Project management software. Bests in 2023
All successful companies and project managers know that having a good project management tool is essential to achieve good results. The increasing project complexity, and the pressure to achieve results in tight deadlines, make it necessary to have an adequate project management software that allows to keep projects under control.
The best-known project management tool is MS Project; but there are several alternatives with more features and lower cost. In this section you will learn about several of these alternatives to MS Project and how to choose a good project management software.
List of project management software
Here you have a complete list of several online project management programs, so you can see their benefits and select the one that best suits your needs. Most of them give free trial options.
Project management software for freelancers and small businesses
Software for freelance professionals and small companies must be easier and faster to implement and have more adjusted pricing policies. The downside is that they normally have lesser characteristics or benefits than those intended for medium and large companies.
Project management tools for large and medium and large-sized companies
They are tools that offer many functionalities together with a good implementation service, and adaptation to the needs of each user. The downside is that they are more complex to use and usually more expensive if you want their complete functionalities.
Advantages of using software to manage projects
Considering the functionalities available in most project management programs, we can highlight several advantages of using them.
Better cost management.
Better cost control, and therefore, higher financial results, is one of the most important benefits of this type of project management tools.
Most online project management tools offer the ability to budget based on individual tasks, which improves the accuracy of cost estimations and allows using the actual costs of similar tasks for planning new projects.
This is usually combined with the capacity to allocate cost to each task, allowing to monitor the progress of the project costs on a continuous manner, and compare the actual cost with planned one.
Better time control
Gantt or KANBAN are usually the most common functions in project management software, since better planning is one of the main improvements achieved with these tools. A better planning and task assignment leads to better control, and therefore better results in terms of deadlines and safety margins.
Most project management tools start from the task as the basic unit for planning. This task can be assigned to a responsible, link to other tasks, and include relevant information for its execution.
Using the connectivity that these applications allow, the responsible person for executing the task is informed, and he can inform about the status and actual time spent.
Facilitate collaboration between team members.
Most project management programs offer communication tools, such as social networks or similar, that allow the team to be permanently in contact, regardless of their location. This makes it easier for information to pass through, makes it easier to spot and fix problems faster, and makes it easier for everyone to work together.
This is mainly achieved with online project managers since they take advantage of this characteristic to be available anywhere and to anyone. So these tools are usually a good alternative to Microsoft Project or locally installed programs.
Improve project documentation.
All projects require and generate a large amount of documentation; so keeping it updated, organized and ensuring its correct distribution becomes a problem in many projects. Many of the existing project management programs include tools to store and share this documentation.
Improve reporting and forecasting.
Part of the job when managing a project is keeping management, the client, and other stakeholders informed about its progress. Collecting the information, processing it and preparing the periodic reports usually involves a significant workload.
So, and advantage of project management software is their ability to sort and process information, which allows to automatically generate reports. In many cases, they can calculate and include predictive KPIs that anticipate the final situation of the project based on the performance and current situation. This automates the reporting function and makes it much easier.
Improve the quality of information and decision making
One of the most notable advantages that these programs have to manage projects, in relation to the activity and management of a company, is that they allow you to collect and organize a large volume of information.
One of the most important consequences of this is that, by having more and better information, we can make higher quality decisions that actually have an impact on the improvement of the joint strategy of the company and of course on plans related to its growth. Therefore, one of the main benefits of project management software is improving the management capabilities of any manager dedicated to it.
Disadvantages of project management software
Although the use of project management software has many advantages, it also has some disadvantages that we must know and take into account:
The costs of acquiring and implementing a new tool is usually not low. Although there are free or very cheap tools, tools that offer the best features are usually not. This, together with the costs of adaptation, training and implementation, make it necessary to analyze their costs and study whether we will be able to recover the investment.
Project management software can complicate small projects.
Any tool can be of great help, but it’s going to require extra work to set it up and feed it with data. In small projects, this extra work may not be worth the benefits obtained from the tool.
Let the tool replace the processes.
A tool allows processes to be executed more efficiently, but neither creates nor replaces them. Therefore, when implementing project management software in an organization with little project management culture, there is a risk that it will entrust project management to the tool itself, waiting for its alerts to act or apply.
Types of project management software
There is a huge variety of applications and programs to manage projects, which can be differentiated by their way of working and their main functionalities.
Project management tools according to the way of working
A first difference that we could make between the different tools that we find is their way of working; There are two main types: online or locally installed.
Online project management software
Online project management tools are those who work on online platforms. In these cases, the client does not have to download or install anything locally, but instead accesses a private working area through a password where all the information is stored and shared.
Their main advantage is that they can be accessed from anywhere and from any device, making them very useful for distributed teams, or coordinating with suppliers or customers. Its disadvantage is lower security due to having the information in the cloud, and the dependency of being online.
As an example of online project managers we would have Wrike , Trello, or ActiTime , to name a few. Today they are the most common software in project management.
Programs installed locally
This has been the usual way of working with a project management tool. The best known example of this type would be MS. Project or Primavera .
The advantages and disadvantages would be the opposite of the previous group. You need to have the program installed on your device to be able to use the it, and the connection between users is often more difficult or requires plugins.
Type of project management software according to functionalities
This can be considered the basis of project management programs, and one of the most common features. They allow to define and plan tasks, either using traditional planning with Gantt or AGILE planning through KANBAN panels.
In the most sophisticated options, they already allow you to go further and allow to apply Critical Chain or Earned Value methodologies.
Along with the previous one, cost management is one of the basic and most common functionalities, mainly because it is one of the main objectives of any project.
Project management programs that include this functionality often rely on estimating the cost of each individual task to make the initial project budget. Based on this, they later allow each task to be fed with real data on the actual hours and costs; allowing to know the total cost of each task and the overall project.
The most sophisticated programs include the possibility to be integrated accounting programs, taking actual costs directly from them.
Sometimes these can be seen as a first choice of project management tools, but the truth is that they are often a breakthrough. This is justified because managing a project usually implies a great deal of work in team management and coordination; coupled with the fact that more and more projects are carried out with distributed teams.
Software that only has this functionality usually focuses on collaboration tools such as chats, spaces to share information and documentation about tasks, and tools to communicate their assignment and status in a bidirectional way.
In any case, this functionality is usually integrated into most project management tools; being less and less common to find it independently.
Comprehensive project management software
When we find all the previous functionalities integrated in the same program, we can say that we are in front of a comprehensive project management tool.
These usually include several functionalities, which allow to manage all aspects of the project in an integrated way. And it is precisely this ability to manage everything in an integrated way its greatest virtue.
When we modify the schedule, it adjusts the cashflow of the project, the billing plan, and informs the resources with assigned tasks. The fact that it can be done automatically makes work much easier and avoids errors.
Within this group, two types of comprehensive project management programs could be specified: those dedicated or applicable to construction projects, and those that allow multiple projects to be managed.
The programs to manage construction and works projects are those that have functionalities designed mainly for traditional projects, where it is very important to have a good planning of scope, deadlines and costs, as well as to have a good control of these.
The tools to manage multiple projects are those that allow you to manage portfolios or portfolios. These are very useful in companies that work with several projects simultaneously, since they allow to have a global vision of the projects and to organize the resources in a transversal way.
Cost of project management software
Giving a single value to define the cost of a project management program is impossible, since there is a great offer and variety in the market. Starting from free project management programs to the most sophisticated tools that can cost thousands of euros per user.
Within the free project management programs we find many based on open source, which can be a good option for students, very small companies, or to make implementations within more complex applications.
The disadvantages of these free programs are usually their lower capacities, the existence of errors or few updates that the users themselves must solve, or the fact that they are very limited options in terms of benefits.
In any case, most project management programs offer the possibility of doing a free trial for a limited time, or with limited functionality.
Within cost project management tools we can find two large groups:
Programs with one payment
This is the traditional way of buying a program, and the one still used by MS Project for example. The CD with the program and a license code is purchased, and it can be used for life.
This option is usually good in the long term, although it is the most expensive at the initial investment level and we remain tied to the version of the program that we have purchased.
Rent the software
As an alternative way of buying we have the possibility of paying according to use. This is the most common way of billing in the new project management tools, which define a monthly cost per user based on the features we buy.
With this form of billing we find offers from 6USD per user and month; value that can increase up to 20 or 30 USD per user and month in the most expensive options and with more functionalities. In any case, it is very common that from a certain number of users the price is fixed or negotiable.
This way of setting the price of the project management tool makes its cost easily adjustable to the size and needs of the companies; making this solution very affordable for SMEs. It also allows adjusting the cost of the software to the volume of work that we have at all times, hiring or dismissing users depending on the workload that we have.
How to choose a project management tool?
A project management tool facilitates the execution of some or several processes or tasks within the context of a certain organization and projects. Therefore, we must know our organization and the type of projects in which we usually work before opting for one tool or another. Only then can we be sure of choosing the best project management software for our needs.
Methodology on which our processes are based.
Because there are different methodologies to manage projects, we must initially know which one we are using, since each one requires different project management software.
A program designed for AGILE methodologies may have a reduced application in traditional projects; and vice versa if we use software for cascading projects to an IT project.
The type of organization determines the role and responsibilities of project managers and the PMO, and therefore defines their needs at the tool level.
For example, it does not seem to make sense to implement a very complete project management software in a functional organization where the project manager is a coordinator. The organization also determines if we work on independent projects, or in a more complex multi-project environment at the level of interactions.
Members of the organization .
Here we are talking about the people who in one way or another are going to use or be affected and must use the new software, and therefore , we must consider it when defining it. Within these people would be the management, the PMO, the project managers, the heads of functional areas, etc. If the new software does not meet the needs of any of them, its implementation may be affected or hindered.
Failing to identify or analyze any of these points can lead to the selection of project management software that is inadequate for our needs, due to lack or excess, and to the failure of the implementation process of this new tool.
Functionalities and processes to support .
A certain project manager can be acquired to support the management of the projects in an integral way, or to do it in a specific process. Obviously this determines the cost and complexity of the tool, since the more we ask for it, the more complex and expensive it will be.
Defining what we need will make us choose the best project management tool for our needs, without overpaying for it.
Define the scope.
Organizations have projects, programs, and portfolios , and can work with standalone projects or in multi-project environments. Due to the complexity that this generates, it is important to define up to which level the new software should work, since not everyone can consider multiple projects or the interrelationships between them.
More and more companies work with geographically distributed teams, contracting by project, or traveling outside the office, therefore the accessibility of the project tool must be adapted to different situations.
From this point of view, there are online project managers, or through mobile devices, which can be an advantage in some cases, while in others it may not be worth paying for this greater accessibility.
In some cases, the new software is intended to improve a particular process, which implies that it must be used in conjunction with other existing programs that are being used for the integral management of the project or for other related processes.
We have a clear example of this with task management programs, which aim to improve the communication of the tasks to be executed and their follow-up, based on a planning made with a different program. When this happens, it is important to check that the new tool integrates well with the existing ones, with the possibility of importing or exporting Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project, or Primavera files being quite common .
Any tool to manage projects requires learning to be used, and the more complex it is, the greater the time and effort required for this learning. Analyzing and determining these needs is important to discover the time it will take to start getting benefits from the new tool, and the resources necessary for it.
Project Management Tool Pricing
Although there are free project management programs, most will involve a cost in licenses that can vary from a few tens of euros to a few thousand per user. To this cost we must add the cost of the necessary hardware, training, etc. That is why the cost also determines the choice of software, and this can be reduced by adjusting it to the real needs that we want to cover.
Implement project management software
Why implement a project management program?
Both during the choice of project management software and during its implementation, it is important to have a definition of how it will be used within the organization.
Any program is nothing more than a tool, which will serve to execute a particular process more efficiently.
If we are not able to determine the way in which this tool is going to be applied within our processes, even if it is a newly created process, we run the risk that it will not be used, and therefore, its implementation will fail .
On the other hand, this question allows us to define the configuration of the most appropriate project management tool so that it is integrated into the organization, and adjust the investment to what we really need, avoiding buying things that we are not going to use.
Answering this question is equivalent to defining what data to enter and how, what information we want to obtain and how we want to obtain it, in which processes we want to use it, etc.
When to implement a project management program?
Asking yourself when is not only defining the moment in which we will start using the new tool, but also defining the steps, deadlines and schedule of this process. For this we must define the following aspects:
What steps or tasks should we consider? Here we would have the definition and selection of the tool, the purchase and delivery process, the purchase and delivery of the hardware, the installation and configuration, and the training.
When and how will we make the switch to the new project management software? Having installed and configured the new tool does not mean that we are able to use it, nor that we are interested in doing so. For the first, we need to train people in its use and how it is integrated into the processes, and for the second, we must determine the effect of this change on ongoing projects. This aspect is very important, since it will not always be possible to apply a change to projects that have already started, so in practice the implementation is usually done gradually.
Where do we start? In many cases we will be interested in making a first test implementation on a specific project, thus being able to make a better adjustment before its full implementation. We may also be interested in doing the implementation of the project manager in phases, starting with some basic functionalities and continuing with the more complex ones as the organization assumes the first ones. Sudden changes don’t usually work.
These points will give us a criterion to define the time that the implementation of the new software will take us, which can be from weeks to months depending on the program and the size of the organization.
Who implements the project management tool?
This question is the one that has the most answers, since it can be:
Who does the implementation? As seen so far, the implementation of a new tool is a project in itself, so it will require a person in charge and a project team.
Who is going to use it? This question helps us, on the one hand, to define the stakeholders, who should participate in the definition and that will have an effect during the implementation process, and on the other hand, to see who should participate in the training.
Who supports us? Any process that involves a change in an organization is somewhat traumatic and difficult, so it is essential that the implementation is supported by someone from management. This person would be a sponsor of the project, and should help us get a good predisposition towards the project. Also within the users we will have people interested in having this tool, who can help us during the process.
Tips for Choosing and Implementing Project Management Software
Project management has become a fundamental aspect for many companies that seek to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of their projects; especially when they grow and so do their projects.
For this, many resort to the implementation of software to manage projects; being a very useful tool that can help project managers to do their work more efficiently.
Although the incorporation of project management software can undoubtedly improve management processes; There are a number of aspects that must be considered in order to achieve the success of the implementation and the return on the investment made .
Assurance of projects by implementing project management software
An assurance plan sets out the expectations of everyone involved, both at the organizational and project level. Likewise, it defines the needs to ensure that ongoing projects do not fail. This implies defining those important points to ensure that ongoing projects are delivered on time, within budget and meeting customer expectations.
This project assurance plan during project management software implementation can help to:
- Control and reduce project costs. Both of the implementation itself and of the effects on ongoing projects.
- Ensure that deliverables are met on ongoing projects.
- Minimize risks
- Provide an objective analysis that allows to see if the implementation of the new software is being successful, as well as to detect effects in the ongoing projects.
- Finally, provide peace of mind and trust between management and those involved in the projects.
Project Assurance Plan
Defining a valid insurance plan for all situations is impossible, since each situation and organization is different. What we can do is give a series of recommendations to consider for the definition of this plan:
- Identify the risks and problems that we are going to encounter. This is achieved by developing a dialogue between all those involved that allows business and organizational issues to be analyzed clearly. It is recommended that this dialog continue throughout the deployment process.
- Set realistic time frames. The workload and tensions involved in the process of implementing a new tool will disrupt the schedules of ongoing projects. Assuming that this is not going to happen, and therefore not adjusting these to protect deliveries, will mean not meeting the dates. In addition, it is important that the implementation itself have clear dates, since its delays will imply greater disruptions in the ongoing projects.
- Align the different projects. This is related to the previous point, as it involves defining the interactions between ongoing projects and the project management software implementation project.
- Reinforce the use of predictive metrics to be able to anticipate deviations from ongoing projects and take action. This implies that we must already have some project management methodology; which is consistent with the function of new software; it facilitates the use of a methodology, it does not create it. Difference Between Tool and Methodology
- Manage the expectations of all those involved. As there are various people involved in the implementation, there will be various expectations and needs. Identifying, understanding, and aligning these expectations is key to ensuring a successful implementation.
- One last recommendation for implementing project management software, and for creating a project assurance plan, is to seek external advice from an expert. Knowledge , experience and the ability to give an objective view of the situation can be key to the success of the process.
Invest in a project management program
One of the aspects to consider when deciding to implement a certain project management program is the return on investment (ROI) that we will obtain from this initiative. Which can be a real challenge. The “return” in the project and process management program is normally seen as the fact of avoiding or reducing additional problems and costs. This type of “negative cost” is often a difficult topic to quantify.
This article is intended to provide guidance on how to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for a project management program
The I within the ROI of a management program
The investment (I) is the cost that we will assume due to the use and implementation of the chosen project management program, which is often poorly defined and tends to be underestimated. Among the points to consider in its calculation we can highlight:
Ownership costs: These are the costs that we will assume for the fact of having the software throughout its life.
useful . We recommend making a 5-year calculation:
- Licenses: although there are open source or free programs, the most common is that we must pay a license for the use of the software. This license usually depends on the number of users or installations to be carried out.
- Equipment: except if we opt for online software, the most normal thing is that it requires the use of certain equipment for its installation. Although these are existing, we must always consider the possible need to update them, replace them, maintain them, make backup copies, etc.
Installation, integration and configuration costs: these are the costs that we will have to assume to make the new program available and work correctly within our organization.
This begins with gathering the needs of the organization and defining the inputs and outputs that we are going to request from the new software, along with the relationship that it should have with other existing programs (for example, a project management program can import the hours worked from a task management program
Once these needs have been defined, we must implement this in the new management program and verify its functionality; which can mean a significant use of internal and external resources, as well as several weeks of work.
Change process: Implementing project management software is a change management project. This will cause a change in behavior in the organization, resulting in some loss of time and money until the full benefits of the new software are realized.
Training : related to the previous point are the costs of training the users of the new software, which will imply costs and time.
The R within the ROI of a management program
In order to calculate the return on investment, it is necessary to define and know what is the problem that we want to solve or improve with the new project management program, and estimate the improvement that we hope to achieve. If we are not sure what the problem is to solve with the project management program, then it is likely that nothing should be implemented.
Knowing the objective, it will be possible to define some metric that allows economic quantification of the improvement we seek.
- How examples of metrics or objectives that we can define would be:
- Facilitate communication. In this case, a possible metric would be the hours spent in meetings throughout the project or the number of meetings, which may also include travel to attend them.
- Reduce modifications. In this case, as possible metrics we would have the number of changes to be made, the hours spent on changes or corrections, etc.
- Reduce deadlines or cost. In this case the objective is directly the metric.
The second step, and perhaps more complicated, is to establish the improvement that we hope to obtain in this metric; which will determine the economic result that the new software will return and justify its implementation.
In order to estimate this improvement there are different methods that we can use:
- By comparison with other similar initiatives within the same organization.
- Through experts or consultants who have similar experience in other organizations.
- If we have resources 100% dedicated to the activities that we intend to eliminate with the new software, in this case the estimate is direct.
Any implementation process of a new project management tool is a complex process, and not without risk of failure. In this article we are going to list the most common errors in the implementation of a project management tool, in order to avoid them and maximize the chances of success.
Most common errors in the implementation of a project management tool
Mistake 1: Exporting data from the old tool directly to the new one, and expecting everything to magically improve.
It seems silly, but it happens. A tool helps us to apply the project management processes, but if these do not exist or are wrong, and we only use it as a new way of doing the same thing, we will not be able to improve. The appropriate thing would be to have previously defined these processes, and adjust the data to them by taking advantage of the new tool, eliminating and simplifying those that are not.
Mistake 2: Instilling a fear of “messing things up”
When you start using a new tool there will be errors in its use. If these errors are penalized, or the idea is inculcated that they will not be accepted, it is normal to generate resistance to change. Instead, learning the new tool should be encouraged and support should be found when these errors occur.
Error 3: Starting to use the new tool without having loaded all the information.
Sometimes you want to do a “partial” implementation of your new project management tool, uploading only part of the information to test how it works. This implies that users will have to continue using the current tool and try the new one simultaneously, which creates an additional workload, discourages the use of the new tool, and creates a negative predisposition towards it.
Instead the new tool should be implemented at once, once tested in test projects; making sure that those affected have all the necessary information to do their job from the first moment.
Mistake 4: Using generic training materials or manuals
Every organization is different and works differently, even with the same tool. For this reason, it is convenient to personalize the materials and the training plan to the real needs of the organization. Ideally we should also customize the tool.
Mistake 5: Not encouraging communication
A process of implementing a project management tool is something that affects the entire organization. Therefore, limiting this process to a small group is a reason for failure. This reduces the involvement of those affected, and reduces and hinders the identification and management of the problems that we will surely encounter.
Open and fluid communication will facilitate the process, and allow a faster and better reaction to problems.
Mistake 6: Confusing a tool with a process and hoping that the new software will fix everything.
Many organizations confuse the project management tool with processes , thinking that the tool will define how projects should be managed. Any tool helps to apply a process, but does not define or create it. If we do not have a good project management process, the implementation of the new tool will not be an improvement.
Mistake 7: Define a term in which the old and new tools coexist.
Anyone will prefer to use a tool they know before a new one, so this coexistence will make it difficult to move from the old tools to the new one, which will be seen as an additional workload. Although it sounds radical, the most effective is that the change occurs suddenly, eliminating the previous tools except in exceptional cases.
Many of these project management tools include dashboards and other ways to show the status of the project. Forcing the use of these charts instead of traditional reports can also be a good way to ease your implementation.
Mistake 8: Presenting the new tool as an option or alternative to current tools, leaving its use as optional.
It seems silly, but sometimes the fact of seeking to align all interests, including not changing, makes the implementation of the new tool appear as something optional, or it is accepted that it is not used for certain jobs. Obviously, this will mean that some members of the projects do not use or update the tool, which will reduce its effectiveness and end up abandoning its use as it does not report benefits.
The implementation of a project management tool should be mandatory, forcing its use, and the quantity, quantity and frequency with which its information must be updated. Although we tend to look down on any type of imposition, sometimes it is the only way to ensure that a new initiative works, or at least that we do not self-boycott its implementation.
We hope this article makes it easy for you to implement a project management tool. And we encourage you to leave your comments and share other errors or your experiences in this field.