Things to look for in a good project management tool. It's a lot more than you think!
The question of how to choose a project management product depends upon what you plan to do with it. What do you want from the product? Simple scheduling? Predict dates and budgets? Bet the company on a new product? Clearly, before choosing a PM product, you need to know your own requirements. Consider writing a list of your top ten priorities. But even after you’ve identified the top features you want, the actual choice sometimes comes down to which product you like the most. Usually that’s a sign it’s adequately meeting your needs.
Where are you in your PM experience?
The choice of products also hinges on how experienced you are in project management. Are you a novice? A newly minted PMP? Or a veteran who has forgotten more than most of us will ever learn? The product you choose will likely fit your experience level. Be careful not to choose a tool too far above your experience level and your time commitment level. Everyone wants to stretch a little, but not everyone has time to ascend a steep learning curve on a daily basis – after all, we have “real” jobs to do. Pick a product that feels good to you. We invite you to download our timesheet and task management system for a test run.
Top 6 things to look for in a project management product
Here is a list of things you might consider looking for. Your list may vary depending upon your needs so it’s important that you develop your own list to work from. These should be considered the minimum toolset to keep a project on track and on budget. Without at least these, you won’t have all the information to do the job and you may experience unexplainable frustration or even failure. Be prepared with the right tools!
Feature #1: Hierarchy of Tasks and Gantt Chart
Every project management product should have the ability to create a hierarchy of tasks. That’s a given. Tasks should have a start and due date as well as a duration field for number of hours. You should be able to assign tasks to resources. All this is very basic and should be found in every product you look at. But again, choosing a PM product goes back to finding one you like. A product you like is usually a sign that it meets your needs.
Feature #2: Timesheet
A project schedule without real-time employee input is like scheduling in a vacuum. You can guess at the tasks and how long they will likely take but that will only take you part way. Without employee input (e.g. from a timesheet) you will have little information to gauge the progress of the actual job in process. You need a timesheet for that.
When you set your task schedule out into the wild, you may get more than you bargained for! You may learn that you have forgotten about half the necessary tasks. Other tasks may be unfamiliar or strangely sequenced for employees. You may also find that employees spend twice as much time as you allocated, or that they “camp out” on familiar tasks and try to ignore unfamiliar ones. All these are the challenges you’ll suddenly meet when you put your schedule on an employee timesheet. Yikes! But really… do you expect any success in the sterile laboratory? You need to get your hands dirty. And timesheets are the place to do that.
Feature #3: Expense Forms
Almost every project has more than just time. There are often expenses associated with them. Those expenses affect the final cost. If you don’t account for them you’ll blow the budget. But without a nice input form or timesheet templates, employees won’t likely send that crucial information to you. How else do you expect to get it? Again, we’re back to timesheets. Timesheets are a crucial part of good project management.
Feature #4: Shared Database
Don’t expect to share discreet files from your hard drive or file server. You won’t get any valuable input that affects your project schedules. People simply will not open your project schedule and volunteer actual hours or project expenses. Those schedules are like sealed in a vacuum. Nobody but you will contribute to them. That’s a huge problem because project management is a community effort. Without the input of all the employees involved your project is isolated and only partially realistic. Get a product where your schedules are hosted in a database and shared by all employees.
Feature #5: Reports and Graphs:
Meaningful reports and graphs make the difference between simple reporting and actionable intelligence. Actionable intelligence helps you move quickly to prevent impending disaster. Certain graphs can pinpoint exactly what is about to happen. With that information, all you need to do is correct a few items to keep your project moving forward. Without them, you won’t even know what’s about to hit you.
Feature #6: PM for Non-PM’s
If the product you choose is so hard to use that you need a PMP certification to operate it, you won’t get any real actionable information. The product must have the same features as the full-blown project management products on the market but be designed for non-PM’s to operate it. This goes back to the notion of choosing a tool that “feels good” to you. Only then will you spend the necessary time to make it work for you.
Good luck in your choice!