project management software's functions. Other tools or products, such as Microsoft Project, may integrate into a project management software at a more customizable level. A basic level of integration is importing and exporting data, while a more advanced, yet important, feature for many would be an application programming interface (API). This would allow the project manager to integrate into just about any tool out there. But although these tools are undoubtedly useful, they shouldn't be critical factors when selecting a project management software.
- Application Programming Interface (API) - The software has an application programming interface.
- Backups - You can back up all of your stored data.
- Export CSV/Excel - You can export CSV and Microsoft Excel files.
- Import CSV/Excel - You can import CSV and Microsoft Excel files.
- Microsoft Project - You can import and/or export files by integrating with Microsoft Project.
Learning Materials covers every feature that helps someone learn how to use a project management software. Often this includes help articles, video tutorials, and webinars. The best project management software companies may also provide detailed user guides to help explain how to use the different tools available. Project management software can be tricky -- not only does a manager have to learn how to use it, but so does an entire team. Although this category may not be a deciding factor when choosing a project management solution, the more resources that a company provides to make the initial learning process go more smoothly, the better.
- Help Articles - A set of detailed articles is available to help you learn and understand the software.
- User Guide - A user guide is available to help you learn and understand the software.
- Video Tutorials - Video tutorials are available to help you learn and understand the software.
- Webinars - Webinars are available to help you learn and understand the software.
Mobile is a straightforward category that digs into how well a project management software works for mobile devices. A project management software that has an Android App, iPhone App, iPad App, and also has a mobile website version would score high in the Mobile category. For simple project management software, we consider Mobile to be fairly important, because a solid, simple project management solution should be used on the go. That is one of the benefits of utilizing such a product.
- Android App - You can download a native Android application of the software.
- iPad App - You can download a native iPad application of the software.
- iPhone App - You can download a native iPhone application of the software.
- Mobile Website - You can access a dedicated mobile version of the website on your smartphone.
Third-Party Integration covers features that enable the user to integrate the project management software with third-party services. We focus more on commonly used tools that would go hand-in-hand with working on projects, such as Google Apps, Salesforce, and some of the popular document management products. Third-Party Integration may be important for some, but as a whole, this category is less important because the integrations that matter are very different from person to person.
- Box - The software can integrate with Box.
- Dropbox - The software can integrate with Dropbox.
- Google Apps - The software can integrate with Google Apps.
- iCal - The software can integrate with iCal.
- Microsoft Office - The software can integrate with Microsoft Office.
- MS Outlook - The software can integrate with Microsoft Outlook.
- Salesforce - The software can integrate with Salesforce.
Time Management features allows a manager to track time on tasks and projects. Some of the features offered by most project management software in terms of time management would be the ability to log time spent on a task, and a built-in time clock for more accurate time tracking. Project management software that really excels in this arena will also allow managers to approve tracked time submitted by resources. For basic, simple management software, time management may not be critical. For comprehensive project management software, however, time management would be very important.
- Time Approvals - A manager can approve tracked time submitted by a resource.
- Time Clock - You can start and stop a built-in clock to accurately track your time on a task.
- Time Tracking - Users are able to track and log time on a given task.