Project management software is designed to help organizations track the progress of projects across teams, increase productivity, and optimize time management. With the wealth of options available -- many of which look very similar and claim to serve the same purpose -- it can be challenging to determine which project management system would be the best option for your needs. Choosing the right project management software can make all the difference when it comes to improving productivity, collaboration, and communication across teams or within a single team in your organization. Selecting the wrong system can be costly, as there can be significant overhead in learning new systems, and in transferring data from your previous software to your new system.
In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of the project management software landscape, and also discuss important considerations when selecting the best system for your needs.
Table of Contents
- What are the benefits of project management software?
- How much does project management software cost?
- Important considerations when selecting project management software
- Bottom line
What are the benefits of project management software?
Project management software offers several benefits for your team, as well as for the various stakeholders of your project. Though smaller projects can be managed through traditional methods (physical Gantt charts, Word documents, and emails), these methods don’t scale very well for larger projects that involve several cross-team dependencies.
Project management software is designed to address some of these needs, and offers several benefits.
Organize tasks in one location
Users can use project management software to create tasks that need to be completed for each project, and assign owners of each task. Not all tasks need to be completed immediately -- project management software can be especially helpful in maintaining a backlog of ideas that may not be critical to your team right now, but may be useful in the future. When your team has an interesting idea, you can encourage them to create a task in your project management software. During project planning sessions, you can then collectively go through your idea backlog, and prioritize these ideas accordingly. This will help to ensure that your excellent ideas don’t get forgotten, and also provides visibility to team members about future tasks that they may be working on, or things that they should be thinking about.
One of the most fundamental capabilities of project management software is the ability to track progress on various tasks that need to be completed. The software can let project managers and stakeholders know when certain tasks are in progress, completed, or have not yet been started. For large projects that involve several dependencies and handoffs, it’s important to track and communicate your progress, so that other teams can adjust their timelines accordingly if certain tasks are falling behind schedule.
Collaborate with others
Most systems enable you to tag users with comments, even if they’re not the task owner. So, if a certain task has some questions that need to be resolved, you can simply tag the relevant users, and they’ll receive a notification. This makes it easy to collaborate with others, without having to schedule a meeting, or manage several email threads.
Identify blocked tasks
Since most tasks will be tracked through the project management software, you can use the software to help identify tasks that may be blocked, or employees who may be struggling to complete their task. If you notice that certain tasks aren’t making progress, and appear to be behind schedule, you can reach out to the employee or task owner, and see if there is anything that can be done to help them. Otherwise, many employees who are blocked by something may struggle with it silently, and may not be able to resolve their issues until it’s too late.
How much does project management software cost?
The price can vary widely by vendor, and often depends on the number of users in your organization. Many systems will charge a fee for each user, and others will charge a flat rate for an unlimited number of users. For smaller groups, many systems offer free tiers that will help you get the job done. Though today most systems are hosted on the cloud, some systems offer on-premise solutions, which will typically require a larger upfront fee.
For reference, here are some examples of popular project management software systems, and their prices:
- Asana: Offers a free tier, but charges $9.99/user monthly for additional features.
- Trello: Offers a free tier, but charges $9.99/user monthly for its Business Tier.
- Jira: $10 monthly flat fee for up to 10 users. $7/user monthly for up to 100 users. Offers separate pricing for on-premise software.
- Basecamp: $99/month flat rate, regardless of number of users.
Important considerations when selecting project management software
Taking the time to answer a few key questions upfront can help you determine which project management software option meets your personal preferences and requirements.
Cloud-based or self-hosted/installed?
Cloud-based software provides several benefits, including the convenience of automatic data backups and software updates. It also saves you the time and cost of managing your own servers to host the software. However, it also requires access to a reliable internet connection, and is only as accessible as the cloud-based provider’s own availability/uptime allows. Furthermore, some businesses may prefer to host their project management software on their own servers, either for security reasons or because they don’t like relying on internet access in order to be able to access their data. On the other hand, by hosting software on your own servers, you may require additional hardware and server maintenance costs, which you should factor into the final cost.
Whatever your reason for choosing a cloud-based or self-hosted solution, it’s important to weigh the benefits of having the flexibility to transition from one to the other if needed. Some companies offer a cloud-based option as well as a self-hosted version, for more flexibility as your business grows and evolves. Other companies only offer a cloud-based option, which can be a dealbreaker for some teams.
Entirely cloud-based: Asana, Trello, Basecamp, Zoho, Microsoft Planner
Available as either cloud-based or self-hosted (your choice): Jira, Bitrix24, OrangeScrum
How large is your team?
Some project management software companies charge per user, while others charge per project. The best option for you will depend on the size of your team, and how many projects you’ll want to track with the software. If your team is small, you have multiple free (or low-priced) options available, including:
- Asana: Free tier covers up to 15 users and unlimited projects/tasks/conversations
- Trello: Free tier supports unlimited members and projects
- Jira: $10/month for up to 10 users.
- Bitrix24: Free tier for up to 12 users and unlimited projects
If your team is larger, then these are some of the most affordable options:
- Trello: Free tier supports unlimited members and projects
- Basecamp: Charges the same flat rate regardless of number of users, and also includes other functionality in addition to project management.
- Microsoft Planner: Included in Office 365’s Business Premium plan (up to 300 users)
What workflow visualization style do you prefer?
Project management software typically organizes workflows into Kanban boards or Gantt charts.
Kanban boards organize cards based on their stages of progress (for example: To Do, In Progress, and Completed). Traditionally, Kanban boards are organized on physical boards with sticky notes in various columns. Today, software such as Trello, creates Kanban boards in their UI, which enable you to create tasks, and drag and drop them across various columns based on their progress. Here’s an example of a Kanban board from Trello:
Gantt charts organize tasks on a timeline, to make it easy to understand how tasks are progressing, and when they are expected to be completed. This is especially helpful for projects that have several cross-team dependencies that must be coordinated. Here’s an example of a Gantt chart:
When selecting your project management software, you’ll want to make sure that the system offers the type of workflow you plan to use, and that you find their layouts to be intuitive. Even if your software offers both Gantt and Kanban boards, it may be the case that the software specializes in Gantt charts, but you find its Kanban boards to be less intuitive, or vice versa.
How tightly does your project management software integrate other systems that you use?
Project management software is an integral part of your workflow, so it’s important that it will be able to integrate with other tools that you use. For example, many software development teams will benefit from increased productivity if their project management software is integrated with GitHub (a popular platform for hosting code repositories). A tight integration between these systems will make it easy to track progress on tasks, and enables team members to quickly identify the commits and branches associated with each task. This type of integration can be especially beneficial for teams working on large code repositories.
In addition, if you use a communication tool like Slack, you may want to select a project management system that integrates with it, so that updates to tasks can automatically be communicated to your team.
Discuss with the team what tools they use, and what integrations will be necessary, and which will be “nice to have”. Then, prioritize these accordingly.
Though many systems will claim to integrate with certain services, some integrations will be more sophisticated than others, so it’s a good idea to test that the integration actually offers the functionality that you’re looking for. Some systems may also charge for certain integrations, which should be factored into the overall cost.
Before a project management solution can help your team save time and improve productivity, you first have to choose the one that will work best for your preferences and needs. Because most products offer a free trial, we recommend taking advantage of the trial period to determine which one best suits your needs, based on differing visualization types, the size of your team, and functionalities you’d like to see bundled into your project management software.