Thursday, February 27, 2014

Business Essentials: Project Management Software

Business Essentials: Project Management Software

Tech companies have been hard at work over the last decade finding ways to streamline their workflow. As a result, numerous companies have entered into the domain of developing software specifically designed to manage their various projects and they have addressed almost every growing concern under the sun. Project management software in this day and age is powerful, easy to use, ubiquitous, and cheap. Businesses are quite literally spoiled for choice in this area and, if your company is not currently using any project management software to coordinate your projects, it’s time to take a serious look at how one of any of the number of programs that are out there might add value to your company.

What’s out there?

Sometimes choice can be a difficult thing to handle. With so much choice out there, how do we know which program is going to be the right one for our business? How do we know that it will be able to do the things we need it to do? Basecamp, Asana, Microsoft Project, Smartsheet, what’s the difference?

Generally speaking, there is no difference – they are all designed to help you manage your projects in one way or another and all will perform many of the same functions. Where they differ is in how you interface with each program. One could choose blindly and accept that there will be a learning curve to understanding how the program operates. No matter which program you choose, eventually it will become an extension of how your business operates.

However, there are a couple of points worth investigating first:

Web-based or on-prem? – One thing you need to decide is whether or not you want to operate your project management software literally from within the building (or “on premises), or if you want your project management to be handled on the web. On-premises software has the advantage of typically being more robust than web-based software. However, companies more and more are trending toward web-based programs because they have been stripped down in order to be more easy to use and because it does not involve installing the program on every computer in the office. Instead, project members simply visit the relevant website.

Proprietary, GPL, or Open source? What these three terms refer to is the type of license a program might use and defines what you are allowed to do with the software once you have it. Whether a program is free to use or not, project management software will most commonly use a proprietary license meaning that you agree to use the program the way it is simply to help you with your business. Other licenses may give you the freedom to tamper with the code and tailor the software to your company’s needs, but this does take some savvy and you’ll need a competent computer engineer.

How they work

As mentioned earlier, every project management software is initially designed to do more or less the same thing and most will cover all the essential components of what it takes to coordinate a project.

Communication – If a program does not allow for a team to communicate with each other, then it’s not of much use. Virtually all programs keep each project separate from one another so, when running more than one project at the same time, it’s easy to track what’s been discussed about which projects. It’s even possible to cherry pick who needs to know which pieces of information so that the right people get the necessary information while everybody else doesn’t have to feel bogged down by excessive communication that is not relevant to them.

Scheduling – Project management software also allows your company to set milestones and completion dates for aspects of a project. Anyone involved can then go to the calendar and see what tasks need to be completed, allowing them to better manage their own work.

File Sharing – Any project management software acts as the central hub where all the information regarding a specific project is located. It is open for all the people involved in the project to get their hands on. Relevant documents can easily be uploaded and shared for all to give their insight or make changes.

Although these represent the core of what most project management software will address, each program provides its own nuance, bells and whistles, and special features. How you decide to use these features is anybody’s guess but you’ll eventually find that there 101 ways to solve any number of problems right at your finger tips.