In Depth

Project management tools: your guide to the best software

Project management has never been easier thanks to new software solutions for businesses of all sizes

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A good business only succeeds through good project management. In the 21st Century, managing projects has become quicker, easier and more efficient thanks to the range of software now available.

But while collaborative working tools such as video messaging and cloud computing have made it simpler for businesses to function on a global scale, they have often led to problems at the project management level.

A recent survey by training company Parity suggests project management is the most in-demand skill among IT workers, while 97 per cent of the organisations that Capterra works with "believe project management is critical to business performance and organisational success".

These days, even those outside the business bubble need project management solutions. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Peter Hepworth, CEO of the government initiative to aid better project management skills AXELOS, says: "We are all project managers now."

So how can software help us progress towards better project management?

Efficiency is the key: not only can software give the user with an up-to-the-minute overview of how each project is coming along, it can also carry out scheduling, cost control, communication and a whole host of other features - all in the one programme.

This keeps costs down and saves the user and the business valuable time.

Perhaps the most important asset of good project management software is the ability to get a bird's-eye view of a project from start to finish. At the touch of a button a user can see exactly how each section of a project is doing.

This means the project manager can use their time wisely, helping the teams that need it most, at the best possible time.

In the past, project management software was often clunky and would usually be confined to an inordinately large file on a solitary computer - the sharing of which involved complex LAN computer wizardry.

This has changed, with project management solutions offering immediate online sharing and remote access 24 hours a day, to better reflect the dynamic environment of modern business.

Here are five of the best project management software programmes on the market:

MS Project

Microsoft Project is the standard-bearer for medium-to-large companies and their project management needs, boasting wide-scale integration with its Office, Outlook and Sharepoint programmes.

The new 2016 offering also enables the user to book people and resources within the same project file, meaning double-booking of key resources is a thing of the past.

While the cost may be prohibitive for some smaller businesses, Microsoft Project offers all the familiarity of a Microsoft product alongside the high standards of their excellent online support.

Zoho Projects

Zoho Projects is the critical darling of the moment, winning an award from PC Mag for project management software. The magazine says it provides a "dazzling amount of free functionality".

"Users can configure tasks and milestones, set meetings, upload files, run reports, start forums, contribute to wikis, and chat online," PC Mag says.

As a platform, Zoho Projects updates itself regularly and provides seamless integration with other business tools - be it Google Docs or an instant messaging application.

The smorgasbord of solutions that Zoho offers means that no project management problem big or small is too difficult for it to handle.

Basecamp

Basecamp was the original web-based project management tool. When it was first released in 2004, its instantaneous milestone management, file-sharing and messaging system was revolutionary.

Now, with over nine million users, Basecamp is considered the most popular of the web-based project management tools.

It still stands up well today - Turbine in their review of the 2013 incarnation highlight the fact that Basecamp's creators focused less on the bells and whistles and "have zoned in on what is essential to project management and made that work beautifully instead".

Initially free, it now costs a very reasonable $20 a month and allows users to jump right into project management with minimal fuss - perfect for those smaller businesses that need help with a project straight away.

Wrike

When Andrew Filev found his first startup had become more complex than his project management software could handle, he wrote his own. The result was Wrike, described by software reviewer Merchant Maverick as "smart, intuitive and a great way to improve your business performance".

Wrike saves the user time by connecting data across teams and projects seamlessly and by providing a continually-updating hub of information for fast and easy collaboration. Not only that, it comes with a free trial with no hidden charges.

Asana

Asana is the new kid on the project management block and its focus on improving productivity is a key to its success so far. While for many project management solutions mobile compatibility is an afterthought, Asana is built for mobiles first and foremost.

A Mashable profile of Asana's two founders in 2013 featured a story which highlights the effectiveness of the platform: "One biotech company whose co-founders are two of the world's top scientists weren't doing research because they were busy managing.

"After launching Asana, the scientists said they got 75 per cent of their time back." Asana's focus on mobile capabilities also means it's the perfect programme for those businesses with a large number of freelance and remote workers.

Teamwork Projects

Where MS Project may appeal to large businesses, Teamwork Projects' hassle free approach works perfectly for smaller enterprises. The program’s self-explanatory interface allows all team members to manage projects, keep an eye on people’s time and keep a track of budgets and client invoices. The flat fee of $49 a month provides the user with 20GB of space and there is even the option to manage two projects for free, so small businesses can try before they buy.  While Teamwork Projects lacks an integrated chat feature, it does have support for an Android and iOS app, allowing for extensive mobile project management.

Teamwork Projects has also been well received by critics receiving an Editor’s Choice award from PC Mag.

Liquid Planner

The people behind Liquid Planner know that time often genuinely is money, so they have created a project management program that focuses on time management. Rather than having team members put in estimations that usually turn out wrong, Liquid Planner gets the project managers to set up schedules based on priority. This means team members and project managers can focus on the most effective tasks at any one time. Work efficiency is key with Liquid Planner and though the cost of $40 a month may be high, the platform provides a range of business-friendly integration options, such as Gantt charts and mobile functionality that any business large or small could ever need. 

This is an independent guide from the The Week, but sponsored by SMART kapp - a company that is passionate about making project management easier.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_full_width","fid":"84915","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

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