Once a project is underway, it’s essential for managers to monitor work and keep teams on track to meet deadlines. What’s more, managers must keep internal and external stakeholders up to date on the progress made against initial baselines set for the project’s scope, budget and timeline.
That’s where project tracking software comes in. Managers use project tracking tools to maintain a bird’s-eye view of project progress, track key performance metrics and report back to stakeholders.
We’ve created this Buyer’s Guide to help you understand project tracking systems and how they fit into the larger project management software market. In it, we’ll cover:
Project tracking tools allow managers to compare actual project metrics—such as costs, schedules and personnel—to estimates established during the planning phase. Managers then use this data to report back to stakeholders on the overall health of the project.
Tracking systems are designed to improve efficiency by automating the data-capture process. This saves time managers would otherwise spend tracking down status updates and collating that information into progress reports.
These tools are more high-level than dedicated time- or task-tracking applications, which only track one of two things: the hours accrued by employees, or the progression of tasks. Project tracking systems, on the other hand, help managers monitor overall progress—from total work completed to hours logged to budget expenditures.
The “project tracking software” category encompasses a variety of tools: from basic dashboards to advanced reporting and analytics (see next section).
Basic project tracking capabilities include:
Dashboard view in Asana
More advanced tracking systems will offer all of the above, in addition to such capabilities as:
Dashboard screen in Clarizen
Project tracking software typically includes some or all of the following capabilities:
|Dashboards||Provide an overview of current projects and their status, often highlighting impending milestones and tasks nearing their due date. Some dashboards also include an activity stream or notification center.|
|Gantt charts||Also integral to project planning, Gantt charts provide visualizations of the project schedule and show task progress/completion rates. Tasks are displayed as horizontal bars across a calendar or timeline, and are shaded to represent the percentage complete.|
|Reporting||Gives a snapshot of the current status of key metrics, such as ROI/profit margins, resource and budget utilization and overall project health (including identified risks and corresponding risk management plans).|
|Analytics||Some systems include analytics and business intelligence capabilities, often coupled with reporting tools, that help users identify trends across teams and projects. These insights help businesses make more informed decisions in the future.|
Here are a few considerations buyers should keep in mind when selecting a project tracking system:
System complexity and pricing. There are many systems with project tracking capabilities, but the pricing and depth of functionality varies considerably. For example, it’s common for vendors to include dashboard functionality in their starter packages, but offer reporting only in their mid- or top-tier packages.
Reporting features may often come at a higher price—but we know from a 2015 analysis of project management software buyers who contact Software Advice that this is actually their preferred tracking method, over dashboards and Gantt charts.
Given this, buyers should carefully evaluate their needs and choose a system with functionality that supports their workflows. Many vendors offer free trials or product demos, which allow businesses to test out a product before purchase to ensure it aligns with their processes.
Cloud-based systems. Cloud-based project management solutions are becoming increasingly popular. They offer users a number of benefits, including:
Additionally, cloud solutions are typically offered in several different functional tiers. This allows businesses to purchase a system with only the capabilities necessary at the time, then scale the system as their needs change.
For project tracking, this is especially useful: Managers can start out with basic dashboard tracking, then increase their investment over time to a tier that offers Gantt charts and/or reporting and analytics.
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