3 Project Management Trends Small Businesses Need to Know About

By: on April 12, 2017

One way to select project management (PM) software is to drill down into the key capabilities of each PM system you’re considering.

However, the ideal project management tool for your small business should go beyond simply offering the right features; it should offer functionalities that will stay relevant for the life of the tool. This means the solution you choose should also offer capabilities in line with the latest market trends.

That’s why we’ve identified these three project management software trends for you to keep in mind as you consider the best approach to project management for your business.

Read on to learn exactly how these trends are shaping the PM software market and why you should care about them.

Trend #1: Social Collaboration Outpaces Task Management

“Project management looks not like lists of related tasks and progress reports tracking formal milestones, but a series of collaborative interactions among team members.”

Source: 2017 Gartner report, “Use Social Tools to Manage Projects Without Project Management” (full content available to Gartner clients).

Why SMBs should be interested: Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) generally have less structured workforces than large enterprises, which might include remote workers from across the globe. As a result, communication and collaboration over the web is critical.

A typical project can consist of hundreds of emails, shared files and documents, as well as many online meetings and video conferences. In such cases, collaboration takes a front seat to task management.

When to opt for collaboration tools: The Gartner report referenced above adds that social collaboration tools are more suitable for managing nonroutine work. These include projects that aren’t strictly deadline-focused, but rather demand more discussion, ideation and creative problem-solving from employees.

So, what does this insight tell you about when to use social collaboration tools over PM software? Start by looking at what industry you’re in. If you’re involved in research and strategy development, collaboration software might prove to be more effective than formal PM tools.

For example, if you’re a digital marketing agency designing a web page for a client, you’ll likely exchange a ton of emails, chat messages and video conferences with the client from ideation through execution. In such cases, a PM tool with collaborative functionalities would be more helpful than a traditional PM solution.

On the other hand, if you’re in a construction or manufacturing field with a high churn rate among employees and tight deadlines, a social collaboration tool might not be the best to manage your projects.

Not sure if you need social collaboration tools or more traditional PM software? Call us at (844) 680-2046 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

Vendors that offer social collaboration tools for project management

PM tools offer collaboration capabilities for specific business use cases and industry. The functionalities range from file sharing to finding colleagues with similar interests on an enterprise social network.

collaborative work management tools

Collaborative Work Management Tools—Categories and Examples
(Source: “Use Social Tools to Manage Projects Without Project Management”)


Let’s look at some collaboration capabilities small businesses commonly need and some software vendors that offer them.

Business need: Shared tasks and activities

Vendors: Wrike, Asana, dapulse, Basecamp and Trello

These solutions go beyond the concept of task management with collaborative capabilities that allow employees to share files and track projects.

They offer functionalities that go further than personal task management tools (such as Todoist or Wunderlist) and are meant for businesses with project management needs more complex than just setting up to-do lists for employees.

Business need: Enterprise social networks

Vendors: Yammer and Slack

Enterprise social networking solutions facilitate organization-wide collaboration. Employees can find and interact with each other based on agreed methods of communication (e.g., using # or @ to find or mention people). These tools are especially helpful for quickly communicating during project execution.

Business need: Embedded collaborative work management

Vendors: Atlassian Confluence, Redbooth, Citrix Podio and Samepage

These are primarily collaboration tools with functionalities such as file sharing, team chat and document management with revision history. However, they also come with embedded project management features such as task management, centralized workspace, shared calendars and more.

Trend #2: Cloud Office Tools Increasingly Used to Manage Projects

“By 2020, more than 85% of businesses will have deployed Microsoft Office 365.”

Source: 2017 Gartner report, “Adopting Microsoft OneDrive for Business Could Benefit Office 365 Scenarios” (full content available to Gartner clients).

Why SMBs should be interested: As per the above Gartner report, it’s only a matter of time before office productivity solutions such as Microsoft Office 365—as well as its popular cloud-based competitor Google Suite—become de facto tools for small businesses.

The good news for small businesses is that these cloud office tools are all-in-one solutions, blending productivity with project management. Users can track project due dates, read emails, share notes, match calendars or even start a video call with colleagues—all in a single platform.

When to choose cloud tools over formal PM software: Small businesses that don’t have complex project demands but need a communication and collaboration platform may consider using cloud office tools. These tools typically offer simple task management functionality such as calendars and spreadsheets, which companies can use to create dashboards for managing projects.

These solutions also score big on collaboration functionalities such as file sharing, video conferencing and real-time editing of documents, which small businesses might find useful, since not every project requires project management software.

That said, relying on cloud office tools for project management is not the right approach for every business.

For example, an agile software development firm making iterative changes to their product needs specialized tools to help developers efficiently track projects, along with a streamlined workflow process to eliminate errors and bugs in the new upgrades. In these cases, it’s worth investing in a tool such as Jira to ensure success.

Not sure if your business needs a formal PM tool? Call us at (844) 680-2046 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

Vendors that offer cloud office tools for project management

Cloud office suites are collaboration and communication systems that generally include mobile applications, real-time collaborative authoring, team chat and more.

Here are two cloud office solutions that come with such capabilities:

Business need: Enterprise-grade functionalities

Vendor: Microsoft Office 365

Companies looking for an integrated solution that streamlines employee communication and collaboration might consider Microsoft Office 365. The suite combines popular productivity tools such as Word, Excel, Outlook, SharePoint, Skype and Microsoft’s other native applications.

With the launch of Office 365 Planner, Microsoft offers project management and collaboration capabilities helping companies create project plans, assign tasks and track their completion as well as engage in team discussions.

Business need: Easy-to-learn and inexpensive tools

Vendor: Google Suite, or G Suite, is an inexpensive option for businesses, compared to Microsoft Office 365. With its Docs, Sheets and Slides applications, G Suite makes it simple for employees to create and share information as well as collaborate with colleagues on projects.

For instance, Sheets can be used for recording, assigning and tracking statuses of tasks. Likewise, Calendar is useful for tracking project deadlines and milestones.

However, G Suite is a trimmed down version of Microsoft Office 365, so there are feature gaps in the tool. In general, Google Docs does not integrate with as many third-party tools as Microsoft Word. Similarly, Excel is better suited than Sheets for businesses that need data crunching and extensive formatting capabilities.

Users can sign up for a Google Business Account and select the Google Apps edition that best suits their business. There are three plans to choose from, with the “Basic” plan starting at $5 per user per month.

Trend #3: Chatbots Drive Automation in Project Management

“By 2019, startups will overtake Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft in driving the artificial intelligence economy with disruptive business solutions.”

Source: Gartner report, “Predicts 2017: Artificial Intelligence” (full content available to Gartner clients).

Why SMBs should be interested: As per the above Gartner prediction, the development of chatbots, which are essentially AI-powered tools, is being driven by small businesses rather than large enterprises.

So, does this mean that small businesses should use chatbots to automate project management tasks?

The answer is: Yes. Chatbots are tools designed by small businesses for small businesses. Implementation has been made increasingly easy and the cost is relatively low.

For instance, a PM tool such as Slack offers beginner bot guides that make it possible for companies to build bots, without the help of experienced developers.

The other reason is that chatbots lend themselves more easily to iterative and agile project management methodologies, which are more typical in small businesses than the waterfall model.

Here’s another compelling reason to incorporate chatbots into your project management: The Gartner report, “Four Use Cases for Chatbots in the Enterprise Now” (full content available to Gartner clients) notes that “chatbots fit the modern workflow behaviors that are especially characteristic for the millennial members of the workforce, a growing segment of the total workforce.”

How chatbots can help with project management: Currently, chatbots are being used as virtual customer assistants for automating customer service tasks more than they are for driving employee efficiency and productivity. However, this is changing with increasing automation of various business processes, including project management, using chatbots.

The Gartner report mentioned above predicts that “by 2019, 40% of enterprises will be actively using chatbots to facilitate business processes using natural-language interactions” (full content available to Gartner clients).

Along with the above statistic, Gartner presents a visual explanation of how chatbots can help in project management:

box file sync and share vs chatbot

Comparison of a user accessing files in a Box file sync and share environment using an existing approach versus a chatbot-based process
(Source: “Four Use Cases for Chatbots in the Enterprise Now”)


As we can see in the above image, the user locates her files in a single step with the help of the chatbot. Similarly, chatbots can be used to automate different project management tasks.

Here are two more use cases mentioned in the Gartner report:

  • ChatOps approvals: These are event-triggered notifications that chatbots send to different team members helping stakeholders understand the status of a project and execute workflow approvals.
  • Chatbot scheduling agent: In this case, two chatbots interact with each other to automatically match calendars and schedule online meetings for employees collaborating on a project.

Vendors that offer chatbot functionality for project management

Here are two software vendors offering chatbot capabilities which can be used in project management applications:

Business need: Automate task scheduling, workflow approvals and more

Vendor: Slack

Slack is a popular project management tool with wide-ranging bot applications. These include specialized bots such as Hubot, which helps coders push issues from Github to different teams at Slack.

There are also a number of bots that automate tasks ranging from scheduling meetings, content curation, engagement tracking and helping teams collaborate more efficiently on projects.

Business need: Improve personal productivity and collaboration

Vendor: Hipchat

Hipchat is a collaboration solution that also helps businesses manage projects. Like Slack, Hipchat offers a bot lab with applications that help users perform specific project management tasks more efficiently.

For instance, a bot called Standup records the status report of an employee and notifies other team members. Similarly, a bot such as Karma encourages camaraderie by allowing team members to score each other on helpfulness and teamwork.

Conclusions and Next Steps

Based on the above trends, small businesses should look for the following two overarching capabilities when selecting PM software:

1. Facilitates collaboration and communication: As a small business, you need to ensure that your PM tool offers functionalities such as real-time collaboration on documents, email synchronization with project tasks, internal team chat messaging, project communities and video conferencing.

2. Grows with your business: You don’t want to be locked into a PM tool that does not scale with your business needs. One of the ways to ensure this doesn’t happen is by choosing an all-in-one solution that is open to integrations with new developments such as chatbots.

If you have any questions regarding the above trends or want more options for PM solutions, call us at (844) 680-2046. Or, to receive custom price quotes in your inbox, fill out this short questionnaire, and we’ll email you the details.

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