Picking out project management software used to be a no-brainer. Find a copy of Microsoft Project and you were ready for business. And, if you used it, you were one of the select few in your organization who knew how to use it and were likely to ever apply it to your daily work tasks. MS Project is great – it’s powerful, extremely functional, and is arguably still the standard for project management software.
It’s also expensive, not necessarily intuitive to learn, and not really conducive for a truly collaborative project management experience for your team and key stakeholders.
Times have changed – significantly. Where there were once only two or three players in the project management software marketplace, there are now literally hundreds. And we, the users, are the winners. But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice. Sure, you can just pick one and go with it, but how do you know you’ve chosen the right one? How do you know if there isn’t something with a few extra features out there that fit your needs better, possibly even incorporating online CRM capabilities? Or how do you know you haven’t chosen one that is overkill – something too complicated for your broad user base to pick up and adopt quickly as you try to incorporate it into the daily work lives of the masses in your organization?
As you try to narrow the choices down, there are a few things that should be taken into consideration: size, features, and ease of adoption. Let’s examine these further.
How big are you?
How large is your organization? How large is your user base? Is this something your customers might use, or is it just for your project teams? Large, formal project organizations are not likely to use the first, free, web-based option they find. And yes, those do exist. Free. But we’re not discussing cost so much here as we are trying to find what really works best for your organization. Large often means a more formal solution. If you are running highly technical, complex projects in a highly collaborative environment, then you likely need to check out some of the higher-end options. They may not be as user friendly or quickly adopted by your entire organization, but could come with the right set of customizable options and reports to be the most compliant with your overall project and organizational needs.
What other needs do you have?
Next, look at what other similar, related needs your organization may have. Some tools that provide project management and project collaboration capabilities are also help desk software tools, small business CRM tools, document management, issue management and possibly workflow management tools. Some of these project management software options are part of a much bigger package of software capabilities – basically easy-to-use small scale ERP implementations.
Before you commit to one project management tool, consider what your organization is doing in these other areas. The financial outlay may be larger, but, in the end, if you can find one solution that meets many needs in your organization and not one that just fills the project management software hole as a stop gap measure, then you may find that the organization can save thousands of dollars.
How technical is your user base?
Finally, how technical is your user base? You can choose the best software in the world and maybe even find a way to get it for free or at a huge discount, but if your organization finds it too cumbersome or that the learning curve too long, then the adoption rate will be poor, and it will ultimately be a very bad strategic business move. You need the individuals who need to use the software to be able to use the software. And don’t go overboard. If task progress and monitoring, and a couple of simple reports are all that is needed, go for a simple, easy to use solution. If a customized implementation with the ability to configure and develop all of the reports you need, as well as the ability to perform detailed resource planning and track earned value and other items, then go higher end. If you know your organization is struggling in the customer management area, then maybe a solution that incorporates both CRM and project management may work for you, especially if you are in a service business. Know your needs – but also know the limitations or abilities of your end user base. It’s their adoption of the tool that will make it all worthwhile.
There are countless options abound. Times have changed greatly in the past ten to twenty years or so. In many cases, that makes the decision between project management softwares almost more difficult rather than easier. The good thing is that nearly every offering out there can be evaluated for at least 30 days before making any real commitment to one solution. Search, do research, put a chosen few to the test and don’t be afraid to combine several needs into one full-featured package, because that can be both cost effective and give you a macro view of your business from one vantage point.