Quick answer: Project management tools are a software solution, or set of software systems designed to assist teams involved in a project. They help individuals and teams to plan projects, track the outcomes of certain tasks, and manage workflows efficiently, to get the best results from every business effort.
Today, we’re going to define what project management tools are, how they work, and why they’re becoming increasingly valuable to today’s brands.
What Are Project Management Tools?
“Project Management” is the term used to refer to the processes, and skills companies use to complete these tasks, and achieve specific goals. Project Management Tools can simplify and optimize the project management process, helping to align teams, track progress, and assign specific to-do list items to different individuals.
In most businesses, projects can have all of details associated with resources, time, goals, and moneys pre-mapped and defined, but they’re still not well-organized. Actually, making sure projects work without a hitch can be extremely difficult, particularly in an environment where employees are distributed in different environments, due to remote and hybrid work.
Project management tools and systems are there to ensure you can effectively implement the right step-by-step plan to complete your project. They increase your chances of not only reaching your goals, but finishing your project on time, within the scope of your intended budget.
Project management tools tell team members when and how to get started with the project, what to do next, and how to measure the results of a project over time. Some software solutions in this landscape are available to access for free, while others have a premium price point.
What are the Features of Project Management Tools?
Project management tools can vary in size and scope. Some come with basic tools for task management, so you can plan and track your work items over time. Others come with more advanced capabilities like issue tracking, task automation, and time tracking. Some of the most common features of project management tools include:
- Project estimation tools: To ensure a project is successful, it’s important for companies to set goals and plan potential outcomes for the task. Project estimation tools can help with estimating project constraints and outcomes via budget forecasting, EVM and baselines.
- Planning tools: Project management systems often come with planning tools like document creation systems and spreadsheets where people can share ideas about a project. These planning tools are typically connected with document management tools, where companies can store libraries of information related to the project.
- Budget management: Most projects have a pre-assigned budget and various financial forecasts connected to them. A project management tool can help businesses to keep track of expenses, invoices, and the actual costs associated with achieving specific outcomes.
- Resource allocation: Succeeding with a project often means ensuring the correct tasks and to-do list items are assigned to the right people. Resource allocation tools can help to ensure business leaders delegate tasks correctly, according to specific deadlines. They can also provide insights into which employees might be overwhelmed by too much work.
- Collaboration tools: Particularly in today’s age of remote and hybrid work, it’s important to ensure all of the key stakeholders of the project can remain on the same page. Project management tools often come with virtual collaboration features for instant messaging, web-based meetings, video conferencing and more.
- Quality management: Some project management tools come with quality management solutions, which help with collecting insights and metrics about a project. Issue tracking and resolution capabilities are essential for ensuring problems don’t end up disrupting the flow of work, or causing problems with budgets and deadlines.
- Project administration: Project administration tools can include features for onboarding members of staff, time tracking for billing purposes, and more. Some project administration options come with calendars and boards for tracking multiple projects simultaneously.
- Reporting: The majority of project management tools will come with reporting and analytics tools to help businesses keep their finger on the pulse of the organization. You can generate reports about employee engagement, progress, and business outcomes.
What Do Common Project Management Tools Look Like?
Because different companies approach and handle projects in various different ways, project management tools can come in various different formats. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but there are some particularly popular options to consider. Here are some of the most commonly used and implemented project management tools:
Gantt charts are one of the most commonly referenced, and most popular project management tools. Essentially, these charts help users to visualize their project timeline, and how different tasks will be assigned to specific members of staff throughout the workforce.
Gantt charts are often considered to be extremely useful in keeping track of the schedule your project needs to follow. You can use these charts to watch out for deviations from your project plans, and issues which might lead to delays. Gantt charts were introduced way back in 1917, and have since become an industry standard.
Work Breakdown Structure
The Work Breakdown Structure, or “WBS” was introduced by the United States Department of Defense back in 1962. Today, it still stands as one of the critical tools used for any project planning strategy. Essentially, a Work Breakdown Structure provides a way to break down the various steps involved in reaching your project goal.
With a WBS, companies create an end-to-end map of the tasks which need to be addressed before they can reach the “end goal” of the project. In most cases, organizations start with a clear idea of their “end goal”, split down into stages which can then be divided into tasks and sub-tasks.
Once you have a clear idea of all the tasks connected to your project, you’ll be able to determine where resources need to be distributed, and how long it might take to reach your goals.
The Project Baseline
Another common tool for Project Management is the “Project Baseline”. This is essentially a graphical tool for representing your project values, by comparing the standard you set for your project, against the outcomes of your efforts.
A project baseline encompasses various different sub-baselines, including the schedule, cost, and scope baseline. At the beginning of a project, companies set target “baselines” for what they expect to achieve, when they want to achieve it by, and how much the project is going to cost. Comparing your results to these baselines ensures you’re making the right amount of progress.
Project baselines can also be helpful in reducing “scope creep” by making sure you don’t allow unplanned work to disrupt the flow of your goals.
Other Project Management Tools
Outside of the options mentioned above, other project management tools might include:
- Collaborative team-building activities: Team building activities can be an important project management tool, as they help to boost the productivity and efficiency of employees. Companies can run gamification strategies and competitions to engage their employees, as well as group collaborative meetings and get-togethers.
- Communication management plans: Communication management plans are tools in the project management process which ensure everyone involved in the progress of a project is kept in the loop, and consistently working towards the same goals. Communication plans outline how frequently stakeholders will get together to discuss the project and where communication might take place.
- Task management tools: Task management tools are essentially all-in-one software environments where companies can plan the tasks they need to complete throughout a project. These tasks can be arranged into timelines and “Kanban boards” based on their level of completion, urgency, and other factors.
What are the Benefits of Project Management Tools?
As mentioned above, most business projects are complex, multi-faceted and time consuming. For companies to achieve the right goals with their projects, they can’t simply hope everyone stays on the same page and gets things done according to a deadline.
Project Management tools turn the goals and expectations of a project into an easy-to-follow series of actionable tasks, complete with guidance on how to communicate, connect and interact. Ultimately, the biggest benefit of project management tools is that they keep people aligned and organized. Some of the advantages users can expect when embracing project management tools include:
- Better time management: Project management tools like Gantt charts can help companies to get a better idea of how to schedule their projects to ensure they don’t miss important deadlines. It’s also possible to use these charts to accommodate workplace delays.
- Scope management: Tools like WBS help with ideation, and are incredibly important for project planning. They can give companies better insight into the scope of their project, and help with outlining things like cost, schedule, and work hours.
- Budget control: Cost baselines and tracking tools can help to ensure your budget doesn’t expand out of control. With the right project management tools, you can improve your chances of completing your project without over-spending.
- Improved collaboration: Project management tools with built-in communication and collaboration features help to keep the stakeholders in a team connected. This is essential to ensure everyone stays on the same page, even when working remotely.
- Project control: With project management tools, it’s easier to keep track of which employees are responsible for which stages or tasks in a project. This can help with ensuring everyone is working on the right tasks at the correct times.
What Is Project Management Software?
Project management software solutions are kits of project management tools, such as Gantt charts and task management tools, bundled into one environment. There are various forms of project management software out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses to consider.
Here are some of the most popular options available today:
Trello is a state-of-the-art online project management software equipped with collaboration tools, Kanban boards, lists, and cards, designed to help everyone keep track of their to-do list. The lightweight and simple solution makes it easy to assign projects to different members of staff, and keep business leaders in-tune with team performance.
Although Trello doesn’t have some of the more advanced reporting functionality and project tracking features of some of the other project management software available today, it’s still a great choice for beginners. The basic plan is free to use, and the premium plans also come with a range of additional features, like automation and integration.
Another excellent tool for agile project management, Asana is great for organizing tasks and teams. The solution comes with automation features, real-time collaboration, templates, and custom dashboards. The engaging user interface makes it easier for every team member to track their progress. Plus, there are intuitive animations for engagement.
Asana is a highly customizable tool, with a host of integrations with leading software like Jira cloud Tableau, Slack, Microsoft Office, and OneDrive. The biggest downside of the service is the huge number of features can take a while to get used to.
If you already deal with things like resource management and collaboration through Microsoft assets, it makes sense to take advantage of MS Projects too. This project scheduling tool supports teams in tracking progress with visual task boards and interactive features. You can break complex projects down into Scum, Kanban, and custom workflows.
This project management app is easy to use, even for small teams with limited technology or software development knowledge. There are even online tutorials and forums to help you learn how to use project team tools, task lists, and notifications.
One of the most popular team collaboration tools for work management, Wrike is a useful ecosystem where businesses can track time and projects. The highly configurable system comes with access to time sheets, Kanban boards, and interactive Gantt charts with drag-and-drop functionality. There’s even the option for users to customize their dashboards.
The agile project management tool is cloud-based and straightforward. You’ll have access to features like task lists, subtasks, schedules, and shared workflows. There’s also real-time communication and collaboration elements, and in-depth reports. You can set due dates for approvals, and get your entire team on track with a resource base full of crucial documents.
Another popular tool for managing projects, Zoho Projects helps businesses to keep track of tasks, work together on team efforts, and create Gantt charts. There are options for tracking billable hours and project progress. Zoho also offers companies a suite of communication features within their PM tools, so you can stay in touch with hybrid and remote workers.
Zoho is a fantastic SaaS tool, but there are some limitations for larger teams. This tool is best-suited to streamline small sprints and track project performance in smaller businesses. The workspace is also ideal for employees to keep track of individual tasks, and there’s a free plan for beginners.
How Do You Choose the Right Project Management Tool?
Choosing the best project management software and project management strategy can be complicated. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy here. Instead, companies need to think about how they can make a simple project as streamlined as possible for their specific team.
Project management apps and software can help with everything from proofing project tasks to complex workflows, provided they offer access to the right key features. When making your choice, make sure you consider things like:
- Key features: Does the solution match your methodology for project management with Gantt charts, time tracking, and even its own mobile app for iOS and Android users?
- Number of users: How many people can the project management solution support? Is it suitable for larger and smaller businesses?
- Integrations: Does the system integrate with all of the existing tools your team uses, so they can excel at meeting deadlines?
- Pricing structure: Do the pricing plans offered support your business plan? Is the cost worth the teamwork benefits and agility advantages?
- Ease of use: The best project management tools need to not only address your dependencies and business milestones, but also offer simplicity to users.