If you have been watching your collection of files, drawings and spreadsheets grow burdensome and your collaboration tools become inefficient, you should consider online project management software. Some companies report as much as a 30-percent increase in production after switching over to online project management.
The best online project management applications help you manage multiple projects, from the initial project request to the final invoicing. Most of these services feature mobile tools and social network-like interfaces for time entry, expense tracking, status updates and secure team collaboration. Additionally, these solutions are cross-platform compatible so they can support your team on any computer, tablet or mobile device.
The most capable solutions provide free client portals so that your customers can submit requests and view the status of projects. Global and remote teams can take advantage of always-available Web access, while companies that need greater control can install the software on their own servers.
Customizable reporting options help you prepare communications for executives and clients. Most of these applications can work better for you than the top project management software. Many of these providers have available APIs and custom integration services to help you roll-out a ready-to-use business solution that fits with the programs you already use, including Outlook, SAP, ERM, CRM, accounting software and Salesforce.
If you are familiar with traditional project management methodologies, you will appreciate the interactive Gantt charts with the built-in architectural, Waterfall, Agile and hybrid tools. You will find these PM tools simple to use even if you have not studied formal PM methodologies.
Online Project Management: What to Look For
We considered the basic project management tools when reviewing these products. We looked at budgeting and task management capabilities as well as resource management and collaboration tools including allocating team members and the ability to communicate via social media. We evaluated the companies in general, because adding a project management solution is often a long-term partnership. In addition to evaluating their current offerings, we asked companies about what new features they have and what they plan to add. We want to make sure that they are keeping up with evolving technologies and customer needs.
We also evaluated the relevance of the company’s technologies, using the following questions as a guideline: Have they created a useful product that caters to market and customer demand? Are they evolving with emergent technologies? Will they answer your phone call when you really need them? Will they fly in to train your team in person? The best companies value customer retention and strive to provide exceptional service.
Below are the criteria that we used to evaluate online project management services:
Project Management Tools
Top online management solutions support traditional project-management methodologies and incorporate emergent technologies. For example, they should easily handle traditional methods such as Waterfall, Agile, PRINCE2 and Chain methods, as well as help you create new processes. We checked how well these project management tools handle the basics, such as request management, budgeting, issue tracking, risk assessment and task management. The top choices in our analysis set themselves apart by also providing extensive reporting options and easy ways to share those reports with stakeholders and others.
We evaluated the available project management tools for their document management, physical asset and resource allocation capabilities. We also evaluated the tools for tracking expenses and timesheets. We checked to see if the software offered advanced search filters for resources, so you could know which of you available resources fit the experience of your workers and the price for your project.
Although this comparison focuses on project manager tools, we briefly looked at how the software enables team interaction and facilitates project monitoring. Collaboration tools include discussions or streams, file sharing and announcements. Social networking-type tools have become increasingly popular, and the best software provides these features. Most collaboration tools do not require users to rely on other solutions such as SharePoint. We also checked whether the services offer free tools for nonpaying users, such as report viewing and read-only accounts.
Ease of Use
To get your team and company as a whole to adopt a PM solution, it must be easy to use. Your team will abandon difficult applications, making your investment much less valuable. Even if team members do adopt the project management tools, they may not use it to its fullest capacity if it is difficult to understand. We looked for convenience features such as project templates, customization options, import tools and automated functions to determine the ease-of-use and convenience of each software choice. The service providers should also offer ample training through webinars, documentation, videos and even one-on-one training to help your team learn how to use the tools quickly.
Integration & Professional Services
When you add project management software, you usually enter into a long-term partnership. We wanted to make sure that you find the company that will provide the services you need and the support for your organization. The best services create customized implementation plans, provide one-on-one management training and connect you with a dedicated account manager (for large contracts).
Your project management software should work with your existing business systems. If it doesn’t, most service providers will create custom integrations for your business or provide you with the APIs to do it yourself. Your project management application might also include onsite training, implementation assistance, scheduled checkups with a dedicated account manager, 24-hour telephone support and one-on-one training. Look for the features that matter most to your business: if you have a large company, where many people will use the software, you may benefit from on-site training and direct-support options.
Maintaining Security for you and your client’s data is an essential professional service, especially if you manage sensitive data. Lucrative projects that were once out of reach, because you were not able to satisfy client security or compliance requirements, may now be plausible using a secure project management service. Additionally, if you conduct international business, you should know that international data transactions must remain auditable in order for you to be compliant. We investigated each service’s security protocols to discover those who can provide the level of data security that you require.
Online project management software helps you change your cluttered project management habits. A good tool will get the job done. A better tool will keep you from wasting resources due to inefficiency, and help you obtain visibility and quantify production efforts for stakeholders. These comprehensive products greatly increase efficiency by better organizing requests, resource availability, issue tracking, communication, document management and scheduling — giving everyone involved greater clarity and better direction.
By Pamela S Stevens