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How to Choose the Right Project Management Tool

Project management tools can make or break your business.  The right project management tool can keep productivity flowing and your business operating smoothly.  The wrong project management tool can create difficulties you’d never imagined.  What can you do to make sure you choose the right project management tool for your business?  Read on to find out.

According to ChooseWhat.com’s own Operations Officer, Leo Welder, “Your project management tool is the spine of your business.“

There’s no disputing that any online project management tool on the market will dramatically improve how you manage work flow.  The problem is determining which of dozens of tools and free applications available will work best for your business.  But, you can select the right tool for you by following these steps:

Look for Essential Features

Not all project management tools offer these features, and some tools handle specific functions (like time-tracking) better than other tools can.  But, in general, quality project management tools should be able to provide the following:

  • Project organization
  • Ability to assign people, both internal and external to your company, to specific projects
  • Time-tracking
  • Automatic and  progress updates on projects and tasks through the system to individual email addresses
  • Ability to upload documents to particular projects (Note: Most tools do not allow you to save documents directly into the system.  You’ll have to save them on your hard drive and then upload them.)

Ideally, you want to find a tool that handles all of these functions equally well, but you’ll probably have to figure out which ones matter the most to you.

Don’t Just Try It, Test It

Testing project management tools before you buy is extremely important. Think of switching project management tools as a non-option.  Once you’ve selected your tool and begin using it, it will become increasingly difficult for your company to transfer everything to a new system.  When you test a specific tool, really press the system to uncover any limitations that might become problematic for you in the future.

Before you can test a project management tool, you need to figure out how you currently organize your projects.  Once your current project organization is mapped out, you can try to mirror your current structure on the project management tool.

When you find a tool that you think might work, sign up for a free trial/plan, enter real projects and set up profiles for real co-workers/employees.  Here are some other key actions to test:

  • Enter tasks, task lists and milestones.  See if you can easily tie tasks and milestones together or group tasks.
  • Create due dates and check how the calendar or upcoming due dates are displayed.  Then  change the due date, to see how difficult it is to adjust the due dates of related tasks.
  • Assign tasks and projects to real people.
  • Enter time in the various ways you think people would enter it into the system:  on specific tasks, work on a project not tied to a specific task, etc.
  • Test automatic email alerts/updates from the system.
  • Change who is responsible for a particular task.
  • See what happens when you close out tasks, milestones, and projects.
  • Test anything else you can think of that you might see yourself using in the system.

Read the Reports

As a manager, you need to figure out what kinds of reports you’d like to see on your project management tool.  Ask yourself the following questions, and then test your tool’s reporting capabilities to see if they offer what you want.

  • What time-tracking information is important to report?
  • Is it important for you to know the percentage of tasks completed for a project or milestone?
  • Do you want to see a list of overdue tasks and milestones?
  • Can you easily see the tasks that each person has on their plate?

Determine What You Want to Automate

As I already mentioned, project management tools can automatically email task and project updates to assignees.  But, the tools can also automate other things, such as re-scheduling tasks.  If you anticipate having multiple dependencies (i.e. dependent tasks), then pick a tool that can automatically re-schedule dependent tasks and due dates based on changes to a single task.  When you change one due date, you won’t have to change all subsequent due dates manually, which is a huge pain.

There may be other things you’d like to automate besides what I’ve mentioned.  Identifying what you’d like to automate helps you select the most efficient tool for your business.

Think Long-Term

Thinking long-term is vital when selecting the right project management tool.  The tool you choose must fit your current project structure and also be flexible enough to handle any future projects that might arise.  Consider how you will use the tool realistically to help you manage projects and work flow, and how you might use it to solve any anticipated problems.

Finally, remember that a good project management tool forms the “spine” of your business, as Leo says.  If you rip out the spine, your business can’t run or even stand.  Avoid replacing your project management tool and stalling work flow if possible.

Top Project Management Tools to Check Out:

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