What Is Project Management Software?
That's a good question! And the answer is not as simple as you might think. The term 'project management software' could refer to anything from a rudimentary task manager to a complex tool with scheduling algorithms, workflow management, and highly sophisticated budgeting features.
At its most basic level, project management software helps you organize your work into discrete chunks, track time, and store files. These days, project management tools are mostly SaaS (software as a service)—that means they operate on a monthly subscription system and are accessible via the cloud.
How Can Project Management Software Benefit My Business?
Another good question! The answer? So many ways. More than I can easily enumerate here, actually. But let's hit on two of the key ways that project management software can benefit businesses.
Project Management Tools Help You Communicate More Effectively
The modern workplace is crazy. With the advent and increased popularity of email, video conferencing, instant messaging, and cheap long-distance phone calls, the world has never had so many ways to be connected. But increased connectivity comes with increased chaos, and many businesses are still trying to operate with one foot in the old world and one foot in the new. If you're relying on an unholy mixture of in-person meetings and Go-to-Meeting, sticky note memos and Outlook messages, phone calls and Skype calls, screen sharing and cubicle drop-bys, you're doing it wrong. The more methods you use to communicate, the more information is going to fall through the cracks.
Project management software can help you do the unthinkable: streamline communication, simplify the exchange of information, and preserve a written record of memos and conversations. When all your means of communication come from one source—your project management solution—things will seem to magically fall into place. Your coworkers can't pass the buck if there's a smoking gun that shows the exact minute they agreed to take on a project. Likewise, you won't have to experience the exquisite frustration of not knowing whether your email has been opened yet. Most project management tools offer email integration, live chat, and myriad other features that boost connectivity and communication between you and the rest of your office.
Project Management Software Organizes Work For You
Most of us don't have the luxury of a personal assistant. At work, we're expected to create our own schedules, track our own progress on tasks, and follow through on projects without being reminded. But that can be a big ask for most people, who are also responsible for remembering a host of other things (like when the milk expires, and which kids need to be picked up from which sporting event). Enter project management software, the modern business person's best friend.
Project management tools, at their most basic level, provide a way to organize your work life. This type of software allows you to create tasks and task lists, assign projects to yourself or co-workers, store files in places they cannot get lost, and get frequent notifications about the progress and status of your workload. In other words, it allows you to free your brain of tedious details and focus on the task at hand.
Common Features to Looks For When Choosing Project Management Software
Not all software is created equal. However, there are certain features that are common to most project management tools:
- Email integration
- File storage
- File management
- Discussion channels
- Instant messaging
- Project creation
- Task creation
- Task dependencies
- Contact management
- Gantt charts
- User permissions
Higher-level project management software may also include the following, more advanced features:
- Project budgets
- Quotes and invoices
- Automated scheduling
- Risk/issue management
- Automated workflow
- Video conferencing
- Screen sharing
- File editing
- Image editing
How Much Will It Cost?
Not surprisingly, the answer to this question depends entirely on how many functions you need. Simple task management programs are often free for one user and can start as low as $5/month for more than one user. A typical mid-range SaaS project management tool might run anywhere from $19-$199/month, while locally-installed, enterprise level software suites can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
The price you pay will depend largely on what kind of subscription system your software vendor employs. Licensed, on-premise software comes at a hefty, usually one-time cost. But in general, the cloud-based project management software industry uses a few different pricing models:
- Cost/person: In this model, the software's features are included at every level and subscriptions are based on how many users you have in your organization.
- Cost/feature: This model usually starts with a basic feature set and raises the price of the software as more features are added.
Often, these models are combined in some way. For example, if your organization has 1-10 people, you should be able to choose which plan you want to use. However, larger businesses may be forced to pay for plans that include more features. In fact, some vendors insist that businesses of 100 people or more use only the most premium plans.
There may also be additional costs to keep in mind. Some project management software companies charge extra for support services or for initial training and implementation. Others may charge yearly licensing fees, or impose fees for access to updates. As a rule, we encourage our readers to avoid software vendors that gouge their users for technical support or updates.
Choosing Specific Project Management Software
Now that you have some idea of what project management software brings to the table, which features to look for, and how much a system might cost, it's time to get specific. At Merchant Maverick, we've spent countless hours researching and testing the best project management software programs on the market.