Project Management and Software tools and programs

Project management requires a lot of work and every modern project manager needs a helpful software tool to make his life much easier. In the Everyday Project Management book (an exceptional book that we recommend to every decent project manager), the author Jeff Davidson provides a detailed examples and samples of some of the most popular tools.

In this chapter, you learn which software programs are popular, what vendors have to say about their own programs, and the importance of taking your time when acquiring software.

Swiftly Flow the Days

With each passing day, any software program evaluation presented in any book or magazine ages and soon becomes obsolete. Consequently, the surveys and reviews of products listed in this chapter are presented for the sake of example only!

A survey titled “Tools of the Trade: A Survey of Project Management Tools” appeared years back in an issue of the Project Management Journal. The journal evaluated what the authors called “Top Project Management Tools.” Some 159 project managers responded to survey questions out of 1,000 managers initially contacted. The typical respondent had slightly more than 10 years’ project management experience and a bit more than 12 years’ experience in the field of information systems. In other words, this was a select group of veteran project managers.

The 159 respondents cited 79 different project management tools that they either were using currently or had used within three years. Of note, the top 10 of these 79 tools were identified by three-quarters of the respondents. The tools were rated for their content, accuracy, format, ease of use, time lines, and then given an overall rating.

Not surprisingly, the training time that project managers received for the various software packages (which they had to learn) influenced how adequate they thought the software to be. Said alternatively, the more training you have to work with a particular type of project management software, the higher you tend to rate that software. So, familiarity (and training) does not breed contempt and more likely yields satisfaction.

Armed and Online

Flash forward to today: The array of software options available is even more bewildering than that of years ago. And, since virtually all project management tools have an online component, the power and capability of such programs are truly awesome. Project management teams today, across the globe, rely on software to stay in touch, manage workflow, work in harmony with one another, and bring part of a project in on time, on budget, and at the desired quality.

The top project management software packages enable project managers to automate workflows so that when one project task or event is completed, everyone is informed and any recalculations to the critical path or need for reassignments are derived almost automatically.

It’s accurate to say that there is a huge range of effective software, depending on the size of your organization, how much you are willing to pay, how experienced your users might be, what you’re trying to accomplish, the length of the project, and so forth. The permutations and variations are enormous.

As you read through descriptions of the various types of available software programs presented below, keep in mind the common denominators among each of them. These include the ability to engage in “what-if?” scenarios, seamlessly connect with team members, enable people to make their own updates, and generate timely and relevant reports that can be presented to stakeholders.

When assessing any other software programs you might encounter, it’s useful to read up on what experts say about them, as well as to talk to people in the field who actually use them. That said, descriptions of six different packages follow. One or more of them might be perfect for you! Following that is a discussion of three bargain-basement packages, which, in themselves, might do the job that you need.

Also, as years pass, most companies will still be in business and the software will change, perhaps from version “2.0” to “3.0.” From that standpoint, it makes sense to peruse the various components and features of the software, while recognizing that it’s always subject to upgrading. Indeed, any vendor is likely to update what they regard to be their own “effective” software within the course of a single year.

Workfront Project Management System

Big-name companies such as Dell, Cisco, Sony, REI, and others are devoted users of Workfront, an online project management system designed to improve a company’s processes as well as its return on investment. Workfront is especially useful with information technology teams and project management offices, known as PMOs.

Workfront provides a roster of traditional project management supports and methodologies, as well as options for sideways communication. This is where, in addition to offering a top-down approach to project management, the software also supports peer-to-peer collaboration, offering social media–like tools that facilitate transparent communications. Sideways communication also encompasses interaction with both internal staff and external stakeholders.

With Workfront you can rapidly create projects on the fly, drawing on existing templates or even previous projects. Projects can also be devised based on requests from management, peers, or deliverables recipients and other end-users.

As you read the rest of the longish Workfront summary, keep in mind that other project management software vendors described after Workfront also offer varying arrays of more or less similar benefits and features.

Drag-and-Drop Capabilities—Workfront enables a project manager to plan projects, devise schedules, schedule milestones and deliverables, allocate resources, generate Gantt charts, update schedules, and enable team members across time zones to interact effectively. It assists in identifying resources based on availability, type of skill, or other details. Project managers can “drag-and-drop” assignments on their computer screens between project team members and then can quickly affirm what has been assigned to whom.

Workfront equips the project manager with control tools, such as granting team member access to specific data. You can create profiles that enable others to have access or not, and to address specific areas of the system. You can devise complex passwords using a sign-on technology tool, and can specifically block a user from seeing, for example, sensitive financial information.

On the accounting side, Workfront can generate budgetary tracking and financial reports that can be exported to accounting systems. Any particular report can be reconfigured to highlight potential problem areas, and to help keep projects, as well as individual tasks, on track. Customized fields can be easily added to monitor specific information and run reports off such customized fields.

Keeping Tabs—Workfront enables you to establish specific viewing screens for project directors or other stakeholders, and lets such parties assist in making project decisions, without burdening them with an overabundance of project details. A roster of built-in reports helps project managers succeed with deliverables while gaining “lessons learned” during the execution of the project. The system also offers alerts to approaching milestones and events.

The manufacturer contends that Workfront scores the highest both among their own project testers and among team members at actual user sites. It’s been reported that the common and routine staff member tasks can be initiated without extensive training. In other words, the software is intuitive and straightforward.

Another advertised Workfront feature is that basic project management functions, such as adding tasks, updating budget information, adding resources, and monitoring work-flows, are simple to accomplish. Workfront customers say they routinely experience gains in productivity, on-time delivery, and the ease with which they accomplish other tasks.

Workfront integrates well with Microsoft’s Outlook e-mail program and other collaboration and document management tools, and can share data via Google Docs, SharePoint, and Dropbox, and also with sales/marketing systems such as Salesforce, Jira, and ExactTarget.

Supporting Services—After you purchase the software, Workfront professional staff will perform a variety of training and hand-holding functions, help you undertake periodic checkups, and tweak your system for optimized performance. Users are connected with a single service representative as point of contact, who both manages your account and connects you with other Workfront support staff as required. Workfront support is a mandatory aspect of employing the system for Year One and can be a bit costly, but it generally proves to be worth the outlay by helping ensure your optimal use of the system and achievement of your goals.

Asana

Another software application, Asana, is a task management program geared to producing effective project management on the team level, enabling users to sync between computers and mobile devices, while integrating with third-party programs to yield a versatile viable system. Its advertising slogan is “run your day, your team, and your company.”

Asana offers a system in which several projects can be established, tracked, and managed. Similar to big-ticket project management software packages, Asana enables you to establish a comprehensive task list, organize tasks in a variety of ways, establish due dates, and assign staff responsibilities.

Because it is a cloud-based system, permitting users to manage major projects or individual tasks, it aids both companies and their teams assigned to handle multiple projects at one time. Specific features include a dashboard, collaboration tools, automatic notifications, task management, reporting, document management, customer portals, and an inbox feature that automatically updates and informs participants as data is generated and new input is applied.

It’s a popular program for a variety of reasons: You can create projects and tasks within projects and can track the progress from the various browsers and devices. You can easily modify existing projects and tasks, as well as share files and communicate with project staff. Asana can be accessed through a variety of devices including smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and can be accessed on both iOS smart phones and Android phones.

Asana offers a smart inbox and can be integrated with Google Drive, Dropbox, Slack, Harvest, Sunrise, MailChimp, WordPress, and HipChat, offering up to a 100 MB limit per attachment. It has a system, called the smart inbox, for refining what arrives in a team member’s inbox. Instead of weeding through unwanted or insignificant messages, team members see what is important quickly and easily. Once it’s installed, you don’t need outside e-mail or specialized apps for communications or organization of messages.

For large teams, one of Asana’s top benefits is vanquishing difficulties that large teams encounter as they attempt to maintain cohesiveness. Asana is adept at enabling project team members to manage their work load, prioritize tasks, and organize tasks as necessary, as well as delegate duties, upload files, and make reports.

Asana’s e-mail capability, as well as its instant messaging function, allows team members to review and discuss project progress as it unfolds, to share information, comment on it, and attach or upload a file as needed. In addition, key conversations can be saved on team pages so that other team members can benefit from the innovative observations and solutions that are generated.

As with major software packages, when a change is made on a project or task, team members can receive immediate notifications and are invited to note, “like,” follow, or comment on the update. Asana enables one team member to cite another in the comments section to ensure that that person is in the loop, much like Facebook enables you to tag your friends.

Asana’s success is partly a result of its ability to streamline complex workflows with project team members, even among large tasks. You can tag individual tasks to later find them quickly and conveniently. With relative simplicity, Asana is employed to create, categorize, and schedule projects, and enables individual users to track projects to completion.

A listing of Asana features includes

  Real-time updates

  Project contacts creation

  Comments on tasks

  Tracking tasks

  Custom calendars

  Automatic updates

  Activity feed

  Notifications and reminders

  Multiple workstations

  Mobile device support

  Setting goals, priorities, and due dates

  Gantt charts

Mavenlink for every project manager

Another program, Mavenlink, offers key features beyond project coordination, communication, and updating. With Mavenlink users can generate a variety of different reports, record billable hours, and create charts on the fly that help you to see the big picture of where the project is heading. The more complex your project, the more you might prefer software like Mavenlink, which is adept at handling staff assignments, shipping deadlines, and outside contracted assistance.

At the start of a project, as the project staff is assembled, with Mavenlink you can enable specific individuals to have access and permissions to specialized data and information. Project staff can record their own progress, attach or upload files, and communicate freely on project-related issues.

As with other software described in this chapter, Maven-link provides considerable flexibility. You can easily add custom fields, including client contact information and subcontractor information. An indexing capability allows you to search by project team member name, message, or other selected topics. Mavenlink also is compatible with other key business programs, including Salesforce, QuickBooks, and Microsoft Office.

The software has embedded critical-path-tested capabilities. For example, you have a task that has to be completed within 10 days, but another task can’t start until the first task is finished. With Mavenlink you are immediately alerted as to when to start the second task. Mavenlink also enables you to organize, store, and share any file related to your project, and maintains them in one convenient place. Likewise, it has a straightforward, easy-to-access platform to help manage all project activities and individual team member activities.

Mavenlink enables an organization of any size to adroitly manage the entire lifecycle of a project, as well as project-based relationships. This includes interactions between a project manager and team members, financial reporting, file management, communications and messaging, invoices, and vendor payments.

Mavenlink’s cross-platform collaboration feature makes it easy to receive project updates as they happen, post information, share information, and keep in touch with team members, on the same page, in a way that is simple for people to access.

A sampling of Mavenlink capabilities includes

  Project and job costing

  Personnel planning

  Task dependencies

  File sharing

  Team collaboration

  Project summaries

  Invoicing

  Expense tracking

  SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) security

  E-mail integration

In considering if Mavenlink might be right for you, contemplate whether you’ll take advantage of the advanced tools it offers, which large organizations and seasoned project managers find highly useful. If you need a less sophisticated, simpler, and intuitive type of software with basic features, you don’t need Mavenlink.

Basecamp – online project management suite

An online project management suite, Basecamp, lets you set it up easily, learn it on the fly, and initiate a project the same morning. It helps to organize clutter and chaos resulting from the efforts to successfully manage a multifaceted project that includes a large number of tasks and subtasks, as well as work done by project management staff. When projects end, it offers a quick summary of accomplishments in report form and can generate automated reports to share with stakeholders.

Basecamp has been described as “covering a lot of bases,” notably in managing both projects and project staff with team members scattered across the country or around the globe. Basecamp claims to be the first software that introduced remote project management, and has improved this capability with each new software release. Because it is entirely cloud-hosted and provided as a service, users do need to take on a variety of updating and maintenance chores. Pay a monthly fee, and Basecamp’s systems software engineers handle all matters related to software performance.

One of its key benefits is enabling you to devise project templates to accomplish a specific task, track your progress, and modify or reuse assets as desired. As with other major software programs, you can add tasks with a few mouse clicks, assign them to project staff, establish a deadline, set up communication channels with discussion capabilities, add task notes, and send and receive files via e-mail or a mobile device. Basecamp works with both Android and iOS operating phone systems, and it syncs with a variety of apps, making it quite versatile.

With Basecamp you can manage from your smartphone. It offers a high-function dashboard on the homepage, which enables you to view multiple projects that are being tracked, mark them, and highlight which ones presently require your attention. Twenty different apps embedded in Basecamp aid you in accomplishing a variety of objectives while using your phone, desktop, or laptop.

Basecamp is less viable for traditional project management planning and control, while being more adept at assisting with team member to-do lists, file sharing, calendar management, and keeping abreast of chosen priorities and actionable items. It helps you to manage files associated with mid- to large-size projects productively.

The manufacturer cites one million+ users and says the basic software has been popular for longer than a decade. Some of the line-item benefits and features are

  Document management

  Project templates

  Scheduling

  Task histories

  Set priorities

  Add recurring tasks

  To-do list management

  Creating teams or groups

  Social collaboration platform

  Interactive Gantt charts

  Instant messaging

  Overall scheduling

  Real-time chat

  File storage

Basecamp appears to be a viable program for sharing ideas among teammates, perfecting proposals, and organizing the conversations. You can prioritize the order of tasks as desired and can tailor and tinker with the system to meet your specific needs.

Easy Projects

One straightforward, moderately priced project management system is called Easy Projects. It’s used by higher education groups and sales and marketing organizations such as Ernst & Young, United Parcel Service, and Symantec. Boasting a long list of customers around the globe, the software comes in many languages, including Spanish, German, Russian, and French. It is geared for those who’ve been thrust into project management and don’t necessarily have a command of industry jargon or of the conventional tools.

Among Easy Projects’ benefits are an exceedingly large amount of storage space, unlimited custom fields, and the ability to include guest users without limits. Basic functions such as adding and scheduling resources, injecting comments, and even creating new projects are all relatively simple. The terminology and icons employed are intuitive, making first-time project managers feel more at ease. The manufacturer claims its objective in creating the application was to devise software that virtually anyone can use, independent of one’s background and training.

Unlike many of its project management software competitors, this software enables you to run payroll reports. Reports can also be displayed in a wide variety of formats. Project team members can readily submit their time logs based on a built-in timer, by single entry, or via manual submission.

The software’s calendar function can be filtered by project name, customer, date, or custom criteria and can be used for team functions as well as individual workloads. If a project manager prefers, easy projects can be configured so that he or she receives a notification when critical events occur, or, if preferred, can be informed in an e-mail digest. Thus, managers can gain updates as to what is occurring even by the minute.

Conception and Creation—Easy Projects offers a variety of planning tools for conceiving and creating projects. Once a user starts to build a project, even first-time managers are pleased to find that they can do so with relative ease. The software can create bar charts, pie charts, and tables, as well as generate reports as PDF documents or as Excel spreadsheets. In terms of reporting, Easy Projects offers options, including more than 30 preconfigured report formats that users can employ or further customize.

Flexibility is the name of the game with Easy Projects, as it supports as many as eight kinds of custom fields, enabling a user to readily track, if desired, custom data which then can be assembled in report form and/or used for tracking purposes.

The ability to easily drag and drop Gantt charts enables you to modify schedules, track tasks, alter dependencies, and schedule resources. The project planning tools available to users, besides traditional Gantt charts, include resource load simulators that enable managers to engage in “what-if?” type queries.

All-in-All—While it’s easy for first-time managers to use, the software does not support traditional methodologies such as Agile, critical path, or Waterfall. The help guide requires a bit of upfront navigation, but once you arrive at the desired section, the supporting text is helpful. Another concern: When adding time expended on a specific task, initially it takes longer to determine how to add it. Once handled, it isn’t difficult.

As with virtually all the major software packages available, the vendor provides both product and project management training and follows up with implementation services. A certain level of training is regarded as mandatory for long-term success. Easy Projects’ active social media adds a layer of peer support that many users find helpful. The manufacturer continually updates and makes accessible a healthy volume of free training materials and, in general, seeks to create long-term partnerships as opposed to simply gain more customers.

Trello – for Agile and Scrum teams

Unlike many leading project management packages, Trello employs what are called “concept boards,” each of which corresponds to a project. Within each board, “cards” are analogous to individual tasks and enable you to track project progress or simply categorize items and maintain control.

Trello facilitates the ability of stakeholders—called “members”—to discuss projects or tasks in real time, helping them and project staff stay informed through a variety of methods. Because it is a collaborative system, members of a collaboration can receive e-mail notifications, updates of activity logs, and even updates of task assignments. Any particular member can be added to a board (again, this corresponds to a project) where the member may vote on ideas related to the cards (which represent tasks).

Trello’s card system includes all the possible bits of information about a project. Some of Trello’s benefits and features are

  Activity logs

  Assigned tasks

  Information retrieval

  Information backup

  Search function

  Text and visuals to fit any screen size

  SSL encryption of data

  Developer API

  Mobile access to boards

Trello gives you a choice of three packages. The free package enables you to have unlimited boards, cards, member checklists, and attachments, all of which means it will probably be sufficiently flexible for many users. The free plan enables you to integrate with Dropbox, Drive, and Box, and to include file attachments and correspondences of up to 10 MB.

Contrast the above with the business class plan, which includes everything in the free version of Trello, plus integration with Google Hangouts, Mailchimp, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Github, Slack, and Salesforce. File attachments of up to 250 MB are included. A Trello feature called collections enables you to organize all your team boards and to maintain control with quick and convenient one-click access. Removing former members is equally convenient.

Trello project managers have the ability to act as gatekeepers, granting who can create public or private boards. Likewise, company information can be kept private with access granted by having selected membership invitations. Business class users who run into trouble are afforded quick turnaround e-mail support with a key contact person and are offered a one-day guaranteed response time during business hours.

Trello’s third plan, for vigorous users, includes all the features of the business class plus robust security protocols. One can stay in touch with an account executive to facilitate training or simply to maintain high productivity over the course of a project or even in the middle of the day. This third plan also enables project team members to be accorded seamless access to the parts of the system for which they have been approved.

Low-Cost Options

If you prefer to spend next to nothing and still obtain software to manage your project, many low- to no-cost programs are available, three of which are cited here. Depending on the size of your project, its duration, and other factors, any of the following might work well.

TeamGantt

Could Henry L. Gantt have possibly known in 1915 that software would be named for him? TeamGantt, project management software based in the cloud, obviously emphasizes the use of Gantt charts in managed projects. The overarching concept is that charts make it easy for people to understand lots of data all at once. Gantt charts are especially easy to design, complete, update, and share as needed.

TeamGantt enables you to quickly devise a variety of Gantt charts, based on your needs. For example, the chart called “project creation and task management” allows you to display several projects in a single chart, view them in multiple ways, and quickly pinpoint those with overlapping time lines.

Tasks can be tracked based on percentage of completion and be color-coded for easy viewing. Project team members and others such as stakeholders can make comments and submit them to other participants. The software records and saves all such comments and organizes them as conversation threads.

Charts from finished projects can serve as a template for the next project, certainly a handy feature when you seek to create common or recurring tasks. The software also can save “project views”—snapshots of the project or components of it—as well as the task status associated with it. Such viewing enables managers to instantly note the latest changes and how that affects overall project progress.

Concerned about team Colaboration? TeamGantt enables users to easily collaborate by sharing charts with one another. Participants stay “up to speed” by logging in and viewing the latest posts and progress.

TeamGantt pricing comes in three plans: a free version, the standard version, and the advanced version. The software can be accessed via desktop computers and laptops using Windows, and also via iPhones and Androids.

Features of TeamGantt include

  Project management

  Task management

  Conversations

  Employee monitoring and management

  Project visualization

  Access on the go

  Printed PDF files

  A variety of reports

  Subgroup access

Project Kickstart

Sometimes project managers are not sure what they want in their plan. Project Kickstart aids in generating ideas by asking key questions, offering specific guidance as needed, and allowing users to rapidly devise an effective, organized plan that includes project phases, interim goals, known obstacles, and viable solutions.

Project Kickstart helps managers to identify problems, contemplate potential remedies, and create an organized, streamlined framework. From this framework, the project plan and schedule automatically update, based on new input related to tasks, milestones and deliverables dates, or other changes.

As with TeamGantt, Project Kickstart offers numerous professionally designed Gantt charts that allow you to establish dependencies between tasks and to view automatic updates as the changes are applied. The software’s “intuitive” capabilities help you to quickly generate PowerPoint presentations derived from various aspects of the project. It also offers “what-if?” type of queries to assess the impact of changing task parameters or resources.

The vendor emphasizes that effective project management requires having a good understanding of one’s resources, being organized, paying attention to detail, and keeping track of the budget. Project Kickstart links easily with Microsoft’s Word, Outlook, and Excel, as well as with MindManager, Act!, WBS Chart, and Mindjet. It helps you to effectively, yet rapidly, organize your notes via a straightforward user interface; assists in keeping projects on track through basic budgeting, milestone tracking, and cost tracking; and also monitors the percentage of tasks or subtasks completed.

Project Kickstart provides no-cost sample projects that include such plan elements as tasks, subtasks, goals, and obstacles. Thus, you can get a hands-on feel for how to manage your project before ever entering your own data.

Milestone Planner

A project management and business planning application called Milestone Planner gives users the ability to track which project management staffers are tasked to do what, and by when. This low-cost project management software, in one survey, had a notably high user satisfaction rate of 95%.

With Milestone Planner you can assign tasks, devise milestones, and track progress using your web browser and are supported by such features as (in the vendor’s terminology) work streams, goals, actions, and milestones. You can integrate the software with a desktop calendar and, if desired, can sign in using e-mail, Twitter, Google, or a browser ID.

Milestone planner is geared toward coordinating “distributed teams.” It helps users to collaborate in real time while allowing them to make notes and comments, record milestones as they are reached, and make other updates. All other participants can keep track of such changes and generate their own reports.

As with other software described in this chapter, Milestone Planner enables you to produce a snapshot of project progress in general, or by selected areas, and to produce high-quality charts, documents, and slide presentations.

With Milestone Planner you can add new team members and other system users as you desire, via customized e-mail invitations, with a 30-second sign-up process. The milestone planning function offers dynamic calendars that conform to the iCalendar standard and are supported by leading desktop calendar applications such as IBM Lotus, Microsoft Outlook, and Mozilla Sunbird, as well as Apple iCal, letting users stay abreast of project progress as new data is updated.

Milestone Planner tracks the changes made during the project’s lifetime. Thus, users can track progress and see who made updates and changes, and when they did so. Histories of milestone achievement and of the entire project are readily accessible. Milestone Planner features include

  Plan templates

  Mobile interface

  Data export

  Time line review

  Change tracking

  Activity stream

  Microblogging

  SSL encryption

  A variety of action lists

The standard edition of Milestone Planner is free. The professional edition is offered at a low monthly cost and includes unlimited guest invites, templates, searching, reporting, calendar synchronization, and RSS feeds.

Other Resources

Don’t overlook various PM software available via free trials online. It can be helpful to test them and get a feel for how such software works. Some PM software online is completely free, while offering less functionality than the for-fee version. Still, free versions could well be suitable for what you need. Also, many people already have some version of Microsoft Office Suite, which includes project management software. This might be adequate for your needs.

No Perfect Matches

Depending on the size of your organization and what you seek to accomplish, you’ll likely have some unique requirements and perhaps unique desires. No particular software application will perfectly match your specifications. The quest for a perfect off-the-shelf project management software system is illusory. However, it’s likely that you can find a system that will meet most of your needs and will prove to be quite helpful.

Online interactive search tools, such as those at www.capterra.com, can help you narrow the search. If you type “project management software” into its search engine, you are quickly shown that there are 700+ software options. This might seem overwhelming, but the options are broken down further into project managementconstruction management, and project portfolio management.

By clicking on project management, you can narrow the search even further, and then make selections based on whether software incorporates Agile methodologies, includes Gantt charts, offers customizable templates, and so on. Eventually, you can narrow down your selection to a handful of prime software candidates. Then you need to closely assess the few remaining software candidates as to how they fit your particular needs, the skill levels of your team members, your budget, and other constraints.

Caution is advisable: Take your time rather than hurriedly jump into acquiring software applications, even if they have proven to be highly beneficial for others. Conduct your own research, assemble relevant reviews, call vendors, talk to users in the field, and then seek the plan that comes closest to what you need.

QUICK RECAP

◾  PM software changes so rapidly that books aren’t published fast enough to review the latest version of the top software.

◾  The more training that project managers have with a particular type of PM software, the more highly they rate that software. Hence, training is vital for multiple reasons.

◾  Virtually all vendors offer online project management capabilities, plus software support. With the complexity of the programs they sell, support could be crucial!

◾  No particular software application is likely to perfectly match your specifications.

◾  Take your time rather than hurriedly jumping into acquiring highly promoted, leading applications, even if they have proven to be supremely beneficial for others.

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