Whether or not a project is successful largely depends on how well the project is planned. In fact, in a recent analysis of project management (PM) software buyers who contact Software Advice, 86 percent request systems with strong project planning capabilities.
We've created this guide to help buyers better understand project planning solutions and how they factor into the larger PM software market. Here's what we'll cover:
Project planning software helps managers and stakeholders map out and visualize a project's critical path, or the sequence of activities and tasks required to complete a project, the duration of those tasks and the way they relate to one another.
This high-level "roadmapping" process helps managers:
Businesses can purchase stand-alone project planning applications (often referred to as "mind mapping" or "story mapping" tools), or invest in an integrated PM suite. A comprehensive PM solution typically contains project planning capabilities in addition to other core PM functionality, such as:
Among the best project planning tools are Gantt charts, which are used to visualize a project's schedule and determine the critical path. These digital charts are vastly less labor-intensive to update than Gantt charts created using manual methods (more on this below).
Managers also use Gantt charts after the project planning stage, in order to monitor task progression and resource usage over the course of the project life cycle. These charts are used to keep internal and external stakeholders up to date on the accuracy of initial scope, timeline and budget estimates. Many top PM software vendors include Gantt charts as part of their platform.
The following are some common capabilities of project planning tools:
|Gantt charts||Represented as cascading bar charts across a timeline or calendar. During planning, managers use Gantt charts to visualize the project schedule; determine the critical path; spotlight task dependencies and potential risk areas; monitor personnel workloads; and assign staff to tasks. They can also help track performance and progress on tasks once projects are underway. (See screenshot below table for an example.)|
|Resource scheduling||Some platforms include resource management functionality, allowing managers increased visibility into personnel availability and skill set. Managers can schedule resources to tasks, or assign a “placeholder resource” for roles they know they’ll need, but haven’t been able to schedule yet.|
|Calendaring||Managers can easily reorganize a project’s schedule by clicking-and-dragging work items on the calendar (see screenshot below). If the update causes a conflict later in the schedule, this conflict would be flagged for further attention.|
|Work item color-coding||Allows users to set rules for color-coding tasks on the calendar. These rules use variables such as the employee responsible for completing an item (e.g., Tom’s tasks are blue and Tammy’s are green) or the task status (in-progress tasks are green, overdue tasks are red etc.).|
|Risk identification||Allows users to flag potential risk areas, such as dependent tasks (e.g., if task B can only start once task A is complete, these tasks would be flagged).|
|Automatic alerts||Lets managers schedule in-app or email alerts. These can be used to notify employees about upcoming task due dates, or to alert staff assigned to a dependent task that the preceding work item is nearing completion.|
|Communication tools||Help facilitate collaboration among users via in-app comments, group chat streams or discussion forums. For example, users can comment and add status updates directly to tasks or flagged risk items, or loop in a team member on a question posted to a project discussion board.|
Gantt Chart in Wrike
There are several benefits of using project planning software as opposed to manual methods. These benefits include:
Increased visibility into individual and team workloads, skill sets and current and future availability. This benefit is best realized when using a comprehensive PM suite with both project planning and resource management capabilities.
Improved communication and collaboration. Project planning tools act as a shared hub where managers, team members and stakeholders can store all project-related communication. This provides a permanent record for important decisions and project changes.
Using visual tools, such as Gantt charts, helps managers with early risk detection. This allows managers and stakeholders to plan risk management strategies ahead of time and combat any potential obstacles.
Easy access to historical archives. The information in project plans and status reports can influence future business decisions. Managers and stakeholders using planning software can look back on previous projects to see why decisions were made, and to compare timeline and budgetary measures.
We're able to offer this service to buyers for free, because software vendors pay us on a "pay-per-lead" basis. Buyers get great advice. Sellers get great referrals.