There are literally dozens of good project management software applications out there, with Microsoft Project being one of the most popular mid-range project management packages, and the likes of Primavera being popular at the higher end. Free and open source project tools are also available to download or use via a web browser.
What does project management software do?
At the most basic level, project management products will help your organisation to manage projects from start to finish, and allow employees at different levels to have an input into the process.
Project management software has been around for a number of years now and as a result, it does far more than just manage the projects themselves.
Project applications can also carry out scheduling, cost control and budget management, resource allocation, collaboration, communication, quality management and documentation or administration.
The aim with these is to handle all aspects and complexities of larger projects and help keep costs down.
What do businesses tend to use project management software for?
Projects can be complex and dependent on many different factors, departments, and outcomes.
As such, project software can help to determine which events depend on one another, how exactly they depend on each other, and what happens if things change or go wrong.
In addition, they can schedule people to work on various tasks, and detail the resources – physical, financial or anything else - that are required, and this is called resource scheduling.
People also use project management software to deal with uncertainties in the estimates of the duration of each task; arrange tasks to meet various deadlines; and juggle multiple projects simultaneously, as part of an overall objective.
Types of Project Management Software: Desktop
There are different ways in which project management software is made available by vendors and service providers.
Firstly, organisations can buy it as a desktop package, and this typically gives the most responsive and graphically-intense style of interface.
Desktop project management applications typically store their data in a file, although some have the ability to collaborate with other users, or to store their data in a central database.
Multiple users can share file-based project plans or data held on a database, if only one user accesses it at a time.
Types of Project Management Software: Client Server
Server-based collaborative project management applications are also available. These are designed to support multiple users who are working on different parts of a project.
Server-based project management systems hold data centrally and can also incorporate collaboration tools so that users can share knowledge and expertise.
Types of Project Management Software: Web-based
Project management software can be implemented as a web application. This is accessed through an intranet or extranet, or the internet itself, using a web browser.
Benefits of web-based project management applications include the fact that they can be accessed from any type of computer without installing software.
The software is also automatically updated and maintained by the service provider, and the nature of the system makes it naturally multi-user.
Also, web-based software tends to come with a monthly charge which is cheaper than buying and maintaining the application yourself.
However, web-based project software tends to be slower to respond than desktop applications, and project information is not available when the user is offline.
Types of Project Management Software: Integrated
An integrated system combines project management or project planning, with many other aspects of company activities.
For example, projects can have bug tracking issues assigned to each project; or the list of project customers can become a customer relationship management module, with each person on the project plan having their own task lists, calendars, and messaging functionality associated with their projects.
Five Popular Project Management Applications
- Microsoft Project
Microsoft Project is one of the more popular packages and it now offers a web interface and deep Office, Outlook and Sharepoint integration.
- Matchware MindView
MindView has an easy-to-use spreadsheet-like layout, and its mind map option lets you see your project in visuals, reminiscent of brainstorming bubbles.
- Project Kickstart
Project KickStart is an easy-to-use project management package that integrates with other applications like PowerPoint, Outlook, Excel, Word, Microsoft Project, and ACT!.
- RationalPlan Multi Project
RationalPlan Multi Project has features to manage resources and budgets as well as multiple projects. It has an interactive Gantt chart, normally available only in higher-end suites.
Basecamp is a low-cost web-based project management and collaboration package which is gaining momentum.