The Essential Project Management Features Your Small Business Needs

By: on August 1, 2017

In an interesting Capterra study that determined the most sought-after software by state, nearly half of the country—23 states in all—placed project management (PM) software at the top of their list.

Source: Capterra

Project management tools are necessary to every business, but not every business needs the same project management tool! The right software for you depends on the size, budget and needs of your organization. What’s most important to understand about a tool is its features and whether they meet your needs.

To that end, we have created this report, based on our FrontRunners quadrant for project management, to help you understand what features you should look for in a project management tool.

While this report is based on top-performing products in the project management FrontRunners quadrant, we dig deeper into the features of PM tools and separate them into two specific categories:

  • Essential-for-All Features: These are key and indispensable functionalities that small businesses must look for in a project management tool.
  • Essential-for-Some Features: These functionalities become important as your small business scales up—it’s good to have at least one of these features in your project management tool.

Here’s a graphical representation of all the important PM features:

Read on for a closer look at the essential features to keep in mind while evaluating PM tools.

Essential-for-All PM Features

In our 2016 buyer report for project management, 70 percent of users viewed task management as a must-have feature in a PM tool. Most vendors in our FrontRunners (FR) report also offer task management as a functionality. Additionally, collaboration and project planning are key features offered by many PM tools.

These features help you track tasks, communicate with different stakeholders and plan your projects. Along with project organization these functionalities help in identifying and eliminating potential risks.

Let’s look at them in more detail:

Task Management

This is a basic, must-have functionality. Task management allows you to create to-do lists and track tasks that have been assigned to and completed by individuals or groups. Essentially, it tracks and improves employee productivity with a centralized task dashboard and due-date reminders.

Task management (Source: Atlassian)

Business value to SMBs: In our interactions with small businesses, we’ve come across many who are looking for real-time updates of task status. Task management features offer this and more—a significant upgrade over commonly used spreadsheets.

Our recommendation: Choosing the right task management tool depends on the size of your company and team. If you just need to organize tasks, a tool such as Wunderlist can work for you.

However, if you want functionalities such as file sharing and version control, look into advanced tools. Fill out this short questionnaire or read our Buyer’s Guide for project management tools to get a list of these tools.


Social collaboration is a critical functionality in project management tools, sought-after by most small businesses. Designed for teams that are using agile processes, these tools promote business-wide collaboration with team-specific chat groups, visual dashboards, activity streams, shared calendars and more.


Project collaboration (Source: Trello)

Business value to SMBs: The business case for collaboration tools is tied to the rise of nonroutine work. As per a Gartner report, The IT Role in Helping High Impact Performers Thrive (content available to clients only), “By 2020, nonroutine work will account for more than 65 percent of U.S. jobs (up from 60 percent in 2013).”

The need for nonroutine work arises—especially for a small business following agile practices—when tasks cannot be anticipated.

For instance, a software vendor might have to quickly change the user interface (UI) of a beta product based on the early feedback they get from customers. Collaboration tools facilitate the adaptability and creativity required from employees in such scenarios.

Our recommendation: Separate noise from useful communication. A tool like Slack should be used for quick questions needing immediate response, while email should be used for less urgent communication. An undue reliance on collaboration tools can lead to friction and misunderstanding among employees.

Create a best practices document for using social collaboration tools with your team and make sure that everyone follows it.

Project Planning

Project planning is about understanding the schedule of tasks, their relationships and their dependencies. There are many steps involved, from setting the task timelines to estimating the project’s budget and scope.

For effective planning you need to build a work breakdown structure, manage resources and create a risk management plan. Finally, you need to discuss the plan with different stakeholders using communication tools.


Project Planning (Source: QuickBase)

Business value to SMBs: In a survey we conducted to analyze project risk management tools, “53 percent of respondents reported that one to 10 percent of their projects were unsuccessful at meeting deadlines.” The reason they cited was the mismanagement of project schedules, which happens at the planning stage.

For small businesses, inefficient planning is a major cause for project failure and using a PM tool with effective planning capabilities is a way to mitigate that.

Our recommendation: You need to check if your tool offers project planning functionalities relevant to each step of your process. For instance, if your business’s planning process involves visually mapping the tasks and milestones against a calendar, then Gantt and PERT charts can be useful.

Likewise, if calculating resource capacity is important, look for a tool that helps do that, such as Clarizen or Mavenlink.

The essential features mentioned above are the ones you should definitely look for while selecting a project management tool. Regardless of the size, scale or type of your project, these software features are indispensable.

 TOP PRODUCTS:  Based on their value score in our Project Management FrontRunners report, the top-rated products are: Trello, Jira, QuickBase, Microsoft Project, Podio, Quip, Wrike and Smartsheet.

Essential-for-Some PM Features

You’ll want to make sure your PM software offers task management, collaboration and project planning. But many project management software vendors offer additional capabilities that help with tracking and managing projects. We have identified three important extra features—your PM tool should offer at least one.

Bug/Issue Tracking

Bug tracking is a simple yet effective process that helps in identifying issues with products and resolving them quickly. Designed like help desk software, the tool allows customers/employees to raise a ticket and send it directly to the responsible team, who then logs it as a bug in the system and assigns a person or team to fix it.


Bug tracking (Source: SpiraTeam)

When it’s useful: Bug tracking functionality has become synonymous with software development projects, as it helps eliminate errors in the product. Agile software firms developing a new product, upgrading an existing one or handling customer tickets should check for this functionality in project management tools.

Document Management

Document management, also known as file sharing, helps you store your files in a central location and make them accessible to other members of your team. Some tools also offer integrations with popular file sharing tools such as Dropbox and Google Drive, allowing you to import files from and export files to these applications.


Document management (Source: Clarizen)

When it’s useful: This functionality helps small businesses easily access project documentation. For instance, if you’re a small health and safety consultant, then you would be sharing and reviewing a ton of documentation (contracts, compliance documents etc.) with clients. All the files integral to a project need to be readily accessible for both parties.

Having a built-in file sharing tool helps in this case because searching the documentation on a third-party tool can become inconvenient for you and your client.

Time Tracking

Time tracking allows you to monitor the effective working hours of employees involved in a project. You can also drill down to figure out the exact time an employee took to complete a task within a project. All of this information can be viewed easily on a visual dashboard.


Time tracking (Source: Mavenlink)

When it’s useful: Time tracking offers different value depending on whether a project is contained internally or involves external parties. For internal projects, time tracking reports help in measuring the performance of team members by comparing the effective time they took to complete a project.

Time tracking in external projects is useful for creating billable hours reports for clients.

The importance of the above mentioned essential project management features depends on your business needs. If you’re a software development firm then bug tracking is a must-have feature. Similarly, document management and time tracking are useful features for small consultancies.

 TOP PRODUCTS:  Based on their capability scores, the following are our top-rated products: Clarizen, SpiraTeam, Mavenlink, Celoxis and LiquidPlanner.

What Solution Do I Choose?

This report intends to help you make an informed purchase decision for project management tools. However, the right tool depends on the project requirements of your business.

To dig deeper into the features of a specific tool, or to understand what tools are available in general, call us at (844) 680-2046 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

Additionally, you can download a checklist of the features listed above to quickly understand if a vendor you’re considering offers these functionalities in their project management tool.

Important: How to use this checklist

  1. Download the checklist and send it to all vendors whose project manaagement systems you are considering purchasing.
    1. Ask the vendors to add a “Yes” or “No” for each of the features on the list to indicate whether the tool offers that feature or not.
      1. Ask the vendor to add details about the feature in the “Comments” section.
        1. Once you receive the filled-in checklists back from the vendors, check the total score (generated automatically) for all project management products and make your buying decision based on your requirements.

        Additional Resources

        To further help you understand the landscape of project management software, we have created a number of detailed buyer guides. Here’s a quick list you can choose to read from:

        By Application:

        By Industry:

        You may also like:

        How to Build a Business Case for Project Management Software

        Comparing the Top PM FrontRunners Products for IT Professionals

        3 Application Lifecycle Management Software Solutions for SMBs

        Top Capabilities SMBs Should Look for in a New PM System