How to choose the best project management software

Headshot kontributor Jenny ThaiJenny Thai
10 Mei 2024
17 menit baca
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Summary

If your team has ever had trouble getting a project off the ground, or getting a timely status update, or getting work done by deadline, or all of the above, take heart. You’re not alone. Managing projects is hard work. Really hard. But it’s also critical work that can either make or break your team’s ability to hit goals.

Enter project management software. Sure, any tool will probably help you, but taking the time to find the right tool for your team will enable you to consistently hit your goals and achieve greater success.

If you’re looking at project management software for the first time, choosing one tool can feel pretty overwhelming. In fact, you may still wonder why you even need project management software, let alone understand what you need. Plus, you have hundreds of options and features to consider, which makes it tough to know where to start. That’s why we at Asana wrote this guide. With it, you’ll learn to:

  • Draw a more complete picture of the challenges your team faces so you can better outline your needs

  • Understand how project management software can help—so you don’t waste your time trying out tools that are a bad match

  • Define the criteria you should think about as you evaluate tools—so you know what features are most critical to your team

What is project management software?

Project management software is a digital tool designed to help teams plan, organize, and manage their projects effectively. It provides a centralized platform where team members can collaborate, communicate via messaging, and track progress on tasks and deliverables. By using project management software, teams can streamline their workflows, automate routine tasks, and ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.

Good project management software offers a range of features, such as task assignment, deadline tracking, file sharing and storage, resource management, and reporting. Many tools also provide intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces, customizable dashboards, project roadmaps, and to-do lists to enhance usability and productivity. These project management features enable teams to break down complex projects into manageable tasks, assign responsibilities to team members, and monitor progress in real-time.

With the right project management tool, teams can eliminate confusion, reduce delays, and improve overall project outcomes.

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Why do I need a project management tool?

How do you make sure team members know what work needs to get done? Who’s responsible for doing it? And when tasks are due? Project planning and organizing all these fundamental components and details is a must for complex projects—and critical to your team’s success. Yet it’s still one of the biggest challenges small teams and businesses face.

So how can you tell if you’d benefit from project management software? Here are four reasons why your team might need a project management app:

  • Everyone on your team uses a different system to manage their work, so your team’s projects, subtasks, file sharing, and messaging are scattered across multiple collaboration tools.

  • Team members don’t know what to work on, what their priorities are, or how to find out, so they waste a lot of their time (and likely yours too) asking and searching for answers in docs and spreadsheets.

  • Your process for communicating priorities and requesting real-time updates mostly involves holding meetings, sending emails, or manually revising complicated spreadsheets.

Team members routinely miss due dates and milestones. Because of all of the above.

Project management basics

For any project to be a success, every team member needs to support it. But how can they if they don’t know what’s expected of them, what deadlines and milestones they need to meet, or where to find information they need?

Read: How to write a software requirement document (with template)

You need to organize your work in one place

Project management software is a container for all your team’s work that enables you to organize everything in one place. Think of it like a cubby system in which all the essential information your team needs to be successful—the projects and tasks that need to get done, assignees, due dates, priorities, files—all have their place.

That way, team members know exactly where to find what they need, and everyone is clear about the responsibilities they need to fulfill. As you consider tools, evaluate the following:

  • Project and task structure. How does each tool break down projects into their components? This isn’t about how you visualize work; it’s about the hierarchy of information. For example, can you break large tasks into smaller tasks (that is, subtasks)?

  • Task information. What information does each task include? Is the structure of tasks consistent from project to project?

You need to establish clear ownership and accountability for work

The project management solution you choose should help you and your team easily designate assignees, show how work is connected, and tell you when it’s happening. We recommend looking for these capabilities:

  • Task assignee. Can you easily assign an owner to each task? Is it clear who’s responsible for doing the work? This is a must if you want to foster greater accountability across your team and make sure everyone meets deadlines.

  • Task dependencies. Showing dependencies between tasks allows team members to see what work others need to complete first (and where to find it) before they can get started.

  • Start dates and due dates. Of course, you need to set clear due dates, but not all tasks are created equal—some take more time than others. You might want to indicate start dates as well. This gives your team greater clarity about when work is happening and how long it will take. Start dates also help everyone more easily prioritize work.

With a good system for organizing fundamental information—what work needs to get done, who’s doing it, when it’s happening and when it’s due—everyone will have greater success keeping work on track and meeting deadlines. And then you can begin improving your team’s work in other areas as well.

How to choose project management software

When selecting the best project management software for your team, it's essential to consider a range of factors that can impact your success. From team collaboration features and customization options to scalability, pricing, and mobile accessibility, evaluating these key aspects will help you choose the right PM tool to streamline your workflows, boost productivity, and ensure project success.

1. Team collaboration features

Teams today are under enormous pressure to do more with less, move faster than ever before, and improve the quality of their work. Effective collaboration is imperative, yet working together is still so difficult. Why?

One reason is that too often teams don’t share a workspace—one place where they can plan, manage, and communicate about their goals, projects, tasks, files, and more. Instead, their work is spread across numerous tools, which hinders effective collaboration in a number of ways.

Centralized team communication

Using email or other apps to share work leads to never-ending threads that only give context to recipients—if they can even find what they need. Team members waste time searching for related communications, feedback, and other information they need to understand their work, often only to discover it’s hidden in someone else’s inbox.

Whether you’re giving feedback, sharing status updates, or asking questions, your project management tool should bring all your communications together in one place and tie them directly to the projects and tasks they’re associated with. Some capabilities to look for are:

  • Can you communicate in context—where the work is? Make sure you can comment on tasks, @mention other team members, and integrate with other communication apps you like to use. These features will help streamline work and keep team communication in one place so everyone has the context they need whenever they need it.

  • Can you collaborate asynchronously? As many businesses offer more flexible work arrangements, it’s essential that team members and stakeholders stay up-to-date on work no matter where they are. Use a cloud-based tool and look for features that allow you to follow and get notifications about the projects and tasks that are important to you.

  • Can you work on the go? Also, make sure the tool you choose has a mobile app so you can keep up with work from your phone or tablet, too.

Single team workspace

When plans, tasks, files, and communication aren’t centralized, they fall into silos. Teams don’t have a single source of truth, so they can’t search for content, connect work across teams and projects, or collaborate asynchronously. Team members become isolated and end up wasting time duplicating each other’s work.

Project management software brings all your team’s projects and tasks together in one place, so you can seamlessly plan, manage, and communicate about your work. As you evaluate options, here are some questions to ask and capabilities to look for:

  • Can you upload digital files to their associated projects and tasks? It should be easy for your team to manage digital assets so no one wastes time searching for or duplicating files. This is a fundamental key to better collaboration, so make sure the solutions you consider allow you to upload files from your computer, in addition to offering unlimited storage space.

  • Can you integrate with the tools you already use? Your team should also be able to seamlessly connect with other tools they use every day, like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, and OneDrive. These integrations are essential for easily managing shared files and helping your team work more productively.

  • Can you easily share, connect, and search for work? To increase transparency, your team should be able to view publicly available projects and tasks to easily find what they need. This eliminates information and data silos, enables teams to more easily align around goals, and helps team members avoid duplicating each other’s work.

2. Customization options

Many companies hire professional project managers and even enterprise project management teams to oversee work. And often they use elaborate software designed specifically for their individual needs, not a team’s needs.

In smaller (and small) organizations, sometimes everyone has to manage projects without the benefit of specialized training. In fact, many team members today are “accidental project managers” who are faced with a lot of common challenges:

  • Teams work on different types of projects that they feel require different tools to manage.

  • Project plans change. But revising them causes confusion, lots of fires, and derails work.

  • Teams repeatedly tackle the same types of projects (a product launch or onboarding new employees, for example), but haven’t standardized their processes to get work off the ground faster, so they waste a lot of time repeating the same rote tasks.

  • Team members often have different work styles and want tools that fulfill their individual preferences.

A good project management tool helps your team focus on high-value work that grows the business. It should provide the flexibility to manage all your team’s projects, adapt to changes quickly and easily, and save time on routine work. Here are some core capabilities you should look for:

Different views

How you and your team want to visualize your work is an important factor to consider. Some tools offer a variety of options, and some don’t. For example, a team focused on deadline-driven projects may want to visualize work on a timeline or calendar to see and understand the steps involved, what tasks are dependent on others, and when work is happening.

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But for a project to track ongoing work, your team may feel a Kanban board, list, or other view is a better option.

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Of course, having more than one option to visualize work means your team can choose what best suits each project and their own individual preferences.

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Custom fields

With custom fields, you can track all sorts of information in a way that best suits your team and individual projects. For example, you may want to use a field to indicate the priority of each task within a project (high, medium, or low) or designate the stage work is in (in progress, out for approval, etc). Custom fields give your team endless options to better manage and report on work.

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Customizable templates

Many tools offer a library of project templates to help you get started, but make sure you can customize them to your specific needs and save your own, too. That way, you can standardize and refine processes for the projects and tasks that your team routinely tackles.

3. Ease of adoption and implementation

In an ideal world, your team will quickly and easily adopt the project management tool you choose. Unfortunately, implementing new apps or software is often complex and challenging, so you should take time to understand what onboarding the tool will involve—for you and your small business.

Free trial

Can you trial a free version with your team for a few weeks or more so everyone can dive in and test advanced features? Better yet, does the platform offer a free version in addition to paid plans?

Make sure you can kick the tires and even manage projects from start to finish as part of your trial experience. Once your free version ends, you’ll want to assess if you have the know-how to use the project management platform successfully for the long term.

Educational tools and support

Evaluate how user-friendly the tool will be to learn so you can determine how quickly everyone can get onboarded. Does the company offer tutorials, demos, courses, support docs, and guides that teammates can use on demand? Can you get support from a customer success team? Be sure to use some of these resources during your free trial to make sure they’ll help you learn the PM software.

Ease of implementation

How long does it take to set up the workspace? How long does it take to create projects? Can you import work from spreadsheets or docs or use a template to get started right away? While these portfolio management features are not a guarantee your team will adopt, they can make it much easier for you to get started using and testing tools quickly.

User-friendly experience

Is the interface drag-and-drop and intuitive? Can all your team members (not just project managers with specialized training) use it? Does the design anticipate what users might need to do and make it easy for them to take action? Make sure to note the actions you take most frequently and how easy they are to find, understand, and use.

Customizable templates

Does the project management software include customizable templates for common workflows and processes so your team can quickly set up new projects and automate routine tasks? Can you customize them to your team’s specific needs? Be sure to use a template or two to determine if they will help your team to be more productive and spend more time on high-value work.

4. Scalability and pricing plans

Okay, time for almost everyone’s least favorite topic: money. Like most teams, you probably have a budget, so you’ll want to understand costs. You should also make sure the tool you choose can scale with your team as it grows. You don’t want to choose one solution only to discover a few years later you need something different because your team doubled in size or the price became too expensive.

Flexible pricing

A small team just getting started with project management software has much different needs than a larger team of experienced users. Many vendors offer plans based on the same or similar factors, such as the size of your team or available features, so you can choose the plan that will give you the most value for your money. Also, make sure you can easily upgrade when the time comes.

Predictable pricing plans

Do you understand how the price for the plan you choose is determined—is it by seat (person)? A flat rate? Monthly fee? Something else? This will help you figure out which tools could become cost prohibitive as your team grows.

5. Reporting and analytics capabilities

A big part of managing projects is reporting on progress. You need to know how projects are progressing so you can adjust your project planning and resource management as needed. Stakeholders will want to know if your project will be delivered on time since they’re likely counting on it to hit specific goals and milestones. And once your project is done, you and others will, of course, also want to know the results.

To easily generate useful dashboards you can use and share with leadership and stakeholders, the tool you choose needs to track the project information you care about. As we mentioned, you’ll want to track each piece of work, when it’s due, and who’s responsible for it. From there, you may also want to track information like priority, stage, and channel so you can create specific reports on those criteria.

Here are some capabilities to look for among the best project management software:

  • Real-time status updates: Is your project on track, at risk, or blocked? Sharing regular status updates via notifications ensures teammates know where the project stands at a high level. Make sure the tool you choose has a dedicated place within each project to share status updates so they’re easy to find and reference.

  • Progress tracking in real time: As work is completed, your project management tool should automatically track this progress for you. This way, you know how much work has been completed, if any task dependencies are blocking another, and what’s left to do at any given time.

  • Shareable reports: Get meaningful project insights by creating and sharing reports with leadership and team members based on the data you’re tracking. In addition to standard reports, make sure the project management software you choose allows you to build custom fields and reports from the data you care about.

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6. Data security and protection measures

Since you’re managing your team’s projects in this tool, you need to feel confident that your work is secure. Regardless of your company’s requirements, there are a few admin, data, and security features you’ll want to look for in a project management tool.

Admin controls

Make sure the tool you choose has admin controls so you can add, manage, and remove employees and guests when you need to. You may also want to set password requirements such as strength guidelines, 2-factor authentication, SSO, or SAML to keep your data secure. Lastly, ensure the tool’s data management capabilities, such as exporting and deleting data as needed, match your needs.

Privacy permissions

Some projects contain work that is more sensitive. Ensure that your project management tool allows you to set privacy permissions, such as public or private, for projects and specific pieces of work so only the appropriate people can see them.

Varying access levels

Managing your projects in a collaboration tool increases visibility into the work being done, but it also opens your plans up to accidental edits if access isn’t managed carefully.

Choose a tool that allows you to grant different access levels, like editing or comment-only, to members based on their role and involvement in the project. For example, many members only need to see project information and comment on tasks but don’t need to edit them.

General product security

To ensure project and user data is safe and secure, there are some general security features you need. Make sure the transmission of data is encrypted, regular security tests and network scans are performed, the tool is compliant with common privacy frameworks, and it has any security certifications required by your IT team.

7. Integration with existing tools

When choosing project management software, consider how well it integrates with your existing tools and workflows. The best PM software should offer a range of integrations and add-ons, allowing you to connect with popular apps and services you already use, such as:

  • Slack for communication

  • Google Drive or Dropbox for file storage and sharing

  • Salesforce for customer relationship management

  • Zapier for automation and linking multiple apps

Seamless integration ensures that your team can continue working efficiently without the need to switch between multiple platforms. Additionally, look for PM software that offers built-in file storage capabilities, so you can keep all your project-related documents and assets in one centralized location. This eliminates the need for separate storage solutions and streamlines your team's workflow.

8. Mobile accessibility and responsiveness

In today's fast-paced business environment, mobile accessibility is key when selecting project management software, especially for remote teams. Choose PM software that offers:

  • Native mobile apps for iOS and Android devices

  • A responsive web interface for Mac and PC users

  • Real-time updates and synchronization across all devices

  • Secure access for remote team members

Remote team access

Mobile access allows your team to stay connected, update tasks, and collaborate on projects from anywhere, at any time. This is particularly important for remote teams, as it ensures everyone can contribute and stay informed, regardless of their location. With mobile-friendly PM software, you can ensure that your remote team remains productive and engaged, even when they're working from different parts of the world. Mobile apps should offer key features, such as:

  • Task management and assignment

  • Communication and messaging

  • File sharing and collaboration

  • Notifications and reminders

  • Secure login and data protection for remote access

These project management features enable your remote team to manage their backlog, stay on top of their projects, and collaborate effectively while on the go, making them an essential consideration for modern distributed teams.

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Types of project management software

There are several types of project management software available, each of which is designed to cater to different needs and methodologies. Some of the most common types include:

Gantt chart software 

Gantt chart software is a popular choice for project managers who need to visualize project schedules and dependencies. This type of software allows users to create a timeline view of their projects, with tasks represented as horizontal bars and dependencies shown as links between them. Gantt charts are particularly useful for projects with complex schedules and multiple stakeholders.

Agile project management software 

Agile project management software is designed to support Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban. These tools focus on flexibility, collaboration, and iterative development. They often include features like backlog management, sprint planning, and burndown charts to help teams prioritize tasks, track progress, and adapt to changes quickly.

Portfolio management software 

Portfolio management software is designed to help organizations manage multiple projects and programs simultaneously. This type of software provides a high-level overview of all ongoing initiatives, allowing managers to allocate resources, track budgets, and align projects with strategic goals. Portfolio management tools often include features like project prioritization, risk assessment, and financial forecasting.

Read: Project portfolio management 101

Scrum software 

Scrum software is a subset of Agile project management tools specifically designed to support the Scrum framework. These tools help teams plan and execute sprints, track backlog items, and conduct retrospectives. They often include features like sprint boards, user stories, and velocity tracking to help teams continuously improve their processes and deliver value to stakeholders.

Baca: Asana untuk Agile dan Scrum

Software development project management tools 

Software development projects have unique requirements, such as version control, bug tracking, and code review. Project management platforms designed for software development teams often integrate with popular development tools like Git and Jenkins to streamline workflows and ensure code quality. These tools may also support Agile methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban, to help teams deliver software incrementally and adapt to changing requirements.

Best practices for using project management software

To get the most out of your project management software, consider the following best practices.

1. Choose the right tool for your team 

Select PM software that aligns with your team's needs, methodologies, and existing tools. Consider factors like ease of use, customization options, and integration capabilities to ensure a smooth adoption process.

2. Establish clear processes and workflows 

Define clear processes and workflows for using your project management software, including how to create tasks, assign responsibilities, and update progress. Ensure that all team members understand and follow these processes consistently.

3. Leverage automation and integrations 

Take advantage of your PM software's automation features and integrations to streamline repetitive tasks and reduce manual data entry. For example, use automated notifications to keep team members informed of updates and integrate with time-tracking tools to monitor progress and productivity.

4. Regularly update and communicate progress 

Encourage team members to regularly update their tasks and progress in the project management software. Use the timeline view to visualize project schedules and identify potential roadblocks or dependencies. Communicate progress and updates to stakeholders using built-in reporting and dashboard features.

5. Continuously improve and adapt 

Use your PM software's analytics and reporting capabilities to identify areas for improvement and optimize your processes. Regularly gather feedback from team members and stakeholders to ensure that the software is meeting their needs and adapt your usage accordingly.

What project management software will your team use?

Yes, the process of choosing the right project management tool for your team is a big endeavor. And it’s not a decision to make quickly or lightly. We hope this guide has helped you better understand your team’s challenges and outline your needs. Now you can narrow down the list of tools to try with your team—like Asana.

Start your free 30-day trial and see how Asana helps teams organize and manage their projects, improve collaboration, work more efficiently, and hit goals.

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FAQ: Project management software

What is the best free project management software?

Asana offers one of the most robust free versions among popular project management software. Its free plan includes features like task management, project templates, team collaboration tools, and more. While other tools like Trello, ClickUp, and Slack also offer free versions, Asana's free plan stands out as a powerful alternative to simpler tools like Excel. Asana's paid plans provide even more functionality and are competitively priced, but the free version remains an excellent choice for those seeking the best free PM software.

What is the most commonly used project management tool?

Asana is one of the most well-established and widely used project management platforms, trusted by teams across various industries for its comprehensive work management features and reliability. Other popular project management apps include Microsoft Project, Zapier, and Jira. However, Asana's extensive user base and proven track record make it a top contender among the most commonly used PM software.

Which project management software is the easiest to use?

Asana is often praised for its exceptional ease of use, making it a top choice among the easiest-to-use project management software options. Its intuitive design allows teams to quickly adapt and streamline their project management processes. While other PM software applications, such as Basecamp, Smartsheet, and Monday.com, are also known for their user-friendly interfaces, Asana's ease of use consistently ranks among the best.

What is the best project management software for small businesses?

Asana is a great choice for small businesses due to its scalability, affordability, and comprehensive feature set. Its combination of features, ease of use, and pricing make it one of the best project management software solutions for small businesses looking to optimize their workflow and collaborate effectively. Asana's team plan is particularly well-suited for small businesses, offering advanced features like time tracking, timesheets, invoicing, and more. While other project management platforms like Airtable, Wrike, and Zoho Projects also cater to the needs of small teams, Asana remains a top choice for small businesses seeking reliable and efficient PM software.

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