It sounds like be a scene from The Office: a business owner or CEO tries to find the perfect project management tool only to miss all of his or her deadlines because they were too busy testing new apps to actually get work done. There are a lot of different plug-ins, software and tools on the Internet that are supposed to make team projects easier, but what aspects should take priority over others? Don’t be a Michael Scott, know what you want before you start searching for a project management solution.
The beauty of Google Docs and Smartsheets is that multiple people can work on a project at once. Rather than sharing a Word Doc or spreadsheet from person to person, these tools automatically update each time someone makes edits. But sometimes there can be too many cooks in the kitchen. If one team member hits the save button, his or her changes could override everyone else’s. When searching for different tools, make a note of how easy it is for multiple people to work on one task at once.
2. Department Differentiation
In all likelihood, your copywriters don’t need to see the accounting projects or HR tasks, but the CEO needs to see all of them. Does the software that you’re looking at make it easy for users to know exactly what projects they need to work on? Or will your web designer get bombarded by notifications relating to sales and finance? The ability to sort tasks by department will make the experience easier for employees – and help keep upper management sane.
3. Different Levels of Access
The importance of this feature can vary depending on your company size and organizational structure. Editors can set up viewer-only access on Smartsheets and Google Docs for editorial calendars so contributors can check their due dates but not move them up or back. Managers could find this useful if they want employees to check-in with them throughout a project. If a team is creating brochures, they would run the proofs past the manager to approve before they go to the printers. Then only the manager could check off tasks.The team knows where they are in the project but the manager moves them through each step.
4. Mobile Presence
Most mobile devices are developing ways to multi-task and use two screens while working. The message is simple: phones aren’t just for playing angry birds, they’re tools to review spreadsheets, update reports and create presentations. If you use your phone as much as your desktop to complete projects, you’ll want to choose a management tool with an app or well-designed mobile webpage.
5. Team Member Communication
The purpose of project management software is to keep all the branches of a project in one location. If your software lets you attach files and upload presentations but not make comments or notes on what progress has been made, it may be time for a change. Look for tools that have chat, email and even video conferencing features. Even if group members are just asking for an extension or giving a daily report, all project information stays in one location, which reduces the risk of miscommunication.
6. Easy Visualization
In the same way that a project is broken down into multiple tasks, the tasks are usually broken down into sub-tasks. Not only do you want software that makes it easy to break the whole pie into smaller pieces, you also want something that you can add tasks and subtasks to as you think of them. There are always extra details that get added to projects and keeping a clear visualization of what needs to get done is important to prevent details from slipping through the cracks.
7. Time/Billing Tracker
Remember all of those extra tasks you had to add in the above feature? Your list just added ten hours to the project. A time tracker lets you calculate how long each part of the project will take and puts together a clearer picture of how much the final product will cost. Plus, at the end of the project, you’ll save time by already having a representation of everything that’s been done and the cost.
8. File Compatibility
Software that recognizes several different types of files, from the universally used Word Doc to videos to heavy zip files is a good place to start when looking for a project management solution. The ability to upload, store and share other files and sheets is key. How will your group collaborate if they can’t all access the work? Finding a tool that doesn’t limit your file type or file size is a step towards easier project completion.
9. Integration within Existing Systems /API
If the software can only be accessed through Gmail and half of your team uses Microsoft Outlook, find something else. That’s just the most basic of examples. Look and see what the software connects with to make your life easier. The longer the list the better, as you never know what you’ll need to sync to and can usually opt out of tools you don’t need.
10. Deadline Reminders
These can range for subtle emails to glaring text messages. More often than not you’re getting pulled in seven different directions and working on nine different projects with five different teams. It can be difficult to stay on top of your game. Podio sends out a “daily digest” email with tasks and upcoming deadlines. Look for a tool that remembers everything on your plate for you and sends a notice when you’re reaching the red zone of deadlines.
11. Plan Flexibility
If you’re looking to pay for a tool or software, check and see what different levels of payment they offer. Your company might find the bronze or silver plans give you the most bang for your buck if you wouldn’t use all the tools offered in the super-extreme-platinum plan. A tool with multiple tiers will give you the option to pay more or less in the future as you use it for different projects. Options are your friend with project management software.
Shop around a little for project management solutions. If you’re looking to invest, take advantage of free trials to see what works and what doesn’t for your employees. These eleven features can help you choose which tool to pick, but it’s the software that your employees will consistently use that holds the staying power.