With the emerging technologies, approaches to project management like planning, resourcing, budgeting, execution, time tracking, quality and delivery to meet the parameters of clients’ are changing. The Project managers feel the stress of fulfilling the increasing clients' demands and improving the internal processes.
Businesses now need project managers to take a different route in managing projects. The result is the availability of extensive, efficient project management software in the market that includes both paid and free project management software.
The question arises, why businesses are expecting a different route of executing projects?
It is because most projects live and die at the planning and designing stage alone due to the inability to make the best use of ‘project management big data.’ The data, that could have guided the managers about undermining the success of a project, wrong or incomplete methodology used, wrong stakeholders or sourcing partners.
Maintaining a balance between the expert human involvement who at least have some knowledge of project management even by attending project management courses online and the use of the right project management application software could definitely tight-shunt the loose areas that lead to project delays, quality issues or even failures.
Experts feel that the demand for project management roles will continue to rise till 2030 and those desiring to enter the field should have a project management professional certification at least to improve career prospects. Additionally, they should use proper techniques and methodologies best supplied by project management software tools.
Although less than a third of companies use any project management apps (with the majority preferring to use Excel for resource planning), a great number of the workforce surveyed mentioned the lack of effective team collaboration technologies. Nevertheless, with the latest digital trajectory of modern workplaces organizations are now left with little choice but to keep up with the transformation.
Here are some eye-opening statistics by FinanceOnline Reviews for Business related to project performance, hiccups or success :
- 32% of executive leaders say that selecting the right technologies is one of the top three biggest factors in future success (PMI, 2020).
- 54% of project management practitioners do not have access to real-time project KPIs (Wellingtone, 2020).
- 31% of executive leaders say that learning relevant skills is one of the top three biggest factors in future success (PMI, 2020).
- 44% of people don’t use a project or task management software to keep deadlines visible (Project.co, 2020).
These stats indicate the use of technologies in the form of project management applications and tools definitely brings a positive difference in a project outcome.
The next question in line is what is meant by project management tools or whether some free project management tools are available and how helpful they are. In the coming sections, we will discuss these in detail.
What are Project Management Applications?
Project management software (PMS) alias “Project Management Application Software is a computer program designed to help all involved in a project, to initiate, plan, execute, monitor and finish a project of any type or size.
It is designed to execute the following tasks:
- Plan and Document project tasks/activities
- Assign budget and control costs
- Build schedules/timelines
- Mitigate project issues
- Manage risks
- Assemble teams by organizing human resources
- Ensure collaboration and cooperation between the same and different team participants
- Control and assure quality
- Share information
Although the capabilities of a PMS application are massive, the core idea is to help you take your project through each stage of the project lifecycle from start to end. In other words, Planning, Tracking, Measuring and Reporting are the main functionalities of the team project management apps.
The advantage of such application software is to provide you with tools to help you attain a quick turnaround with the least snags, delays, and confusion. At the same time meeting the quality and delivery schedule. Additionally, the best project management software enables you to develop, produce and deliver your product or service combining all project and cross-functional expertise.
There are some PMS apps available for free that come with some standard features for managing projects on a small scale. Usually, these are ideal small startups, freelancers or tiny businesses. Nonetheless, they have their paid business versions for large-scale uses. Examples of some of the best free project management software are Trello, Asana, Wrike to try out.
After having covered PMS basics and their free availability, the next is to discuss the perfect features that you should look for before choosing any.
Top 10 Project Management Applications to Boost Productivity
Here is a list of the ten best project management applications to choose from as per your business requirements.
monday.com is known for its simple, intuitive interface for easier onboarding and quicker adoption for your entire team. Something which could be really challenging in the case of other PMS application software.
Of all the available Project management tools, monday is known for its visual and collaborative platform for planning, organizing and tracking project progress, powerful searching capabilities and unlimited storage.
The pricing starts at Basic $8/seat/month, Standard $8/seat/month, Pro $16/seat/month and billing could be done monthly or annually.
Seamless upgrading can be done to Standard, Pro or Enterprise version as per your demand along with tailored onboarding. A 14-day ‘no credit card required’ free trial is also available.
Wrike is also an online project management software excellent for co-located and distributed groups and users where multifunctional groups can work together from a single location in real-time.
While offering a Free Forever Plan that allows up to 5 users and 2GB of storage you can also avail of a 2-week free trial. The Professional Plan starts at $9.80/user/month, Business plan $9.80/user/month and the Enterprise Plan of $45/user/month.
Smartsheet brings effective team task management, crowdsourcing, sales pipeline tracking and an innovative way to collaborate on projects and processes. It eases the use of spreadsheets with visual timeline management together with collaborative and automated workflow capabilities, discussions and file sharing. If your business uses spreadsheets for tracking finances, scheduling and inventorying them, Smartsheet could be a choice for you.
It does not have a free service. It has a Pro Plan of $7/user/month, Business Plan of $25/user/month along with the offer of a free trial.
4. ConnectWise Manage
ConnectWise Manage can help you streamline operations and processes and maximize your resources efficiently with its error-free ticketing, robust documentation and clear communication system. With its massive reporting features and dashboard, it increases accountability among your employees across departments and teams and empowers you with accurate strategic business decisions.
While it offers Basic, Standard and Premium options, for pricing you will have to contact the vendor.
5. Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects ensures an unsurpassed project management experience. Its automated and highly customizable features streamline a project’s processes from start to finish allowing the leaders to achieve their goals within the set deadline and budget.
Your project planning and collaboration with team members, for example, can be far less complicated with the milestone mapping tool while its other tools and features help to monitor every progress or change made in the project/tasks.
With the availability of a free trial, it has options of Premium at $5/month and Enterprise at $10/month to go for.
Asana, with its resilient work management platform, Asana is very popular in the market. For businesses dealing with hard deadline demands, the visual project plans of Asana can be very handy to see the mapping of each step over time making it easier to focus on risks and remove roadblocks. It also permits to set priorities and deadlines, share details and assign tasks readily, everything at one place.
In addition to Free Plan, it offers a Premium plan $9.99 per member/month and Enterprise Plan By quote. Free trials for the paid plans are available.
Jira is yet another very popular project management solution regularly used by software teams that build and ship products. Because Jira streamlines the app development processes from start to end. The best part, it keeps updating to ensure conformity with the most recent trends in software development, something the software teams can leverage well.
Its support for Scrum, Kanban, and Scrumban methodologies allows teams to flexibly plan in the ways they find most convenient. Its own platform JQL (Jira Query Language) allows developers to create queries and manipulate data easily.
Additionally, the simple yet intuitive interface allows users to easily collaborate and optimize all their work processes. Also, with the platform’s very own JQL (Jira Query Language), custom filters can be used. The developers can easily create queries and manipulate data within a short time. Jira dedicated Apps work on iOS and Android devices.
With regard to the pricing, Jira is available for on-premises deployment and cloud-hosted solutions each priced differently. The on-premises self-managed solution has a Server Plan package starting at $10 upfront and the data center plan comes with an annual term license.
Whereas the cloud-based Standard Plan starts at $10/month for the first 10 users and later it becomes $7/user/month.
Hubspot could be a good option if you are looking for an all-in-one CRM tool that combines the project management teams with your marketing, sales and support.
Its free Marketing Hub offers projects that you can manage, get real-time feedback, results and notifications. Its built-in project management templates allow you to start off with managing your projects immediately as they come with all the features of project management like breaking tasks, assigning owners, setting deadlines or including any needed attachments/ assets in Projects.
The paid plan starts at $45/month, Professional $800/month and Enterprise $3,200/month.
9. Polaris PSA
Polaris PSA uses artificial intelligence, machine learning technology and SmartBeats technology for real-time project management to streamline resource and time tracking with recommendations on improving the efficiency of workflows. More efficient project planning is possible as the application software allows users to pull projects from CRM and use historical information as well to select projects better.
The SmartBudget feature of Polaris helps optimize pricing, revenue, and improve bids by getting total visibility into 100% of the involved costs, incorporating true utilization and real margins.
Seamless integration with a range of third-party software including ERP, HRMS and CRM is yet another feature to be considered.
For the pricing, the vendor wants to be contacted directly.
ProofHub is also a very multifunctional, secure and stable project management application that eliminates the need of depending on other tools to run a project. Irrespective of your team size of 10 or 500 members, it is extremely scalable permitting the leaders/managers to take charge of various types of projects and tasks along with full control over project communication.
It has released its latest 100% cloud-enabled version that is ideal for work-from-home teams and outsourced projects. Its secured IP features restrict your IP addresses accessing the ProofHub accounts ensuring data security and safe telecommuting.
Its Essential Plan comes at $45 /month billed annually or $50/month billed monthly with 40 projects, unlimited users and 15GB storage.
The Ultimate Control Plan comes at $89/month billed annually and $99/month billed monthly with 100GB storage.
Best Project Management App Feature
Definitely the first in line should be the project planning feature. Often this comes in the form of a Gantt chart, schedule or calendar to visualize how the different pieces of your project fit together, keeping the project work on track. The Planning features help to set project goals, milestones and objectives by mapping the key tasks and due dates.
2. Managing Tasks
The entire project needs to be broken into smaller building blocks or tasks that when woven together will complete a project. The idea is to delegate responsibilities by breaking work into small and manageable fragments and assigning them to different teams. Further granularity is possible by creating subtasks under tasks usually with a deadline attached to each.
Most of the agile project management tools come with project management templates that include work packages or actions that you frequently perform or apply to various projects. The templates also help you to standardize your tasks.
An essential feature to facilitate the free flow of conversation and information related to the project. It gives clarity about a work’s progress, helps to clear bottlenecks arising due to doubt or lack of understanding, and keeps the members well informed of the progress and developments.
4. Resource Management
Gives clarity to the project manager, team leaders and members on who is working on what, when and for how long. Not only does this set the onus but also ensures that no one is over or underworked.
5.Budget and Time Tracking
The time tracking feature permits to understand the time (and costs as well) spent on a project and can again be broken down into subtasks for better clarity and control. The project managers get to know the hour-accountability of the employees and manage the project budget effectively.
Allows to visualize the progress of each task, time spent for its completion (or which ones are getting delayed) and also the projects that are more successful than others. Basically this is an overview section to learn how much work has been done, which tasks are on track or offtrack, where you need to adjust the deadline or allocate more resources or reduce. Some project management tools or rather the best project management tools even highlight the overdue tasks or the ones that are about to be late. Mostly they provide dashboards with real-time data.
Allows visualizing the progress of each task, time spent for its completion (or which ones are getting delayed) and the projects that are more successful than others. This is an overview section to learn how much work has been done, which tasks are on track or off track, and where you need to adjust the deadline or allocate more resources or reduce. Some project management tools or rather the best project management tools even highlight the overdue tasks or the ones that are about to be late. Mostly they provide dashboards with real-time data.
7. File /Document sharing
All team project management apps come either as a part of the communication functionality or as a standalone feature of sharing files, documents, images, spreadsheets and organizing them in different folders. The accessibility is given to the concerned people involved.
Learning the Use of Project Management Apps
Irrespective of the project management tools you use, you must assess your project success even after implementing a whole lot of benchmarked practices and maturity models. For that, you must know some fundamental nine elements of best practices.
In truth, those who have already taken some project management certification even by attending some online courses like the best online PRINCE2 course aimed to build project management skills to handle projects irrespective of types, sizes, scales or complexities across industries, are aware of these elements. All of these are important for the successful completion of your project. Irrespective of the project management software you use, you can test it against these.
The Nine Essentials of a Successful Project
1. Clearly Laid Out Phases of a Project Life Cycle: For each of your groups involved in a project, you need to first map and then define phases, key deliverables, milestones and competence criteria. Any project has 4 phases viz. Concept, Planning, Implementation and Completion.
2. Documented Requirements and Scope: The project requirements, objectives and scopes must be documented early in the concept phase of a project. Some questions need to be answered in writing assuring all the stakeholders are on a common platform of understanding. These could be:
- What is required to be done?
- What kind of final result (product/service/system) is required?
- The goals and benefits?
- What are the measuring parameters of its success?
- What deliverables are required?
- How are the validity, correctness, completeness and utilities of the deliverables to be determined?
- What are the benchmarks of performance?
- The risk factors?
- The possible constraints?
3. Quality: The standards and criteria on quality need to be identified and set in each phase of the project life cycle (both for the product and process). Here quality itself could be defined as meeting the ‘agreed commitment’ of the product, process or service outcome.
4. Measured Commitments: Planning needs to be done as per the capability of a company and not upon wishful thinking. The planned commitments include planning, scheduling, resource allocation and budgeting.
5. Defined responsibilities: The roles and accountabilities of everyone involved in a project from the highest to the lowest must be clearly defined. A set system of constant communication among all involved needs to be set.
6. Tracking: A competent project management includes regular tracking of milestones, reporting, and regular project team meetings to measure progress, identify slacks and tighten them. Slip- offs, cost overruns and unidentified or new risks or problems are inevitable in any project which needs to be pursued and streamlined at the earliest.
7. Corrective Measures: Variances from the actual plan are common. A clear procedure of corrective action needs to be there. Some trade-offs are needed often and must be prepared for. For example, hiring temporary staff to meet delivery on time or decreasing scopes to save time.
8. Escalation Management: The best way is to resolve an issue before it escalates preferably mitigated at the lowest appropriate level to prevent its flaring up. A formal procedure of issue management needs to be laid out, especially in large projects involving many laborers and contract employees.
9. Change Management: Changes do happen and could be a major disruption leading to cost overruns, schedule delay, defects creeping in and rework. To handle such incidents a formal system of change management needs to be there.
Steps to Choose the Right Project Management Application
Any good Project management software is designed to improve the efficiency and productivity of all the members involved and finally refine the overall project quality. Superabundance availability of project management apps alongside many free project management software could be overwhelming for any company, as choosing the right one becomes a tough task.
Almost all high-quality project management software applications provide similar features though no two platforms are precisely the same. But before you decide to go for one, some homework is required at the organizational level to ensure the perfect one is chosen.
1. Organization Size
Large enterprises have different needs from SMEs. For startups or freelancers, some free project management software could be sufficient to start with and can be scaled up to paid version as and when needed. We have already mentioned a few good free project management tools.
2. Pain points
It would help if you understand the bottlenecks you are facing with your projects which you think using any good project management software tools would help. Make a list of your pain points and discuss with the vendors if their application can address them and to what extent. If you document your expectations in clear terms the application provider clearly understands your needs and their deliverables.
3. User Friendly
Not all project management apps are easy to use. Some could be tough to learn for many. You need to choose something with the ‘ease of use’ in mind without having hours to spend mastering the complicated interfaces.
Once you have clarity on the type of project management application that suits your business the best, here are a few application features to look for:
- A user-friendly mobile app must be there for fast and remote access or take any quick action, especially on the go. Because not everyone would be sitting at the desk working, many may be busy on the shop floor or elsewhere.
- The team leaders or managers should be able to hold discussions over the application’s platform with the facility of sending/receiving direct messages both privately and collectively to the members.
- The facility of a central database with accessibility by the involved members. Password protection of the documents to ensure privacy is required.
- SMS or email notification facility, without having to log in to check the updates.
- Dashboard features could be in the form of Gantt Charts showing timelines for effective visualizations and understanding of the project’s progress.
Advantages of Using a Project Management Application
Exploring the benefits of using project management software, there are many. As an organization grows, it becomes rather difficult to function in the desired way of meeting goals and client satisfaction without a proper project management tool.
To enlist the benefits, some are:
- Real-time Work Collaboration: The moment someone uploads a deliverable or marks a task as complete, the entire team gets the notification, replacing any manual message convey.
- Easier Remote Work: Employees from anywhere in the world can experience seamless work like receiving the deliverable tasks, understanding and tracking work progress, communicating, asking questions or anything else.
- Central Warehousing of All Documents: All the needed documents, files and images are available instantly to be accessed by anyone involved in the project without having to ask.
- Automated Report Generation: No more wasting time generating manual reports in excel sheets with even chances of errors.
Coming to a close, despite the level of maturity of project management and team collaboration, there is much left to be explored, done and desired. Less than half of businesses and organizations are able to close projects on time, rest aside from delivering value.
As noted at the onset of this article, only using the right project management app is not the only influencing factor in the successful project closure. A well-balanced mix of technology, human expertise with a harmonious mix of hard and soft skills is going to remain imperative.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What are the 4 steps of project management?
Project Management 4 Steps:
Concept, Planning, Implementation and Completion.
2. What are the 5 stages that needs to follow to manage your project?
- Planning and scheduling
- Monitoring and Control.
3. How do I choose the best project management software?
- Your company size
- Your pain points (the things you want to be sorted out by using the PMS application)
Then comes the features of the project management apps like i) Ease of use ii) Central storage of files and their accessibility iii) Mobile interface iv) Report generation facility v) Security
4. What is the most commonly used project management apps?
Asana is the most commonly used project management apps.
5. How do you keep track of projects and tasks?
- Plan your project goal and the project process
- Set deliverables, tasks and milestones
- Set deadlines for each deliverable
- Use a PMS application software for easy handling of project and its progress
- Meet with the team members, stakeholders
- Communicate constantly