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Using project management software tools

Project management software tools can help a project manager be more methodical and better organised when it comes to planning, scheduling, tracking progress, maintaining documentation, managing the budget, allocating resources, and controlling risks and changes.

There are literally hundreds of project management software tools available and a good tool is another useful weapon to add to your project arsenal. It, clearly, cannot replace real-world experience and professional training but a software tool can enable you to hone your organisational skills, refine your scheduling and gain a better understanding of how and why things go right or wrong on particular projects.

It's not difficult to research the different tools available but individual project managers and individual organisations have different needs so it is important to be sure you know what to look for, what you need and how you could benefit from project management software before making a commitment to a particular package.

Some simple project management apps are very inexpensive (some are even free) but most software is a major investment so the decision is not always easy. However, on large or complex projects, project management software brings many advantages, such as:

  • resources are efficiently assigned
  • changes are kept under control
  • the project stays within budget
  • the project stays within scope 
  • documentation is properly managed
  • the right priorities are established and maintained
  • progress can be accurately tracked 
  • tasks can be efficiently managed

From installed software to web-based, cloud-hosted products and mobile apps there are tools for every type of project and every type of company. And with so many global projects being managed, software tools can ensure that wherever different teams are located they can be effectively managed and the teams themselves can communicate and collaborate easily. 

What are the main types of project management software?
There is plenty of choice when it comes to project management software. Some is aimed at specific industries or certain team and company sizes. Some focuses on certain tasks such as time management or risk management and others focus on the way a project is managed so, for instance, some tools are specifically designed for agile projects. 

Software type
Perhaps the first choice to be made is whether you want a web-based, cloud-hosted solution or software installed on your own servers. If nothing else this will enable you to cut down the many choices to a more manageable number. This choice will often be a financial one as the web-based, cloud hosted solutions are more affordable but it is also true that installed software may be less well suited to small companies who simply do not have the resources to manage the installation.

Project attributes
Look for tools aimed at your specific industry, project size and team size so its features are useful and meaningful to the people using them.

All-round solutions
Good all-round project mamagement software can ensure all project activities are organised in one place and everyone has access to all project data. This means that project data can be easily viewed by all stakeholders and they remain engaged for the project life. It also means team members can easily communicate and collaborate.

Targeted Solutions 

  • Scheduling – for resource allocation, task assignment, progress tracking, dependencies, milestone and deadline setting features. 
  • Time management – make better use of available time and help people work "smarter not harder". 
  • Financial – make better business decisions by gaining a clearer understanding of which projects are providing the most financial benefit.
  • Agile - solutions designed specifically to support agile approaches like XP, Scrum, Kanban or DSDM.

This is a project management fundamentals blog written and sponsored by Parallel Project Training. For more about our project management training courses visit our website or visit Paul Naybour on Google+.

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  1. Richard Renshaw
    Richard Renshaw 11 March 2016, 05:08 AM

    As a suggestion could you see merit in due course after the launch of the second edition of the Gower Handbook on Programme Management a new discussion topic on;http://knowledge.apm.org.uk/bok/information-managementAs an explanation I thought there could be benefit to have an exchange of views on PMIS. The expectation that tumbling out could be a framework to aid decision making for relevance:- Single User- EnterpriseIt's just an idea, hope it appeals. Thank you. 

  2. Donnie MacNicol
    Donnie MacNicol 09 March 2016, 01:13 PM

    An interesting discussion. With one of our clients we have just recently developed an Excel based tool that we are, as I type this over lunch, briefing the project managers on for the final time (as they have been playing with it over the last few months). It was developed by the companies CIO who happens to be a Excel guru. The project managers are very complimentary as it is simple, easy to use and above all provides (in my humble opinion) some of the best reporting in multiple Dashboards I have ever seen. There is also a portfolio level currently being developed that will provide the operations manager, resource manager and commercial manager with the information that they need to accurately monitor and control. I realise this is a different approach from adopting an off-shelf solution but have to say, with the right technical assistance, an option more should consider. 

  3. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 08 March 2016, 03:31 PM

    Matthew, cleary, the day the software takes over the management of the project will be a sad day for all of us. Parw, yes a fool with a tool is stil a fool. I remember Geoff Trimble once telling me he re-signaled the Victoria line in 1964 (the year I was born) using had drawn schedules and earned value management. I do wonder how many people he had in his drawing office to maintain the schedules, more or less then we have today maintain our modern project controls.

  4. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 05 March 2016, 09:43 AM

    A fool with a tool is still a fool!  Before worrying too much about software, focus on the people using the software.  Most tools can be made to work at least moderately effectively in the hands of a knowledgeable person; a fool can still create rubbish using the most sophisticated application!  The UK magazine Project Manager Today has been reviewing software for decades: https://www.pmtoday.co.uk/  Their archives could provide a valuable resource but still won’t stop fools producing mountains of useless data.

  5. Matthew Henry
    Matthew Henry 08 March 2016, 03:17 PM

    Also, a rather obvious point, but one that can be easily missed: PM software just helps the Project Manager - it doesn't manage the project!

  6. Paul Naybour
    Paul Naybour 03 March 2016, 09:17 AM

    Thanks for the feedback. I decided to tackle this topic because "project management software" is one of the top auto complete phrases in google. So it is clearly an area important to project managers.This series is targeted at new project managers and many of the new PMs I meet find it difficult to apply project management because they don't have systems to easily manage information about the project. Most try to get by with excel and outlook. After a while they get frustrated and give up.I love your idea about a PM software review website. I too have looked at the Wikipedia page but it is a bit vanilla. You can get a comparison of user reviews at http://www.capterra.com/project-management-software/#infographic  We have written a more detail blog post on project management software on our website which provides a bit more detail that I could fit in this short post.As you say this is an important but much neglected topic. 

  7. Merv Wyeth
    Merv Wyeth 02 March 2016, 01:26 PM

    Hi Paul,Thanks for introducing an important topic which I feel is something of an ‘elephant in the room’ for project managers / the APM. There are so many PM software tools available that we tend to shy away from ‘advertising’ or eulogising any one or another on commercial grounds.Is there an equivalent to comparethemarket.com? I have found what appears to be an accessible comparison of project management software on Wikipedia. Clearly, I can’t vouch for its accuracy or objectivity but readers might be interested to check out the Comparison of project management software section on Wikipedia.Whatever package is selected; it is a plain fact that adoption is always going to be a key issue. The market is constantly changing, new features being added and personal preferences seem to come and go. All of which makes it is challenging to embed a new solution within the organisational culture.I also reckon that in spite of what the vendors would have us believe about just how easy-to-use their particular platform might be - there will always need to be some form of user training. Even, if this is simply a matter of agreeing common standards / how users will work synergistically together!Remember the equationOO + NT = EOO[Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation]

  8. Olivia Cote
    Olivia Cote 06 March 2017, 11:27 AM

    Thank You for the great Information.

  9. evie johnson
    evie johnson 13 November 2019, 02:02 PM

    Useful and well-structured information about uses, benifits and types of project management software