For smaller businesses, online project management software packages offer an affordable way to plan and control workflows, as well as track progress and time.
Small businesses often have quite different needs to larger organisations managing projects. The level of sophistication required can vary widely, from simple task management to multiple-stage projects involving both staff and external suppliers.
There are hundreds of project management tools on the market. We have only considered web-based project management software (often referred to as SaaS - software as a service). Our focus is on established and well supported products with positive user and expert reviews, which we feel are suited to a wide variety of small businesses and industries.
What is Project Management Software?
Project management software is software used by businesses as a central place to plan, manage and monitor projects. It is usually designed to break down projects into specific tasks and allow them to be scheduled and assigned to specific team members.
Depending on the particular requirements of a project, project management systems can provide a central repository of documents and information, and capture project costs and budget information.
Most project management software also has tools to facilitate communication and collaboration between team members and other project stakeholders, for example clients, external consultants, and professional advisers.
Project management software can include locally installed systems, cloud-based (SaaS) software, and hybrid systems. We have only considered cloud-based online project management software because of the significant benefits online business software provides to small and medium sized businesses.
Common Features of Project Management Software
Software packages will vary in their feature sets, however all project management systems have functions which cover all of these core areas.
Project Planning and Task Scheduling
Most project management systems allow multiple projects to be created, and break those projects down into tasks.
Task management is an essential feature of project management tools. Tasks are the individual components of work required to be done in order to ultimately complete the project.
Tasks may be given priorities, due dates, assigned to team members. Some tasks may have a list of sub-tasks, which some systems allow further prioritisation and assignment, as well as notes, comments and file attachments. Each team member can view their own to-do list of tasks assigned to them.
Some systems determine a status of each task, such as percentage or stage of completion, and whether it is available, assigned, underway, or completed. Completed task items may be viewed by team members and management, and will have an immediate impact on the status of other tasks where task dependencies are able to be specified.
Project Visibility and Management Reporting
Project management software systems contain tools for project owners, team members and other stakeholders to monitor the progress of projects being undertaken.
Common to most is a central dashboard area giving an overview of the project or projects, usually highlighting current tasks planned for that day, week or month, along with progress on KPIs and milestones. Tasks can be displayed as linear lists or grid-like “cards”.
Other project reporting and visualisation tools can include progress reports, timelines, Gantt charts, and the ability to “drill down” from overview data to specific tasks and information.
Team Collaboration and Communication
As most projects will have more than one team member working on them, project management software contains tools to assist in collaboration within project teams.
Common collaboration features include both communication and sharing tools. For example, team messaging apps, email integration, live activity streams, calendar synchronisation, and file sharing.
Team and individual dashboards give all team members visibility of their allocated project tasks and the project progress as a whole.
Project Documentation and File Sharing
Project documentation kept centrally for team members to access and add to will improve productivity and reduce risk of errors or miscommunication.
Project plans, files and other documentation can be stored in a central repository, with notifications sent to team members when documents are updated, added or removed.
Contact lists are often a feature, allowing project team members to easily message key contacts and also to keep a history of conversations and correspondence.
Project Budgeting, Time Tracking and Invoicing
Inbuilt financial tools and integrations to specific financial software tools allow project managers to keep control of project budgets and collect cost details for client billing.
Time tracking associates time spent by team members on tasks, so that they can be accurately costed to the project, and project budgets monitored.
Projects undertaken for external clients will need to be invoiced progressively or at project completion. Bills can be produced using inbuilt invoicing tools, or via integrations to accounting or invoicing software apps.
How Much Does Project Management Software Cost?
There are three common pricing methods for online project management software: freemium, per user, and per team.
- Freemium: A number of our recommended project management tools provide a free account, which may optionally be upgraded to a paid-for premium version. The free versions have limitations on features, user accounts, project capacity, or a combination of all three.
- Per User Pricing: The majority of project management software has a user-based pricing model. The monthly subscription is based on the number of user accounts which are in use or are available to use.
- Per Team Pricing: Team pricing means that user numbers are not restricted, although subscription plans will vary in cost based on features and capacity.
Some online project management tools provide optional add-on features for an additional monthly cost. For example, invoicing, quotation or CRM modules.
Project Management Software Integrations
Most web-based project management systems will integrate with other online software apps. This can improve efficiency, and reduce risk of errors being made with manual handling of data.
The most common add-on software categories are:
- Accounting and financial reporting.
- Invoicing and quotation software.
- Time tracking and staff scheduling.
- CRM software.
- Other project management software packages.
- Customer support and ticketing.
- Document management.
- Presentation and visualisation software.
- Automation software.
Buying Guide: How to Choose Project Management Software
Selecting the right product for your business can be overwhelming, as there are a large number of project manager products on the market. BusinessKitbag has done some of the work for you, as we have narrowed the focus to our recommended list of products.
Develop a Shortlist of Products
To help select the right project management system for your business, ask yourself these questions when considering the options.
- What is the size and complexity of the projects you will be managing?
- How many staff will be involved on any project?
- Will external parties require access?
- What is your budget for monthly (or annual) subscription fees?
- How important is access from devices - phones and tablets?
- What features are must-haves?
- How important are integrations, and which ones do you need?
Applying your answers to these questions will narrow down to a shortlist of products.
Now you have a shortlist, decide which products you will trial.
We recommend that you conduct an initial trial of 2-4 different project management tools. Minimum two so that you can make comparisons, but no more than four as it will potentially add confusion and take up too much time for little additional result.
The initial trial should involve signing up and navigating around the product, viewing basic instructional videos or walkthroughs, and getting a sense of the usability of the software. Your initial trials should give you enough information to narrow down to one or two favourites.
Conduct a deeper trial of the final contender(s) by setting up a test project and adding tasks. Use the task options fully - for example to assign tasks, set dates and priorities, add files, make notes, and complete tasks. Test the must-have features, where possible with realistic data.
Finally, make your selection. Search our deals page for any current offers on your selected project management software before completing payment details.