As experienced project managers know and emerging project managers quickly discover – and not always pleasantly – not all project management software solutions offer a similar set of tools to manage projects. Some solutions are sophisticated, while others are superficial. Some are customizable, while others are confining. And some are easy-to-use, while others are exasperating.
Essential Project Tools
Your enterprise needs a project management solution that drives success and avoids setbacks. To that end, focus your lens on these nine essential categories when evaluating tools to manage projects:
Project Planning Tools
Project planning tools to manage projects streamline the entire end-to-end development process. Project managers can rapidly establish timelines complete with milestones, due dates, deliverables and dependencies. They can also take advantage of out-of-the-box templates to accelerate the process, and automate project creation based on custom triggers and workflows – including those that originate from third-party systems in the environment (e.g. CRMs).
Collaborative Work Management Tools
Collaborative work management tools for managing projects integrate tasks and projects with social context, which drives purposeful, focused and efficient collaboration across internal teams (regardless of where they may be physically located). Collaborative work management tools also keep external stakeholders in-the-loop by providing them with a “one-stop-shop” portal for accessing relevant projects, files, conversations, requests and other project elements.
Task Management Tools
Task management tools to manage projects help team members prioritize and stay on top of tasks by centralizing all work assignments (both project and non-project) in designated workspaces. This keeps everyone on-track, and prevents tasks from falling through the cracks.
Portfolio Management Tools
Portfolio management tools to manage projects establish full visibility and transparency across all workstreams, and provide project managers (along with other authorized and relevant team members like PMO staff and the project sponsor) with an accurate, up-to-date snapshot of critical information. At the same time, portfolio management tools proactively reveal obstacles and issues, so they can be addressed and resolved in an efficient, optimized manner.
Resource Management and Capacity Planning Tools
Resource management and capacity planning project management tools provide real-time insights into resources and workloads. Project managers can see who is working on what and when, and reallocate resources accordingly. Affected team members automatically receive a notification of their cancelled, changed or new assignment(s). Project managers can also plan future projects by assessing the impact a team’s resource load by excluding or including projects.
Financial Management Tools
Financial management tools to manage projects keep budget surprises to a minimum. Project managers can track all expenses by team member, task, work item or department, and assess the variance between estimated and actual costs. They can also analyze the burn rate and billing status for each project, in order to quickly identify and address troubled initiatives.
Request Management Tools
Request management tools for managing projects enable project managers to track and manage all work requests, which automatically includes all key details such as who is making the request, a description of the proposed change, priority, timeframe, and all related documents and discussions. Furthermore, project managers can engage specific (or all) team members on a real-time social collaboration platform to discuss and refine requests.
Risk Management Tools
Risk management tools that support effective project management help project managers create a risk register to log, track and manage risks-related issues that can impact a project. This is critical for proactively developing a risk mitigation strategy that protects the integrity of the project scope.
Document Management Tools
Document management tools to manage projects allow project managers and team members to store and manage all files in a central location. Enterprises also have the choice of using the project management software as their document repository and/or integrate with popular third-party tools (e.g., Box, Google Docs, SharePoint, etc.).
Additional Tools Used in Project Management
To support the above, your enterprise also needs the following additional tools used in project management:
- A comprehensive set of reports and dashboards – both pre-built and customizable. These provide project managers with the accurate data they need to make smart, fast decisions. It should also be fast and easy to provide reports to specific stakeholders based on their unique information needs (e.g. PMO, sponsor, customer, etc.).
- The capacity to seamlessly integrate with class-leading SaaS platforms in the environment (e.g., Salesforce, Box, Intacct, QuickBooks, Jira, SharePoint, Google Docs, ServiceNow, etc.), and offer a library of apps that can be installed with a single click.
- Mobile apps that mirror full-functionality of the web app, which creates a seamless and consistent user experience across devices.
A Warning About Tools for Project Control and Monitoring
There will likely be scenarios where you want to extend the project management software solution with custom objects to address your enterprise’s unique needs. As such, ensure that adding custom objects will not require lengthy or expensive development time (i.e., no custom code required), and that you can include custom objects in reports to enhance visibility, collaboration, and results.
A Final Word on Tools and Techniques Used in Project Planning and Management
It cannot be overstated that ease-of-use when it comes to tools for managing projects is not an optional aspect – it is a mandatory requirement! If project tools are not simple and intuitive to use, then team members will get frustrated and struggle. They may even look for ways to avoid using some project tools altogether; not because they are deliberately trying to break the rules, but because they need to be productive and meet deadlines. Regardless of the environment or application – it could be IT project management tools, marketing project management tools, engineering project management tools, and so on – ease-of-use is essential!