“I am looking for software that is easier to use than Microsoft Project!” “I have heard that PRINCE2 is good and that you have a tool supporting it!” Potential customers ask a lot of question on their quest to find project management software. No wonder; the search term project management software yields 301 million entries. Add-ons for Outlook, templates for Excel, tools focusing on controlling, workflow and team-based solutions, tools for business processes or platforms facilitating the integration of requirements or document management; how can you make a viable comparison and arrive at a decision you will not regret?
Beware of feature lists
Many selection processes begin with feature lists, even if most of the terms used are unclear. Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) stands for automatic speed control, but what about Forward Alert (FA) and Preview Distance Control? Do manufacturers all talk about the same thing when using these kinds of terms? As you can see, manufacturers provide us with feature lists that are not necessarily useful in reality.
How, then, should you go about comparing project management software? Firstly, answer the following questions:
- What exactly is it that you want, and why?
- Who has a problem that needs to be solved, and how is the new software supposed to help?
- Who are the stakeholders and what goals do they have?
- Are there solutions already existing and systems that need to be integrated?
It makes a big difference whether a single consultant, project team or an entire organization is looking for project management software. The consultant “only” wants visualize dates, the team wants to manage tasks and results and the project management office wants to implement a new business process. The approach to a comparison is highly dependent on your individual situation.
Criteria for a project management software comparison
If you are able to pinpoint why you need new software and also what it is you need it for, you have made the first step. The next is to find useful criteria; they will take a structured approach to the comparison.
In many cases, the first criterion mentioned is price. It is important to keep the price in mind, albeit not at this early stage. “The software costs 100.000 dollars.” – “What? That is too much!” And so the comparison ends before it has begun.
In addition, price must always be related to budget and benefits created by the software. A transporter may be expensive but if you want to get things from A to B it probably is money well invested.
It is then that technical details come into play, e.g. shipping volume, total weight, gasoline consumption etc. The same goes for project management software. Are you using a specific type of database? What operating system are you using? Are cloud-based solutions an option? Must the distribution process be effected automatically and centrally? In contrast to price the technical details need to be defined early on in the process because it helps to bring down the number of options to a manageable number.
How important are norms, laws and guidelines for you? Many industry sectors must adhere to compliance requirements. Business processes must be implemented, monitored and analyzed, for example in automotive sectors and medical technology. Here, compliance is of utmost importance; software covering only “dates” will not be of help here.
Do you require manufacturer support? This is an important factor when choosing software. Is it easy to reach the support team, and is it competent? What languages do they speak? Is it available 24/7? Is it in-house support or just call-center agents? How is training and supervision of users ensured? How experienced is the manufacturer in personally and individually supporting clients? Is the manufacturer open for suggestions?
Another factor is customizability; the possibilities you have to tailor the software to your needs. Is manufacturer assistance required or can you tweak the software and change settings for operations, views, rights, processes, evaluations, templates etc. on your own? Does the solution offer interfaces to existing tools you currently use? What about documentation?
There are also factors you probably wouldn’t think of first, such as transaction details for the purchase, payment arrangements and guarantee.
Some more: data protection through encryption, access management, authentication, electronic signatures, backup creation and many more. The more time you spend thinking abou it the more criteria will come to you.
Requirements for a project management software comparison
Aside from all these criteria, you also need your individual, concrete requirements. A project manager wants to plan dates, the multi-project manager needs an overview of project states, QA representatives need to retrace changes and team members need updates on work packages.
Without your requirements the only thing you have at your disposal are the aforementioned feature lists (or published tool comparisons, very often proudly sponsored by manufacturers themselves).
Weighting criteria and requirements
If you have determined your criteria and defined your requirements the next thing you have to do is to weigh them against each other. This may exclude certain software because one single requirement is not fulfilled. This step is essential, but there are two problems:
- Individual preferences of future users may cause conflicts since each user regards his or her requirements as more important than those of others.
- Most users will resort to weighting levels such as “Critical” or “Must-have”. How can a realistic weighting be realized? The answer: absolute values.
Of course, this is very complex; but it will help you to find software that fits the purpose, that reacts to your needs, criteria and requirements.
Feature lists and websites offering comparisons are available everywhere. They may be of help in some cases, as an inspiration or a source of ideas. But a solid and reliable comparison of project management software is only possible if you begin by analyzing your individual situation from different perspectives.
The criteria resulting from this will lead to requirements which will then need to be weighted. This creates a solid basis for an individual comparison of software and manufacturers. May the selection process begin!
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