Top Capabilities SMBs Should Look for in a New PM System

By: on December 22, 2016

It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love—with their new project management (PM) software. Or they might, if they bought one with capabilities that are tailored to their business needs.

It’s easy to be swayed by brand names or the fancy system wrapped up in buzzwords and industry jargon. Before you know it, your Christmas wish for a simple software solution ends with another over-promised, but under delivering, resolution gathering dust on the shelf.

That’s why we’re taking a closer look at several capabilities outlined by Gartner in their 2016 report: ”Critical Capabilities for IT Project and Portfolio Management Software Applications, Worldwide” (This content is available to Gartner clients.)

  • First: we’ll test your knowledge of the terminology surrounding these capabilities with an interactive crossword puzzle.
  • Then, we’ll review each capability as it applies to small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and provide the answer key to the puzzle.

This analysis can help prospective SMB buyers evaluate their business needs and decide if it’s a worthwhile spend to purchase a system with these capabilities.

Critical Capabilities Crossword

INSTRUCTIONS: To complete the interactive crossword, solve for the capability described in each clue. Letters that are entered correctly will show up in green; incorrect letters will show up in red.

To clear a box and reset to white, remove the existing letter by holding the spacebar while clicking “enter.”

4a. Provides a quick, visual representation of the status of a project, its costs and KPIs. 1d. Enables multiple users to communicate, conference and coordinate among themselves to facilitate group work.
5a. Management of interrelated projects, coordinated and designed to accomplish a strategic business objective. (two words) 2d. Connection or link between different systems and applications to ensure seamless data transfer.
6a. Ability to create role-based access or set user permissions. (two words) 3d. Strategy for managing existing project initiatives and incoming requests, both planned and unplanned. (two words)


Answer Key

Critical Capabilities: An SMB Perspective

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these capabilities (listed in alphabetical order) and whether or not they’re relevant for SMBs.


What it is: Software with collaboration capabilities creates a centralized workspace for teams to communicate and coordinate on projects. Often, these systems will include features for file sharing, document storage, chat/messaging and an activity feed.

Is it relevant for small businesses? Absolutely! The importance of streamlined collaboration for teams of any size cannot be overstated. And interestingly, many teams prefer collaboration features within a larger project management system over stand-alone tools, so keep that in mind as you evaluate systems.


demand management

What it is: Demand management goes hand in hand with resource capacity planning. While resource capacity planning helps managers accurately estimate employee availability so they can staff highly valuable initiatives first, demand management is the process by which leaders evaluate existing projects within a portfolio and manage incoming requests.

This allows them to invest in the initiatives that deliver the most value.

Key features often include dashboards for tracking, demand intake protocols, various evaluation and assessment models, approval workflows and data visualization tools.

Is it relevant for small businesses? It depends. If your SMB is struggling to balance an existing portfolio while fielding a high volume for requests for resources, tools with capabilities designed to help you weigh and prioritize those demands can help.

However, it’s likely that SMBs won’t need demand management capabilities until they also require software with portfolio management. At which stage, they should have an established project management office (PMO) and be using selection criteria to weigh initiatives.



What it is: Simply stated, integration helps connect separate systems and applications so they can share data and work together as a coordinated whole. Many PM systems offer prebuilt integrations with third-party tools, for example accounting platforms or data storage systems.

Is it relevant for small businesses? Yes. In fact businesses of any size that use separate systems for different business functions should be concerned with integration capabilities. SMBs should consider a system’s ability to integrate with existing tools as a top priority when evaluating PM software.


program management

What it is: Although similar to project portfolio management (PPM), which helps centralize a business’s entire project portfolio, program management is different in that it helps coordinate efforts across a few related projects that, when managed collectively, can achieve greater benefits than when managed individually. These projects are related by their alignment with a singular business goal.

Key features will often include risk management and earned value analysis, as well as more advanced resource management and project planning than what’s typically available in basic solutions.

Is it relevant for small businesses? Maybe. However, it’s important to note that program management is less a stepping stone for SMBs between PM and PPM than it is a byproduct of implementing portfolio management practices.

Meaning, that once organizations have implemented portfolio management and defined their business goals, they are in a better position to group projects together that all contribute to the same goal.

As such, unless your organization also needs portfolio management software, you probably don’t need to evaluate solutions based on their program management capabilities.



What it is: Reporting is a critical project tracking capability that gives executives and managers a snapshot of key metrics, such as ROI, cost performance index, schedule performance index and overall project health. Over time, tracking these performance metrics allows stakeholders to make more informed investment decisions as to which initiatives are likely to deliver the most business value.

Key features include out of the box and customizable reports, ability to export and share data with internal and external stakeholders as well as options to filter data and view metrics in various pictorial and graphical displays.

Is it relevant for small businesses? Of course! Businesses of any size can find value in tracking and analyzing performance metrics. Prior to investing in software with reporting capabilities, SMBs should first define an organizational performance management strategy.This involves:

  • Understanding business goals and objectives you’re trying to achieve.
    • Deciding on success metrics that will be used to measure progress toward those goals.
      • Identifying the audience, i.e., stakeholders to report progress to.
        • Agreeing on a schedule, i.e., the frequency with which you will report progress.


        user management

        What it is: Software with user management capabilities enables businesses to create and define user roles and set user permissions. This capability encompasses permissions such as “anyone can create and assign a task,” “only project leads can create and define custom fields” as well as distinguishing between who can create and modify a report versus who can access read-only reports.

        Key features include the ability to define system administrators, set permissions for users based on their job-specific responsibilities, security settings and guest access.

        Is it relevant for small businesses? Yes. Regardless of business size, user management is critical to streamline project processes. SMBs should carefully consider what depth of user management capabilities they need before investing in new PM software.

        For example, user management is especially important for organizations that need to provide guest access for clients or contractors. In these situations, internal teams can share things like tasks or projects with guests but limit the guests’ abilities in the system, e.g., guests can comment or add a task, but not delete a task or see information outside that project.

        When considering new project management software for your SMB,
        which capability is your top priority?

        View Results

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        Key Takeaways

        SMBs should carefully evaluate their business needs prior to starting their software search. When you aren’t quite sure what you want to achieve, or what problem you’re trying to solve, it’s easy to be sold on a system with capabilities that you don’t really need.

        Being discerning when evaluating your business needs helps you choose a solution with capabilities that support and drive your business goals, rather than get in their way.

        If you have questions about the capabilities discussed in this article, please email me at

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        Answer Key

        4a. Reporting
        5a. Program management
        6a. User management
        1d. Collaboration
        2d. Integration
        3d. Demand management

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