11 tips to get the most out of project management software

1. Start with a needs analysis. "Project management solutions come in all shapes and sizes. The first step is to determine what kind of project management and/or collaboration you need," says Catherine Brown, vice president of Marketing at Mavenlink, a provider of project management and collaboration solutions.

"For example, are all your projects internal, or are you also working with external vendors and clients?" Brown says. "Do you need to assign tasks and deliverables or just create a space where everyone can collaborate? Will your projects involve budgets and invoices?"

2. Consider a cloud-based service. "I selected a cloud-based project management system for a number of factors, including ease of deployment and overall cost of ownership," says Sid Haas, vice president of Business Development at LKCS, a marketing services provider.

"We have been using the same [cloud] platform for about three years and have saved tens of thousands of dollars over a software solution we would install and manage," Haas says. In addition, he says, because their project management solution is web-based, "users [can] access the system from anywhere, on any device, and system enhancements and upgrades are delivered automatically as they become available."

[ Related: 12 Common Project Management Mistakes--and How to Avoid Them ]

3. Make sure the software is easy to use."Look for project management software that is both intuitive and generally in-line with how your organization works," says Jon Payne, president, Ephricon Web Marketing. "If it doesn't meet your specifics out-of-the-box, then be sure to choose a solution that has built-in custom fields and the ability to rename fields and categories," he says. "You should change the labels in your software to suit your business, not the other way around."

4. Choose a project management solution that can scale. "Implementing a project management solution throughout an organization is a long-term project in itself," says Haas. "So select a solution that will grow with you and offers features that you may not even think of utilizing at the start."

5. Solicit input from the departments and people who will actually be using the software. "Choosing software that will be a good overall fit is important. The best way to do this is to include the whole team in the selection process," says Lynne Henslee, president, e2b technologies, a business technology and services provider.

"Get feedback from other people and departments as each department may have goals it would like to attain or a different idea of what it would like/need the software to do," Henslee says. "This will also help with the implementation and usage of the software itself; if team members feel they were a part of the decision making and that their needs are being met, they will invest more of themselves into process."

[ Related: How to Develop Next-Gen Project Managers ]

6. Make sure the PM software integrates with core apps, like email. "[Another] important selection criteria when choosing a product is its integration capabilities," Brown says. "For example, everyone uses email." Therefore, "a solution that also posts messages to email will increase user engagement and extend the reach of the product," she has found.

7. Choose a solution that offers good vendor and community support. "When selecting [project management] software, look for [a vendor] that has a rich user community so when questions arise or looking for best practices you can turn to fellow users for advice (using online forums)," says Joanna Wyganowska, PMP, director of marketing at Intelligent InSites, real-time healthcare location system (RTLS) software platform provider.

8. Compare project management solutions."Create a checklist based on your needs and compare products to each other," advises Brown, who notes that many project management solutions offer free trials. Then "have both the project manager and the team members review the software." And if outside parties (e.g., contractors, business partners, vendors) will also be using the software, solicit their opinion, too.

[ Related: Project Management Definition and Solutions ]

9. Establish goals early on. Ask, what am I looking to get out of using project management software?, says Mark Kenny, president, Hippo Solutions, a project management solution provider. What do you want it do? Create status reports? Forecast? Serve as a collaboration tool? "Once you define [your goals], it will provide clarity to how to setup your software, how to use it, and how to train people on it. Otherwise, the implementation is like a ship with no rudder."

10. Provide adequate training. "Offer multiple training sessions to make sure everyone can attend," says Mavenlink's Brown. "By the end of each session, ensure everyone has an account, a login and an easy-to-remember password. [Then] set up a project right away so employees practice creating posts, attaching files and using the system," she advises. To reinforce what they've learned, and address any questions, offer follow-up training a couple weeks after the initial training session--as well as online video tutorials (which the vendor or a third party should be able to provide).

11. Make sure there is at least one responsible party tracking projects in real time. "Don't wait for a weekly meeting to realize that your project has gone up in flames," warns Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of cloud-based project management company Clarizen. Assign a project manager to "track progress in real-time and correct any and all issues before they become catastrophic messes." Furthermore, the project manager should be in regular communication with the project team and make sure everyone is using the software - and keeping the team up to date.

Is there a project management software tip we didn't include? Let us know via the Comments section.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.

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Read more about project management in CIO's Project Management Drilldown.

This story, "11 tips to get the most out of project management software" was originally published by CIO.

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