Businesses have a tough time harnessing new technologies.
In a recent survey1 we ran, small and midsize business (SMB) leaders mention “using the right technologies” as one of their top three business constraints.
As technological innovation disrupts business processes, one of the key areas affected is project management.
According to PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession survey, “83 percent of project managers report digital transformation has either moderately or dramatically impacted their work over the past five years.”
Small businesses that don’t select the right technology will fail to embrace digital transformation and find themselves unable to deliver on customer expectations.
We’ve written previous articles designed to help SMBs make the right choice when selecting project management solutions:
- We’ve helped you select project management software based on your business size.
- And, we’ve explained the key considerations for replacing your existing PM software.
For this article, we’re looking closely at the findings of a buyer report for web-based project management software that analyzes a random sample of consultations. The suggested tech solutions differ depending on whether you’re a first-time buyer or replacing an existing solution.
Let’s get into the details!
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Project Management Technologies for Buyers Replacing Software
Buyers looking to replace software often have very particular requirements. Listed below are the top three reasons why they are looking to replace their existing project management tool:
- To improve ease of use (32 percent)
- The desire for an integrated suite (29 percent)
- The need to manage more complex projects (23 percent)
Let’s look at each of these pain points in greater detail and understand which project management tools are ideal for each situation.
BUSINESS NEED #1: Ease of use is a priority requirement for most buyers looking to replace software. Cumbersome and bulky tools are hardly used by employees and can become a maintenance hazard, draining the resources of small businesses.
A retail business that needed to replace its existing project management software for its supermarket chains consulted with us on a similar issue:
TECH SOLUTION: “Ease of use” is a loaded term and is not just about a solution’s functionalities but also its accessibility and support costs. Here’s a brief summary of these points:
- Accessibility: The solution must be accessible both on-site and remotely—ideally with a single login—by employees using multiple devices such as desktops, laptops, iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones.
- Minimalistic design: An ideal tool should be approachable for the novice and configurable by the expert. Finding and editing the tool’s settings should be convention-based and as simple as a drag-and-drop interface.
- Maintenance and support: The rise of cloud-based tools has made software updates instant and frequent. This is essential for the smooth functioning of these tools. Some on-premise solutions also offer support, but usually at higher costs.
BUSINESS NEED #2: An integrated suite is a project management solution that offers functionalities relevant to different business needs, such as billing a team of freelancers, discussing project requirements on a centralized platform, tracking customer feedback and so on.
A graphic design firm with two studios wanted to replace its existing PM tool with a more integrated solution:
- We want to reduce duplication of data and reduce time spent with a more comprehensive solution that can handle more aspects of the business.
- We want to save documents, such as client agreements, and we want the ability to see when projects complete a life cycle of milestone dates.
- We also want reports to show all active projects and budgets, such as costs based on labor hours.
TECH SOLUTION: The integrated suite means a solution that offers functionalities traditionally considered non-essential to project management. A key note to remember is that these are not third-party integrations; they’re built-in functionalities. Here’s a quick summary of these features:
- Billing and invoicing: For businesses, such as small consultancies, getting project budgets approved by clients is essential. Billing and invoicing clients is equally important, thus the need for such tools.
- Idea management: This is an important requirement for businesses with creative project management teams, where there’s a need for teams to discuss and record project ideas in a central place.
- Issue and bug tracking: This is a requirement specific to software development companies, but it is also useful for businesses that think of customer feedback as tasks that need to be recorded, tracked and closed.
BUSINESS NEED #3: The need to manage more complex projects is a sign that your small business is entering the PM maturity phase. This calls for project portfolio management (PPM) tools with built-in third-party integrations for customer relationship management (CRM) software, document creation tools and other solutions.
A marketing and tourism agency based out of New York City called us with a similar requirement:
- Document/file management with version control
- Portfolio management (broken down by departments and milestones)
- Different access levels
- Project collaboration
- Project plan integration
- Gantt charts for project managers
- Task management with a calendar
We need a user-friendly system because a lot of the employees aren’t very tech-savvy.
We would like to integrate with Office 365 and Jira if possible.
TECH SOLUTION: The need for project portfolio management comes when you need to plan your resources and prioritize projects, accordingly. Third-party tools become important as your business needs data transfer among different tools. Here’s a brief on these functionalities:
- Project portfolio management (PPM): An effective PPM tool helps you allocate resources effectively. The tool also helps you plan for risks and understand task interdependencies. Lastly, it allows you to identify and separate low-value tasks by aligning business strategy with project management.
- Integrations: As your business grows, so does the number of tools you use across an organization. What becomes important is that your project management tool offers integration with other third-party solutions.
For growing businesses who want extensive third-party integrations, Trello is a scalable solution especially after its acquisition by Atlassian in early 2017. For more information on such tools, call us at (844) 680-2046 for a free consultation with a software advisor.
Right Technologies for First Time Buyers
Many first time buyers consult our software advisors to understand the uses of project management software. Listed below are the top three business concerns of such buyers:
- Automate processes and reduce errors (30 percent)
- Standardize processes and workflows (26 percent)
- Increase visibility and accountability among team members (23 percent)
Let’s look at each of these pain points in greater detail and understand which project management technologies and tools are ideal for each situation.
BUSINESS NEED #1: Automating processes and reducing errors that arise out of manual project management processes is a key concern for businesses. For instance, tracking project status on an Excel sheet can be cumbersome, as an Australian research and development firm that consulted us explains:
TECH SOLUTION: Project management solutions can help automate and optimize different processes. Here are the key applications:
- Task management: Automates task management, allowing you to assign to-do lists to team members and track task completion on a centralized dashboard.
- Document control: A centralized repository saves you from losing project files and helps to recall specific versions of a document at different stages of a project.
- Project collaboration: Teams can communicate in online workspaces by commenting on specific tasks or one-on-one chat, which ensures that all project-related discussion is easily accessible to everyone.
BUSINESS NEED #2: Standardizing processes and workflows is crucial for ensuring that tasks do not fall through the cracks. To effectively manage workflows, you need an easy way to assign tasks, establish deadlines and have an overview of all projects in the pipeline.
A California-based midsize software development company consulted us for a project management system that would help them build agile workflows and project schedules:
TECH SOLUTION: Scrum or Kanban tools are popular agile project management systems. These tools help you eliminate complex processes, complete projects faster and improve project visibility with visual dashboards.
Here’s a quick summary of what a Scrum workflow looks like:
- User stories: This is the project requirement, consisting of tasks and subtasks, assigned to team members that need to be completed in a sprint.
- Sprints: Usually lasting a month, sprints are fixed time periods within which teams have to complete a given number of user stories.
- Scrum boards: Members can quickly view user stories assigned to them in an ongoing sprint (represented as cards) and overall team workflows.
BUSINESS NEED #3: Increase visibility and accountability among team members and help businesses correctly measure the ROI of projects. For instance, if you’re an SMB with globally located offices, tracking the effective work hours of employees can improve accountability.
A midsize fluid engineering company consulted us with similar requirements:
TECH SOLUTION: The key to improve visibility and accountability is using project tracking and reporting tools. Some of the core functionalities include:
- Gantt charts: Helps you monitor task completion rates in a visual manner, such as bar graphs across a project timeline.
- Time tracking: Managers can automate the tracking of total logged-in hours of team members and create a billable-hours report via built-in applications.
- Reporting: This includes reporting dashboards for tracking key metrics such as project status, budget utilization, effective work hours of employees, project ROI and more.
Conclusion and Next Steps
This report is not an attempt to compartmentalize the needs of small businesses into neat categories, rather it’s a conclusion based on the consultations we have had with two specific buyer types.
You can use it as a quick checklist of things to look at when purchasing project management software. Here are the key takeaways:
First-time buyers of project management software should check for:
- Solutions that help them automate processes, build workflows and monitor project progress.
- Essential features such as task management, document control, team collaboration and reporting.
Buyers replacing their existing project management software should check for:
- Full-featured and easy-to-use solutions that help them manage complex projects.
- Niche and advanced features such as bug tracking and project portfolio management.
In addition to understanding the project management technologies, you can also check out our tips on how you can save money when purchasing project management software.
We have also created a number of introductory guides for project management solutions that cater to specific business needs. Here’s a quick reading list:
- Best Project Management Software for Mac
- Best Marketing Project Management Software
- Best Construction Project Management Software
1Gartner conducted this survey in April-May 2017 among 699 US-based Small and Medium businesses, with more than 10 employees and annual revenue of less than $100 million USD. The survey excluded not-for-profit organizations. The qualified respondents are decision makers, or have significant influence on the decisions related to purchasing technologies for their organization.
The criteria for selecting the product examples in this article were:
- They met our market definition for project management software.
- Their score on our most recent Project Management FrontRunners quadrant.
- The functionality was rated on how closely they met our market definition of the feature.
*Project management software helps organizations manage and deliver projects on time, on budget and within scope. These tools help small business leaders, project teams and stakeholders plan, monitor and control projects.
*Products are classified as PM software if they contain the following core features: Task management, collaboration, document management/file sharing, project planning and reporting/dashboards (aka, “project tracking”).
*The FrontRunners referenced in this article is our March 2018 quadrant, which scored products based on the value and capability they offer small businesses. Find out more about FrontRunners scoring here. You can download the full March 2018 FrontRunners for Project Management report here.
*Functionalities were rated based on how well they met our market definition. For instance, to be considered as an example of tools offering Gantt chart, the functionality offered had to allow users to visualize the critical path, set baselines for project scope, budget and schedule—three metrics that are later used to measure project success.