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The Ultimate Guide to Project Management Software: Benefits, Features, and Uses

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The Ultimate Guide to Project Management Software: Benefits, Features, and Uses

What Is Project Management Software? A Guide with Uses and Features

Imagine a world where endless Excel spreadsheets, cluttered email chains and siloed to-do lists are relics of the past. It would be a world that’s far less costly for client-focused businesses, with the potential to save the 11.4% of investment project teams waste on average — and then some.

This place of dreams doesn’t have to remain fictional. Thanks to effective project management software, some businesses are successfully reshaping teamwork and project delivery and transforming productivity and profitability as a result.

What Is Project Management Software?

Project management software is an umbrella term referring to a wide range of platforms designed to help people manage projects. These products range from a simple checklist app or calendar to organize small projects to robust tools that provide an overview of the entire project lifecycle and offer advanced features such as automation and resource scheduling.

Who Uses Project Management Software?

Businesses and teams of all sizes and from a variety of industries use project management software.

A nonprofit organization might find this type of tool helpful for orchestrating volunteer efforts, while an educational institution could leverage it to develop new academic programs and spearhead campus beautification projects. Even freelancers and small business owners — anyone who juggles multiple clients — get value out of a project management tool.

If you're in professional services, project management software offers a way to keep clients at the forefront of your business while maintaining internal efficiency and productivity.

What’s the Purpose of Project Management Software?

Project management software is designed to help businesses and individuals track projects, tasks and schedules. The core value of this kind of software is its ability to bring structure to complexity. It's a great tool for staying organized and ensuring your team remains on task and aligned with project objectives.

While specific functionality is unique to each platform, most project tools aim to offer a clear picture of project progress, a central space for tracking and completing tasks, insightful reporting and time and utilization tools.

Let’s explore these purposes in more detail with examples.

1.      To provide greater project visibility

If you have multiple departments working on the same project, a tool like this will help you manage those teams and ensure deliverables are completed on time. With access to a cloud-based project management platform, stakeholders can view the latest project status updates without having to communicate excessively and risk misunderstanding.

Example: An IT business working on a complex software development project utilizes project management software to coordinate effectively between their programming, quality assurance and UI/UX design teams.

2.      To centralize task management

When you’re managing projects, it’s important to centrally track the individual tasks your team members are responsible for. Yet, each person may want to list and check off their own tasks using separate preferred methods. A core purpose of project management software is to remove this tendency to silo. It provides a single space for assigning tasks that can also function as the tool your team uses to record when they complete the tasks. Many platforms also send notifications when dependent tasks are done and alert managers when approvals are needed.

Example: A fast-paced digital marketing agency uses the task-tracking function of a project management solution to assign content creation, graphic design and SEO optimization to different team members.

3.      To facilitate accurate reporting

The ability to access real-time data via dashboards and auto-generated reports makes this kind of software invaluable. With easy reporting at their fingertips, your leadership team can stay informed and see how all of the tasks and milestones in each project factor into overall team performance and project profitability.

Example: A management consulting firm uses built-in reporting dashboards to monitor milestones, budget and team performance for each project and client account without having to integrate other platforms.

4.      To implement global time tracking

Automated time tracking is a vital feature of project management software, especially if you want to accurately invoice your clients. With software that tracks billable and non-billable hours, you can log the hours worked on each task and combine them with project and client data to generate comprehensive reports that help you make key decisions about rates.

Example: An accounting firm uses the time-tracking feature of a project management tool to precisely account for billable hours on invoices and analyze opportunities for efficiency improvements.

There are additional reasons to use this kind of software, and there’s plenty of crossover between the above purposes.

Benefits of Using Project Management Software

Your aim for using a certain type of software may not always align with the range of benefits you discover once you’re in it. Here are just a few possible outcomes you could see when your business starts using effective project management software.

·      Elevated project planning

If you're a business owner, you need access to how your projects are progressing today, plus a long-term view of how your workload aligns with team capacity. Instead of planning projects in endless spreadsheet tabs, you can use smart software to outline timelines, set milestones and prioritize tasks. Ideally, project software will let you build lasting workflows that you can adapt to carry your team through many clients and years.

·      Seamless communication

Managing everything your team does is nearly impossible without some kind of tracking system. With project management software, you can keep all your tasks organized, view client history and communicate using messages and notes housed in a single platform. This eliminates much of the need for email or other tools, which means you're more likely to stay focused on the project at hand and avoid costly distractions.

·      Faster project completion

Agility and speed are the hallmarks of good project execution, and this is where project management software truly shines. Features like task management, collaboration and reporting give you the ability to pivot quickly when necessary.

·      Optimized budgeting

If your projects are well-organized and you know where all your time is going, it's easy to see how much they'll probably cost. Combine that information with billing data, and you'll have an accurate estimate of each project's actual cost before you ever start.

Disadvantages of Project Management Software

Despite its allure, certain project management platforms come with some drawbacks.

·      Inability to handle multiple project types: For those who work on multiple types of projects, choosing the wrong project tracker can be problematic at the very least.

A tool that’s made for time-bound, deliverable-focused projects may not be as effective at handling ongoing, service-oriented projects.

·      Inflexibility for some project methodologies: Project management methodology varies, from agile and scrum to waterfall and lean. Each has its own unique approach, and not all software will be able to accommodate every variation.

For example, agile projects emphasize iteration, which may not be possible to achieve in a software designed for the more linear waterfall approach.

It’s important to investigate whether a platform is made for your preferred way of managing projects or, better yet, can support multiple methodologies.

·      Limitations for complex projects: large teams, interdependent milestones and multifaceted tasks can stretch the capabilities of many project management tools.

An engineering firm might complete multi-year building projects requiring detailed resource allocation and sophisticated risk management.

The challenge is to ensure your chosen software can handle the level of complexity that’s typical for your projects without becoming cumbersome or sacrificing user-friendliness.

How to avoid being hindered by these constraints?

Carefully consider both averages and extremes. What does your typical project look like? What about your smallest/simplest project? Largest/most complex? Choose a platform that can handle your current workload and scale with your business.

Best Project Management Software Features

The best project management software platforms are versatile, offering far more than just task management or communication tools.

We’ll look at eight key features that distinguish a superior project management solution.

·      Project planning templates

Templates save time and offer an antidote to some of the limitations we mentioned above. Project templates are a way to achieve both flexibility and consistency — they make it easier to kickstart new projects and build scalable processes.

Don’t just use templates for projects. Improve efficiency with a platform that also features retainer templates, invoice templates and more.

·      Gantt charts and Kanban boards

Everyone visualizes projects differently. Two of the most popular visual formats, Gantt charts and Kanban boards help teams in equally important ways.

An advanced timeline view, a Gantt chart highlights dependencies and shows how tasks weave into project schedules and deadlines.

Kanban boards act as moveable task lists and are essential for keeping tasks categorized.

Never used these project visualization methods? Start with this Gantt chart guide.

·      Collaboration tools

One of the most useful functions of project software is as a central workspace for team collaboration. Collaboration relies on the basics of file sharing, commenting and brainstorming, but it’s also more layered. To support true team partnership, all project contributors and account managers must have visibility of the most up-to-date project status and client communications.

Before you adopt new software, think about how you collaborate on a project — and how you’d like that to look in the future.

·      Automation

Built-in automation is no longer a nice-to-have feature. To stay competitive, you need to streamline all the facets of a project, including workflows, report generation, reminders and client follow-up. The ripple effect of greater efficiency due to automation is big: Your clients will take note and your bottom line will reflect it. Search for software that supports an automated approach to project management as a start.

Here are four ideas for project-related business processes to automate.

·      Resource management

The success of your projects directly correlates with how well you allocate resources. A project management platform wouldn’t be complete without project scheduling, utilization data and other resource management functionality. You don’t just need an availability calendar; you need to consider skillsets, project changes and more to zero in on the most profitable resourcing.

Learn best practices for team scheduling and how a platform like Oas36ty can support you.

·      Visible metrics

You can get as far into the weeds as you’d like with reporting, but at the very least, you need to know what’s going on with your projects right now. Are they on time? On budget? Are there any overdue tasks? Don’t commit to software without a way to easily view your project performance.

Project management software can help you make the transition from relying on historical data to being driven by real-time data.

·      Mobile app

No matter what industry you’re in, there may be times when you need to make essential updates to client work and projects on the go. A project management app is a must-have. While mobile apps are now common, not all of them are as intuitive as they should be. As you vet platforms, don’t forget to explore their mobile interfaces and see if they have the essential features you need when you’re on site or away from your desktop.

What does an effective client work management app look like? Get a glimpse of Oas36ty’s brand-new mobile app.

·      Integrations

Depending on the scope of features in a project management tool, you may need to connect several other applications to customize how your team completes client work. Native integrations could be the answer, although it’s important to check on their limitations and whether there is bi-directional syncing, especially for a CRM, accounting software and other data-heavy tools.

Integration potential is a lot less restrictive when you have access to a powerful API. Read how one website management firm streamlined recurring tasks by building a site health check app that connects to Oas36ty.

How To Choose the Right Project Management Tool

Choosing software can feel intimidating, but there’s no need to rush into it. Pause and think about the following three factors.

·      Alignment with business needs: You know your business best. Your team size, client demographics, type and duration of projects and growth goals can determine how well a given software will work. Envision your ideal internal processes and way of interacting with clients before searching for the right platform.

·      Scalability and adaptability: As you evaluate client work tools, think about whether they can grow with your business. If you’re looking to scale, can a given platform help you establish processes that will withstand the pressure? What about accommodating more users?

Adaptability is just as important. Can you customize things like sale and project statuses to adapt a platform to the way your team works? Software should be versatile enough that slight changes won’t affect your ability to use it to its full potential.

·      User experience and support: No matter how feature-rich a client work tool is, it will fall short if it’s not user-friendly. You need to work with a software provider that understands that your time is a valuable resource. Not only should navigating the software be intuitive, but reaching out for support should be simple and quick.

Compare project management software

If you’re ready to look at specific software platforms, we have a wealth of resources. Learn more about Oas36ty and alternatives like Wrike, Asana, Zoho, monday.com and Trello in our industry-focused lists:

·      Top 7 Architecture Project Management Software Tools

·      Best Project Management Software for Creative Agencies

·      Best Project Management Tools for Accountants

·      Best Project Management Tools for Consultants

Investigate an All-in-One Solution

While many project management platforms offer helpful individual features, most can’t fully function as an end-to-end solution for your client-based business.

Instead of committing to more subscriptions (and excess training time) just to get a handle on tasks, invest in one platform that does it all. Oas36ty connects your task management to projects and, more importantly, to a client’s complete history, including sales, invoices, tickets and more.

Book a demo to discover how Oas36ty could align with your project management style.

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oas36ty practice management software
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