Project Management Software Buyer's Guide
The Best Project Management Software is All About Effective Organization
By Kim O'Shaughnessy, Market Research Associate, with Contributions from Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Champion in PM
Whether you’re working on a client’s website or putting a shuttle into space, every project needs to be closely managed. Project management software puts managers in control of, and in contact with, their teams and progress status at all times. Because you know you can’t just get it done — you need to get it done right.
- Top project management systems were created to help businesses organize their plans and gain project visibility.
- In order to meet the goals of numerous projects, businesses will need to have a clear strategy and prioritization process.
- Most software products have a standard set of features, but there are also features which enable thorough customization.
- Once you’ve shortlisted several companies, it’s imperative to perform a rigorous comparison of the features, support and pricing plans they offer.
- When choosing a vendor, make sure you're prepared with a standard list of questions that will help you determine which is a fit for your team.
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This type of software is used by organizations that invest a significant amount of resources into the projects they carry out. Typically, projects require the work of transversal teams and, as such, project management systems are built to facilitate communication through all phases of the project, from conceptualization to realization to closing. This boost in communication is one of the ways software helps overcome project-specific challenges.
Software keeps your business organized throughout the project lifecycle.
Speaking of challenges, one of the most difficult parts is handling the various factors that influence the success of a project. These include benefits, resource allocation, collaboration, scope, project size, timelines, cost, quality, risk and client considerations.
To help overcome these challenges, tools are built to provide project visibility, facilitate communication and optimize task management. Different software may accomplish these purposes in different ways, depending on the specific needs of the business. Many products allow users to customize the software to achieve the style most suited for the tasks at hand.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top software
Most businesses looking to implement a project management system share a few common goals. Make sure your business objectives align with the goals we’ve listed below. If not, you may be looking for something different like a PSA system or even an ERP.
Improve Progress Visibility
|The first thing project management platforms provide is visibility into the progress of your projects. Because this type of software allows users to manage tasks on a granular level, it can also show exactly where in the process the project is at. Easy access to the project status ensures a continuous flow of work or immediate attention to bottlenecks. With any of the best software, you won’t have to rely on email alone to make sure all team members are on task.|
When you find a method that yields results, you’ll want to stick with it. Project management systems make workflow standardization a piece of cake with pre-built and customizable processes and templates, normally drawn from universal best practices such as the PMBOK from the Project Management Institute. This way, your team never misses a crucial step during a project. This is made even simpler with task dependencies and notifications, which you will read more about in the features and functionality section.
And although standardization is a major benefit, management allows for customization of processes as well. Templates and task lists can be edited, added to or deleted depending on the needs of a project. There are also several tools dedicated to customizing your project management platform.
Increase Resource Visibility
|Just because your organization might perform a service as opposed to producing a good, it doesn’t mean you can’t track your resource usage. Project management software allows users to log time worked and may even perform this automatically. This allows project managers to understand which team members can take on more work and which ones are overloaded and probably need a break. Software lets you see a breakdown of the work each team member has accomplished and the work planned. This helps all users understand what is expected of them and who they should turn to for questions on particular tasks.|
Improve Collaboration and Communication
PM software provides a high level of project visibility that breaks down the silos in the workplace. Access to real-time project data helps team members collaborate, even when working on individual tasks.
Additionally, tools offer a collaborative space for users to work together, making it much easier to communicate than using email and spreadsheets. Software also allows your client to add their input via these same collaborative spaces.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top software
Basic Features and Functionality
Every project management solution should contain a baseline of capabilities, regardless of the industry or company size it serves. Here are some standard features most project management systems offer:
|Define and Describe Projects||The ability to define and describe projects is standard across all software. A simple yet essential tool, this feature often is provided as a text field in which users can type their own descriptions and titles of projects. It provides a systematic way to define the business case or the project, calculating its financial return. Users can organize descriptions of projects using tabs to quickly access things like project issues, scope, processes, deliverables, etc. Users may also add custom fields for specific information or to add links.|
Project management software offers pre-built and custom templates, including work breakdown structures (WBS) and project plans. Many software products offer both, but some software may only provide one or the other. Additionally, software typically offer templates for a variety of industries and departments such as HR, finance or IT project management.
Templates can also be methodology-specific to suit Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, Kanban and more. Templates make it so users don’t have to enter in the same tasks every time a project is created. Many tools are configurable so you can make adjustments to your templates as needed. This is helpful if you offer several services, as you can include them all in the template and remove tasks based on what your client is asking for.
|Task Creation||Software provides a level of organization not as easily achieved without it. One of the biggest contributors to this organization is the ability to create tasks from the scope and work breakdown structure. Task creation provides a simple way to track project progress and lets users know what to do next. In addition to tasks, users can create sub-tasks to keep smaller assignments grouped with the larger work it contributes to. Users can set due dates, milestones, priority levels, flags and reminders for tasks. These can also be automated through configuring business rules for different types of projects.|
In addition to task creation, project management platforms allow users to set up tasks that are dependent on other tasks, both within the project and outside the project (with other activities or projects). For instance, after completing the tasks associated with onboarding a client, the project management platform might then prompt the user with the next set of tasks related to the client. Task dependencies allow a project manager to go in and identify bottlenecks and work to resolve the issues. It also helps keep the different teams working on the same project from dropping the ball or working on tasks too early.
Task dependencies can be simple or complex as well as internal or external, depending on your needs. Project management solutions also support circular dependencies for projects that need to be repeated once complete.
|Reports and Dashboards||
Software not only allows users to work and store their information but also provides visual reports on their status and progress. Advanced tools offer many types of visualizations, including pie charts, column graphs, line charts, workflow diagrams, Gantt charts and more. Simpler software may not offer as many types of visualizations, but should still provide a summary of your projects’ statuses. Software with project portfolio management (PPM) capabilities can also show you reports that provide insight into your larger business objectives.
These reports may include data on a number of things, such as billable and non-billable hours, scheduled time vs actual time, unfinished tasks, on-time milestones, benefits achieved, identified risks and more. Reports help give project managers and project executives a better idea of how his or her team is performing and where improvement is needed. Additionally, reports supply insight into how busy your team members are, allowing you to balance the workload equally across staff.
|Users and Roles||
The users and roles feature restricts what information and permissions each user has access to. For instance, you might encourage your clients to sign up for an account within your project management platform. However, you wouldn’t want them seeing project timelines or resource allocation, especially if you’re not completely on target. But you would want them to access messages with client-facing staff and you may also wish to give them access to upload files such as logos or diagrams.
This is useful for teams within your company as well. Maybe you don’t want team members comparing hours worked. Or you have freelance employees and you don’t want them to see data on projects outside of what they’re hired for. Whatever your reasons, this feature helps your project continue to run smoothly giving all parties the information they need to know.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top software
Advanced Features for Further Customization
These next features allow administrators to fully customize their project management solution. These features are necessities when it comes to defining your workflows to suit specific business needs.
Webhooks provide a way for project managers to further customize their software. This feature is configured through an API and gives users real-time data on events through push notifications. Without webhooks, users need to request the data manually. This is a very inefficient way to work on a project, especially if the user relies on data from many sources.
Webhooks also allow users to use other applications in tandem with their software. Configure notifications to be sent through email or other messaging services. You may also use webhooks to send data to third-party applications to increase the number of tools you can work with for a specific project.
Custom fields are a way for users to enter data into the software that may not fit elsewhere. For instance, project managers may use this feature to create a customizable checkbox field to indicate project status. There are also several other types fields so users can enter a number of different information such as dates, currency, department and more.
Moreover, custom fields allow your data to be incorporated into reports and analytics. To return to our earlier example, a custom field created to indicate project status then allows this status to be seen on a user’s dashboard if they wish. Custom fields used to enter in currencies can be used in analytics to indicate trends in costs. Ultimately, this feature can be used in a multitude of ways to customize the type of information you receive from your project management solution.
Risk management is a feature of PPM, but can often be found in popular software products. This is because risk management is a vital element in successful projects. As such, you’ll want to make sure your project management solution can provide the visibility required for proper assessment of potential risks and mitigation actions. You’ll need to be able to track all aspects of the project and identify where risks may hinder your progress. Project risks might include conflicts of interest, going over cost, employee turnover, unrealistic client expectations and more. Therefore, it’s important that your project management system can provide insights into these types of risks.
Some software allow users to create a fully detailed risk management plan using pre-made templates. Others may simply allow you to enter a risk management plan into a notebook (see below) but may provide you with the visibility to create a comprehensive plan.
|Notebooks||This feature refers to the ability to write and collaborate on formatted content within your project management solution. This may include summaries of meetings, additional project information and wikis. Notebooks allow users to keep track of information surrounding a project and create a single source of information. Notes taken with notebooks can be shared and may include photos. Project managers may choose to restrict notebooks from certain groups of users if the information is private or sensitive.|
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top software
Compare Project Management Software Vendors
Although many PM software are customizable, it’s still important to find the software that best suits your needs. This is especially true if your software needs to support a particular discipline. For instance, not every product supports a Kanban view of tasks, which many organizations rely on. In order to get the right software for your operations, it’s important to do a full comparison of the software you’re thinking about implementing.
Our in-depth comparison report rates top PM software vendors across nearly 30 features. It allows buyers to see which vendors rate better for features like resource utilization charts, file storage, custom templates, overall capability and more. However, you decide to compare software leaders, make sure you and your stakeholders completely understand how your options stack up.
Questions to Ask Potential Vendors
After doing so much research on potential vendors, you might be tempted to sit back during software demos and conversations with vendors. Nevertheless, this stage in software selection is the best time to get clarification and ask questions.
What is your pricing model?
If this information isn’t available on the vendor’s website, you’ll definitely want to ask this question. Project management solutions often offer different pricing models depending on the needs of your company. They might consider factors like the number of projects, number of users, file storage needs and training. You should also ask if you’ll be expected to pay monthly or annually.
How long will implementation take?
Depending on how many clients you have and the complexity of your processes, the length of implementation can vary. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to identify your needs and properly implement the new software. Additionally, watch out for project management software companies offering timelines that seem too good to be true. Make sure you also ask what the specifics are on the process for transferring data from your old software to the new one. This will help you better imagine what effect implementation could have on your daily processes.
Simple project management systems can act as a virtual bulletin board, auditing movement of tasks and projects.
Is your software complex/simple enough for my organization?
The complexity of software differs greatly across vendors and pricing plans. In addition to asking about the overall complexity, be sure to ask which specific features are offered. This will help you better judge the software. If all you’re looking for is a Kanban drag-and-drop interface, don’t feel pressured to buy an oversized product. Conversely, if you’re looking for in-depth analytics to help your company grow, make sure your next software product captures all the details you’re looking for insight on.
What types of organizations do you have experience with?
The ability to customize your project management solution will be a big factor in how well it performs for your unique business. However, it’s still good to know if organizations similar to yours have had success with a particular software. You may want to find out how many organizations like yours have failed during their implementation as well.
Is your software easy to use?
Depending on your organization, you may have several different teams working in the software. Probably not every team member is going to be a whiz at operating the software, but will still need to use the product on a daily basis. If you have clients working in the product, you’ll need it to be intuitive enough for them as well.
What kind of training and support do you offer?
This is a big one, especially if you need a product with many features and customizations. Make sure your vendor offers the type of support you’ll need, whether it’s email, phone or in-person training sessions. Ask if there’s ongoing support and if it’s included in your pricing plan.
Expert recommendations and analysis on the top software
Implementing any of the top PM software is an excellent way to improve the way your organization does business and develops future offerings. But choosing the correct system is no easy endeavor. Therefore, it’s essential to invest the proper time and effort into researching and contacting your final list of vendors. Let this guide be the jumping off point for your software selection journey.
FunctionFox is the Leading Timesheet and Project Management system for creative firms worldwide. Capabilities are suited for advertising, graphic design, marketing, public relations and multimedia firms looking to track Clients, projects and personnel from concept to completion. Supports an unlimited number of clients and projects, with the ability to customize account preferences to meet the company's workflow. It also allows users to track costs and expenses as well as estimates, quotes and budgets. Its to-do lists offer automated email alerts and users can run reports on clients, personnel, expenses, estimates and more. Includes a stopwatch that tracks both billable and non-billable hours. Available for purchase on a per user per month basis. Being cloud-based, there are no downloads, no installation and free customer support.
Ravetree is a work management platform that empowers teams to deliver work faster, be more informed, and spend less time searching for information. Companies use Ravetree to manage their projects, resources, and creative workflows—all in one place. Ravetree eliminates the pain of moving between different applications to find important information, relying on cumbersome spreadsheets, and entering the same data in multiple places. It’s easy to get work done with Ravetree!
NetSuite OpenAir enables users to effectively manage time, resources and projects. It contains graphical visualizations of relevant metrics such as profit margin and helps users develop customized analytical reports using drag-and-drop tools. It also allows users users to manage and keep track of time-off requests.Users can leverage the resource allocation features to effectively plan projects. Offering cloud-based deployment, it's a versatile option for a variety of businesses.
Project Insight connects teams and aggregates data by providing end-to-end project and portfolio management visibility into the workloads of resources, status, budgets, and more with real-time reports. Used by IT, professional services, product development and many more industry leaders worldwide. Offers features such as, intelligent scheduling, managing resources, time and expense tracking, budgeting and costing, document management and collaboration as well as customizable reporting and executive dashboards. Can be deployed on premise or in the cloud and can be integrated with other enterprise applications.
Raken is a cloud-based reporting and management solution that fits with projects of all sizes. It contains powerful reporting tools focused on saving time and money. With strong mobile capabilities, users can type out or dictate daily reports directly from mobile devices while on the job site.Toolbox talks can be hosted from within the app itself and users can add photos, videos, weather reports and more as attachments to reports. It helps users keep track of subcontractor hours as well with time management capabilities.
Easy Projects is a cloud-based platform ideal for fast-moving teams inside mid-sized organizations and Enterprises that have outgrown their current tools. Every contributing team member, manager, executive, stakeholder or customer can easily access a user friendly and personalized collaborative workspace.
KeyedIn works across the entire project lifecycle – from portfolio analysis and capacity planning to execution and executive reporting – helping you select, prioritize, deliver and analyze the projects that create the most value across your entire portfolio. This comprehensive approach results in reduced overruns, labor cost savings, enhanced budget accuracy, lower employee turnover and a significant decrease in project and portfolio administration time.
What do you get when you add the core functionality of Journyx with the ability to forecast costs, revenues, and resource availability? You get Journyx PX, a robust enterprise resource management solution that will supercharge your project cost accounting by estimating and tracking at the resource level. Without effective resource management and scheduling processes, your organization won’t have visibility into who is working on what, whether or not your projects are on schedule, and profitability.
Projectric enables companies to get the most value from their Project Portfolios. We do this by delivering the transformation of data into relevant, actionable information for making business decisions. This unique capability helps organizations understand the status and impact of project selection and benefit across the entire portfolio.
Airtable is a cloud-based tool that combines a spreadsheet format and relational database structure for enhanced project control and organization. Functionality extends beyond simple project management, allowing organizations to better execute a wide variety of initiatives. The program's unique views can be embedded directly onto a website. Users can also create forms to insert into web pages, and responses are automatically uploaded into the platform.
Jira’s issue and project management suite provides planning and organizational tools while also remaining agile. Plan out and prioritize your team’s assignments in a visible environment that tracks performance as progress is made. Provides out-of-the-box workflows, which you can customize to meet your organization's needs. This program can be used with more than 3,000 apps to customize user experience. Mobile users can also download an available app to manage projects on the go. This tool integrates with a number of products including Bamboo while also remaining scaleable for operations of any size.
Clarizen is a project management and professional services software that helps to increase collaboration and mange tasks across a business. Uses real-time data and dashboards to keep employees and managers up-to-date on the status of various projects. Its visualization abilities allow you to track KPIs and make informed insights quickly. The program can also integrate with platforms such as Box, ServiceNow and Jira, which allows you to connect the tools that your business already uses. A mobile app where you can interact with customers, look at workflows and change task status from your Android or iOS device is also available.
ProjectManager is web-based and combines powerful planning and scheduling features with collaboration tools for teams. One can easily create new projects, plan out and schedule tasks, allocate resources and assets and monitor progress from a single dashboard. The product integrates with MS Project, allowing users to import plans and customize security settings. It also integrates with MS Excel, MS Word, Google Docs, and more. Core features include real-time dashboards, Gantt charts, tasks, instant reports, timesheets, team workload management, scheduling, to-do lists, resource management, team collaboration, chats discussions, online file storage, templates, advanced reports, groups, custom security, and more.
Wrike is a cloud-based application that helps users manage distributed projects and promotes team collaboration. With this program, teams can align priorities and speed up execution to boost business results.With a strong focus on equipping teams to succeed, this vendor provides a robust suite of features that cater to marketing, creative, product development, business operations and professional services teams. It’s equipped with enterprise-level security and is designed to scale at a team and organizational level.
GreenRope's Complete CRM helps business owners, sales managers and marketers bridge the gap between departments and make data accessible throughout an organization,in one place so your business runs smoothly and effectively with all relevant information a team needs to better target and serve their leads and customers
More than just CRM, 1CRM is a Customer Relationship and Business Management system for SMBs. Providing all the tools you need to manage and grow your business within just one online platform. Marketing Automation, Order Management, Service Project Management are just some of the features 1CRM provides. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device, 1CRM is the CRM you need to take your business to the next level.
Asana is a cloud-based solution that helps teams of all sizes manage and organize projects while increasing communication and collaboration. A range of tools and features enables teams to stay aligned on goals, locate risks and hit deadlines.The program's use cases include marketing, HR, engineering and design. It also offers a variety of workflow solutions.
Mavenlink Pro is a comprehensive, cloud-based application that enables services businesses to manage and execute projects at each stage of the lifecycle. By uniting project and resource management, team collaboration, accounting, and business intelligence, it enables organizations to streamline planning and delivery. Includes the option to purchase expert services that cater to companies in the professional services space. When choosing the primary package, businesses work with a team comprised of a manager, a business consultant, a BI consultant, a technical consultant and a training expert.
Pivotal Tracker is cloud-based agile project management product designed primarily for software development experts to facilitate collaboration between teams, assign activities, prioritize tasks, and set deadlines. Status, workflow, conversations, and documents are accessible to the entire team from the same real-time view and the estimated time required to completion is automatically calculated based on the past efficiency of the team so product owners know where things stand and let developers spend time on work instead of reporting it. Facilitates stories which can be tracked with full-text search with provisions for comments to let it evolve based on feedback. It also offers a shared calendar that displays status, daily assignment, and future availability of resources. Users can leverage a guided iteration-planning tool that helps them prioritize activities and break down tasks with built-in charts to track on important KPIs.
Podio is a project management and social collaboration software that helps teams by putting content, context, and conversations in one place for easier collaboration with less confusion. It facilitates organizations to create custom applications to meet their unique business requirements and workflow without any technical expertise. Speeds up the communication and provides transparency and accountability needed for effective teamwork. Updates, comments, and changes are done in real time so everything is kept on track. Offers tools for social collaboration, instant messaging and video chat, file sharing, task management, schedule meeting, automated workflows, calendar, and many more. It’s app building capabilities and the app market allows users complete leeway to customize and access thousands of pre-built apps like CRM and Applicant Tracking to manage multiple business processes. Personal dashboards, data visualization, and granular data access ensures smooth workflow.
Axosoft empowers your team to build great software for your users, customers, or clients, beyond simply receiving support tickets. Your branded Customer Portal offers a way to publicize specific projects, releases, wiki pages, and other development information. Your outside stakeholders can also create and edit tickets in the portal without being actual users in your Axosoft account.
Admation is project management and approval workflow software designed for marketing teams and ad agencies to manage marketing projects. Streamline your approval workflow with a tool that enables you to manage and track all of your reviews and approvals from one central hub. Key features include briefing templates, online proofing tools (all media including video and websites), batched feedback, tiered approvals, reminder notifications, DAM, reporting tools, document management, resource and task management as well as many other user-friendly features.
The MemberZone Member Management Software is powerful, easy to use and designed to manage all the day-to-day operations of your organization. Thousands of people in business, professional and trade associations as well as convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) trust MemberZone to manage their most important information and help promote and grow the communities they serve.
Centra Cloud Project Management Software is an automated platform that lets you plan and track your projects efficiently. Project Tracking CRM Software enables resource, task allocation, performance tracking, and manage other activities to execute operations seamlessly.
Bitrix24 is a solution that facilitates the execution of the customer journey. It supplies organizations with tools for marketing, sales and customer service activities such as lead generation, marketing automation, campaign management and call center support.The software comes with a free edition for users just starting out. Deployment is available in the cloud and on-premise. The platform is suitable for smaller businesses as well as enterprises with up to 50,000 employees.
BlueCamroo helps small- and medium-sized businesses do more with less. It’s a complete, integrated and affordable web-based application that helps you track and manage your sales leads, customers, contacts, opportunities and projects.
Simple to use, cloud-based CRM software application. Centrium can help you and your team stay organized and be on top of things. It allows you to store and share information with other teammembers about people and companies you do business with. Centrium will also assist in planning your team`s work using task lists, calendars and projects. It can also help you manage your sales pipeline.
Commence CRM is a robust highly flexible customer management solution for the middle market. Commence offers customers the “Freedom of Choice” to deploy the CRM solution on premise or hosted ondemand via the cloud. What differentiates Commence CRM from other CRM solutions starts with an intuitive, friendly user interface that makes the product extremely easy to navigate and easy to use. The product’s modular design enables Commence customers to select only the CRM functionality they require for their business and offers a comprehensive suite of business software that includes, contact management, lead management, sales management, help desk, document management, project management and analytical reporting. Commence CRM also integrates with Microsoft Outlook for e-mail, calendar and task as well as integration with QuickBooks by Intuit and mobile devices such as the iphone, Blackberry, Android and Windows Mobile. The CRM software is also available on the Apple Mac.
Evenware is a Sales Order Processing and CRM Software application that enables Salespeople to work from anywhere using 3G/Wifi based iPad/Android Tablets, Laptops and Desktops. The system automates the Sales Force Processes of organisations to enable a Salesperson to work from anywhere.
Knowify is a cloud-based platform developed for the needs of small- to mid-sized businesses, especially commercial subcontractors and residential contractors. It helps reduce the time and effort spent on administrative tasks like contract management, bidding and change orders. Scheduling and tracking features allow administrators to see exactly when and for how long employees work.Mobile access lets managers and forepersons do their jobs in the field while still being able to send critical data back to the home office. It offers integration with QuickBooks so that users can retain their accounting workflows.
Assembla is a combination of services that consists of two platforms namely Assembla workspaces and Assembla Portfolio to accelerate the software development process and extend support to distributed agile teams. It is the provider of Enterprise Cloud Version Control (ECVC) that provides secure cloud hosting for Subversion, Perforce and Git repositories. Assembla Workspaces combines various tools such as code repositories, collaboration, and issue management to increase productivity, while Assembla Portfolio, facilitates control over multiple projects and team workspaces that provides a centralized user management feature, a branded portal, and reporting abilities. Provides an activity stream that consists of a wiki, a message board, file sharing, and other collaboration features for agile teams to work faster and deliver on-time. It helps development teams meet HIPAA, SOC 2, PCI and GDPR compliance standards and provides code search, merge requests locking from webApp, desktop, and mobile, all within the AICPA’s SOC 2 framework.
Pricing & Cost Guide
See the Price/User for the top project management software… plus the most important considerations and questions to ask when shopping.
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