Project management is the planning and organization of resources to move a specific task, event, or duty towards completion. The project may be a one-time event or an ongoing activity. The resources are usually cross-disciplinary, including personnel, finances, technology, and intellectual property.
Project management is a key skill in any kind of learning development, but especially in eLearning. If you are new to project management, or if you would like a refresher, I recommend this book by Lou Russell as excellent preparation before you start your software selection. This article covers the considerations for choosing software for project management. Project managers also use software to automate task assignment, resource allocation and milestone tracking for all phases of a project. Project managers may also use related types of software that are not, strictly speaking, for project management, including ones referred to as:
- Time tracking software
- Time and expense software
- Task management software
Those categories will not be addressed in this article.
Project management readiness
It is important to think through your requirements for project management, the experience and readiness of your organization for the task, and your organizational culture. Here are some questions to think about.
- Why are you buying or upgrading your project management software?
- First-time buyer? Are manual project management approaches (notebooks, whiteboards, email, spreadsheets) no longer working for you?
- Are you wanting to improve the organization and automation of project management in your organization or department?
- Have you outgrown your system? Are the way you do time tracking and task management no longer adequate?
- Do you want to add reporting and analytics to your project management solution?
- Has your organization grown? Have your business objectives or strategy changed?
- How mature is your project management process? There are a number of different project management maturity models, depending on how well-defined your process is. At the lowest level, there is no actual process or organization at all. Higher levels of maturity add project management processes, beginning at the single project level and adding better-defined procedures to increase standardization, organization, and controls leading to optimization.
- Has your planning focus changed from task management and tracking to high-level, longer planning? Would a different methodology serve your organization better at this point in its evolution? (AI; spreadsheets; agile; collaboration; customization)
Other factors to consider
Company size and structure are important. Nearly all project management software is designed to serve fit the needs of organizations of a particular size. A department of ten professionals does not have the same project management needs as a company with multiple business units and hundreds of employees.
Your industry makes a difference. Banking & financial services, accounting, marketing, mortgage and real estate, education, legal services, professional services—the different natures of these industries require different details and accountabilities to be addressed in the project management process.
Does your organization manage a large number of projects and need to share them across a diverse user base of technical/non-technical users? This will also involve a set of features and processes to make it possible to coordinate projects, including cross-team collaboration for the duration of projects and integration with other software suites.
Pricing is always a concern. Does the software include free use for individuals or for a trial period; monthly/annual payment; flat rate; a fee per user; a fee per feature per user?
How many users will need to be able to use the software? A discrete number, or unlimited?
How will the software be deployed? Cloud, SaaS, Web-Based; Desktop (Mac, Windows, Linux); Chomebook; Mobile (Android, iPhone/iPad)
Templates and other features
Does the project management software assist you in setting up a Work Breakdown Structure? Does it provide templates or worksheets, or just guidelines? The WBS is a tool that lays out a step-by-step approach for completion of large projects with more than one deliverable or project phase. The WBS should integrate scope, cost and deliverables into a single document. Most WBSes are built around deliverables, but they can also be organized by project phase.
Does the tool assume that you will be using an Agile approach to project management, or a waterfall, or something else?
Making your selection
There are hundreds of software applications in online listings for project management. After you have defined what you are looking for, you may want to use a shortlist chart such as this one in Capterra.com to review the more popular choices as you go.