How To Choose The Best Project Management Software: A Step-by-Step Guide

13 min read

As the demands on project managers continue to grow, according to market statistics, so does the need for robust project management software solutions that can streamline processes, enhance collaboration, and drive efficiency. 

But with various options available, finding the right project management software can be daunting.

If you’re reading this, you might be wondering how to navigate this decision.

We will walk you through the essential considerations, features, and criteria to ensure you make an informed choice that aligns with your unique needs and objectives.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have an understanding of what to look for in project management software and to select the solution that empowers your team and drives project success. 

Important: We won’t assist you in answering the question, ‘Why use project management software?’ Instead, we’ll help you find the right one.

So, let’s dive in. Our first step will be defining the project needs.

Step 1: Define your project needs

Before selecting the ideal project management software, it’s crucial to start at the very beginning: understanding your project needs. 

Begin by conducting a comprehensive project audit. This involves a thorough review of your current projects, workflows, and processes. 

Ask yourself and your team the following questions:

  • What types of projects do we typically manage, and what stages do we typically include during these projects?
  • What are the specific goals and objectives of each project?
  • What are the critical project milestones and timelines?
  • Who are the key stakeholders and team members involved in each project?
  • How do we currently allocate resources for our projects?
  • What communication channels are in place for team collaboration?
  • Do we need a system for project forecasting, tracking, and managing project dependencies and interdependencies?
  • How do we handle risk assessment and mitigation strategies for our projects?
  • Are there established project documentation and reporting processes in place?
  • What methods do we use to measure project success or failure?
  • Do we conduct post-project reviews or lessons-learned sessions to improve future projects?
  • How do we ensure project management practices align with our organization’s strategic goals and objectives?

Pro tip: Harness ChatGPT to generate ideas for assessing different aspects of your project management activities. Explore our complete ChatGPT prompts library for project managers in our latest article.

Once you’ve considered your project needs, it’s essential to take a closer look at your challenges and limitations.

Step 2: Note down your challenges and limitations

In search of the perfect project management software, it’s vital to recognize and address your organization’s unique challenges and limitations. 

2.1. Assess current pain points

Begin by taking a closer look at your current project management processes. Talk to team members and stakeholders to gather insights on what’s not working as well as it should. Common pain points might include:

  • Delays in project delivery.
  • Difficulty in tracking tasks, KPIs and OKRs, and deadlines with the project dashboard.
  • Communication breakdowns among team members with existing collaboration software.
  • Resource allocation inefficiencies.
  • Lack of visibility into project progress without integrations.
  • Reporting and analytics limitations.

Identifying these pain points shows where your chosen project management software needs to be improved.

2.2. Explore limitations and constraints

Next, consider any limitations or constraints your organization faces. Ask yourself:

  • Are there any specific regulations or compliance standards the software must adhere to, both nationally and internationally?
  • Does your organization have technological limitations with existing systems or network infrastructure, such as compatibility? Do you still use spreadsheets as a project management tool? (We have a list of 15 excellent Excel alternatives and a few reasons why Excel is a bad option for conducting project management; take a look!)
  • Do you have data security and privacy requirements that the software must meet, for example, especially concerning sensitive or confidential information?
  • Does the software need to integrate with legacy systems or databases, and if so, what are the compatibility requirements?
  • Are there any network bandwidth or latency constraints that need to be considered, especially for remote teams or geographically dispersed locations?
  • How does the software handle data backup, disaster recovery, and business continuity in alignment with your organization’s IT policies?

By acknowledging these limitations upfront, you can avoid investing in software that may not be a practical fit for your organization.

2.3. Prioritize challenges and limitations, and document them

Determine which critical issues must be addressed immediately and which can be considered secondary. This prioritization will guide your selection process by helping you focus on the most important aspects.

Pro tip: Involve stakeholders and team members to gather challenges and limitations. Based on firsthand experience, their input ensures software selection aligns with the team’s needs.

Compile your findings into a concise document or list. This will serve as a reference point throughout the software selection process. When evaluating potential solutions, you can refer to this list to ensure each option adequately addresses your challenges and limitations.

As you assess your challenges and limitations, gaining insights into your project management team becomes increasingly important.

Step 3: Understand your project management team

Your project management team is at the heart of every successful project. To choose the best project management software, it’s essential to gain a deep understanding of your team’s dynamics, preferences, and working styles. 

Here’s how to go about it.

3.1. Identify team roles and responsibilities

Begin by identifying the various roles and responsibilities within your project management team. 

This includes project managers, team leaders, designers, developers, and other contributors. Each role may have unique requirements when it comes to project management tools. 

Pro tip: Consider implementing the RACI framework to precisely define responsibilities within your team. 

Consider the questions:

  • What are the specific responsibilities of each team member?
  • How do team members such as project managers and business analysts collaborate and share information?
  • What are the preferred communication channels within the team?
  • What are the skill sets and areas of expertise of each team member?
  • Are there defined roles and hierarchies within the team?
  • How do roles and hierarchy impact decision-making and project execution?
  • How does the team handle workload distribution, task allocation, and resource management?

Understanding the diverse needs of your team members will be crucial in selecting tools for project management that enhance collaboration and productivity.

3.2. Assess working styles and preferences

Different team members may have varying working styles and preferences when it comes to project management processes. Some may prefer agile methodologies, while others may lean towards traditional project management approaches. It’s important to ask yourself:

  • How does your team typically plan and execute projects: using a project timeline on the Gantt charts or other planning software features?
  • Are there specific project management methodologies or frameworks your team follows?
  • Do team members have experience with certain project management software tools?
  • Are there established project documentation and reporting processes the team adheres to during project planning and execution?
  • Do team members engage in professional development or training in project management practices? How is this knowledge integrated into project execution?

By answering these questions, you can choose a software solution that complements your team’s practices and facilitates more effective project execution.

3.3. Consider remote work and collaboration

In today’s dynamic work environment, many project management teams work remotely or collaborate across different locations and time zones. Take into account:

  • How does your team handle remote work and collaboration with and without project managing software?
  • What features are essential for remote team members to stay connected and productive?
  • When collaborating with remote team members or global stakeholders, how do you address time zone differences and asynchronous communication?
  • What tools and platforms does your team use for remote communication and collaboration, such as video conferencing, time tracker, kanban board, and messaging apps?

Choosing software that supports remote work and seamless collaboration is vital in today’s interconnected world.

Pro tip: Involve your project management team in the software selection process, as they are the primary users. Gather their insights and feedback through surveys, interviews, or workshops to prioritize key features and functionalities.

3.4. Create a team-centric checklist

Based on your findings, create a checklist outlining the key features and capabilities the project manager software should possess to effectively meet your team’s needs. This checklist will be a valuable reference point when evaluating potential software solutions.

Once you’ve gotten to know your project management team, let’s identify your ‘must-have’ features for effective project management.

Step 4: Identify your “must-have” features

As you progress in your search for the perfect project management software, it’s time to zero in on the non-negotiable essential features for your organization. These “must-have” features will form the backbone of your software selection criteria. 

Let’s dive into how to identify and prioritize them:

4.1. Refer to your project needs and challenges

Start by revisiting the project needs and challenges you identified earlier. These insights will serve as a valuable foundation for determining which features are crucial. Consider:

  • Which features directly address your identified pain points?
  • What functionalities are essential to meet your project management requirements?

For instance, if one of your challenges is resource allocation, a “resource managementfeature might be a top priority and will help you answer the question, “What is the best project management software?” for you.

4.2. Consult your project management team

Engage with your project management team to gather their input on what features they consider indispensable.

Their day-to-day experiences and expertise will help you refine your list of “must-have” features. Questions to ask might include:

  • What tools or capabilities would significantly improve your team’s productivity?
  • Are there any specific features your team has used in previous software that they found valuable?
  • What features would streamline communication and collaboration among team members?

4.3. Consider industry-specific requirements

Depending on your industry, industry-specific requirements or regulations may necessitate certain features. 

For example:

  • In healthcare, data security is paramount to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations. 
  • In construction, features related to project scheduling and resource allocation might be crucial. 
  • In manufacturing, inventory management and supply chain integration features are vital in streamlining operations and minimizing production downtime.
  • In the legal profession, document management, version control, and secure client communication are essential for maintaining confidentiality and compliance with legal standards.

Pro tip: To ensure the software you choose aligns with industry-specific requirements and trends, consider aligning your actions with current project management statistics.

4.4. Think about scalability, growth, and integration

The software you choose should meet your current needs and accommodate your organization’s projected growth. Scalability features like adding users, projects, or storage capacity should be considered.

Additionally, check whether the software to manage projects can integrate seamlessly with your existing tools and systems. Integration capabilities are often a “must-have” feature to ensure smooth data flow between different parts of your organization.

4.5. Prioritize your list of “must-haves”

Once you’ve gathered input and insights, rank your list of “must-have” features in order of importance, distinguishing between core functionalities and supplementary features.

Pro tip: Here, you can find a comprehensive guide on prioritization frameworks you can use to define the top features on your lists.

Now that you’ve identified your ‘must-have’ features, let’s create a list of platforms that meet these criteria.

Step 5: Create a list of platforms

With your “must-have” features clearly defined, it’s time to start building a list of software for project management that aligns with your requirements. 

This step involves researching, identifying, and curating a selection of software for project management options to consider. Here’s how to go about it:

5.1. Research available options

Begin by conducting thorough research to identify project management software options available in the market. This can be done through various means:

  • Reviews: Read user reviews and expert opinions on software to manage projects from trusted sources like industry publications, tech blogs, and software review websites.
  • Ratings: Check the best project management tool ratings and rankings on platforms like G2, TrustRadius, or Software Advice to gauge user satisfaction and software performance.
  • Blogs: Explore blogs and articles written by industry experts and thought leaders, often providing insights into the best project management software solutions.
  • Recommendations: Seek recommendations from colleagues, industry peers, or professional networks who have experience with project management tools.
  • Industry-specific resources: If your organization operates in a specific industry, consider industry-specific resources or associations that provide project manager tools recommendations.
  • Social media: Look for discussions, reviews, and feedback on paid or free project management software through social media platforms, forums, and groups relevant to your industry.

Pro tip: You can use our guides on AI work management tools and Gantt chart platforms to explore the available options for your list.

5.3. Compare feature sets and create a shortlist

Match the features and functionalities of each project management app against your list of “must-have” features. 

Pay attention to how well each platform addresses your specific project management needs, challenges, and limitations, and use a scoring system to objectively evaluate and compare each option. Here’s how to build one:

  1. Define scoring criteria: Begin by defining criteria that align with your project management needs and priorities. These might include task management, collaboration, reporting, integration capabilities, mobile accessibility, user-friendliness, customer support, etc. Each criterion should be weighed based on its importance to your organization.
  2. Assign weighted scores: Assign weighted scores to each criterion, with a maximum score of 100. The weight reflects the relative importance of each criterion in your project management system selection process. For example, if task management is crucial for your team, you may assign it a higher weight.
  3. Evaluate each software platform: Evaluate each software for projects management based on the defined criteria. For each criterion, assign a score based on how well the platform meets your requirements. Use a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 indicating poor alignment and 5 indicating a perfect match.
  4. Calculate total scores: Calculate the total scores for each software platform by summing up the scores from the criteria. The platform with the highest total score is likely the best fit for your organization’s needs.

Pro tip: We’ve prepared a scoring system template for you to simplify your search for the best project management software.

Based on your research and evaluations, create a shortlist of project management software platforms that meet your criteria and align with your organization’s needs and budget. 

This shortlist will be the starting point for deeper exploration and testing in the next steps.

Step 6: Test software with your team

As you narrow down your list of potential project management apps, the next crucial step is to put them to the test. 

This phase involves hands-on evaluation with your project management team to assess how well each option meets your organization’s needs. 

Here’s how to effectively test project management platforms with your team:

6.1. Test it by yourself and with a team

As a project manager or team leader, take the initiative to test the software personally. 

This hands-on experience will give you personal insights into the software’s usability, strengths, and weaknesses. After testing the platform yourself, select a cross-functional team representing various roles and responsibilities within your project management team.

This diversity ensures that you receive user feedback with different perspectives and requirements. Include project managers, team leaders, and team members in this group.

6.2. Define test cases

Before testing, establish clear test cases and scenarios that reflect real-life project management scenarios. 

These test cases should encompass the “must-have” features and functionalities you identified earlier. 

For example, imagine you are a project manager in a software development company. You want to test project management software to ensure it effectively handles task management. In this case, your test cases may include:

  • Creating and assigning tasks to team members.
  • Setting task priorities and deadlines.
  • Tracking task progress and completion.
  • Examining task dependencies and subtasks.
  • Evaluating the ease of task reassignment or modification.

Pro tip: View project management software as an ever-evolving tool. Explore our guide on how these platforms can reshape the business landscape through AI integration.

By defining these test cases, you can assess how well the software streamlines task management, ensuring that your team stays organized and on track.

6.3. Conduct hands-on testing

Allocate time for your cross-functional team to use each software platform for a predetermined period. 

During this phase, encourage team members to perform tasks, create and manage projects, and simulate actual project scenarios. Ensure that they explore and assess the software’s core capabilities and features.

Request feedback from your testing team as they use each software platform. Encourage them to provide insights on usability, efficiency, and any challenges or limitations they encounter. 

Document their feedback systematically, including both positive and negative observations.

Pay particular attention to how well the project management tool facilitates collaboration and communication among team members.

Evaluate features such as personal to-do lists, task assignments, file sharing, real-time chat, and comment threads. Effective collaboration tools can significantly impact project success.

Explore the integration capabilities of each platform. Test how well they integrate with your existing tools such as email clients, calendar apps, or other software systems crucial to your workflow.

6.4. Score and compare

After conducting hands-on testing and gathering feedback, score each software platform based on how well it meets your criteria and fulfills your “must-have” features. 

Consider factors like user satisfaction, ease of use, and alignment with your organization’s project management needs. Add them to your scoring system. 

Pro tip: If you’re still hesitating to choose the top candidates, consider looking for guides like ‘Top Software Competitors.’ These can help you make the right choice. We have one – the best alternatives to, which might assist you.

After testing the software with your team, let’s calculate your budget for implementation.

Step 7: Calculate your budget

Choosing the best project management software involves identifying the right features and ensuring it aligns with your budget. 

In this step, we’ll guide you through the process of calculating your budget for implementing the selected software:

7.1. Define your budget parameters

Start by clearly defining your budget parameters. 

Consider both the initial investment required for software acquisition and ongoing costs, such as subscription fees, maintenance, and support. 

Break down your budget into the following components:

  • Initial software acquisition: This includes the one-time costs associated with purchasing licenses or subscriptions.
  • Recurring costs: Ongoing expenses typically consist of subscription fees and can vary based on factors like the number of users, storage requirements, and additional features.
  • Implementation and training: Account for any expenses related to the implementation of the software, including setup, configuration, and training costs for your team.
  • Support and maintenance: Factor in any annual maintenance fees or support contracts the software vendor offers.
  • Integration costs: If the software requires integration with other tools or systems, estimate the associated integration costs.

Pro tip: Consider both immediate and long-term costs. Evaluate how the software’s pricing scales with growth and additional feature needs to ensure long-term cost-effectiveness. If you’re on a tight budget, consider the free tools available for all project managers.

7.2. Compare pricing models

Different project management software providers offer various pricing models. Some common pricing models to consider include:

  • Per user: You pay based on the number of users using the software. This can be a cost-effective choice for smaller teams.
  • Tiered pricing: The cost increases as you move up to higher tiers with more features or user limits.
  • Flat rate: A fixed monthly or annual fee that includes unlimited users and features.
  • Custom pricing: Some providers offer custom pricing tailored to your organization’s needs.

Compare these pricing models and choose the one that best aligns with your budget and usage requirements.

Pro tip: Assess scalability in pricing. Will you face extra charges with more users or projects? Ensure the pricing model accommodates your future needs.

7.3. Assess ROI (Return on Investment)

Calculate the potential return on investment that the selected project management software can offer. Assess how the software can help you save time, improve productivity, reduce project delays, and enhance collaboration. 

A well-implemented software solution can often provide a substantial ROI by streamlining operations and boosting project success rates.

Pro tip: Allocate a budget contingency. Unforeseen expenses during implementation can be managed with this reserve, preventing project disruptions.

7.4. Finalize your budget

Reach out to the software vendors on your shortlist to request detailed quotes based on your needs. This will provide you with accurate cost estimates and help you make an informed decision.

Finally, based on all the information you have gathered, finalize your project management software budget. Ensure that it encompasses all aspects, including software acquisition, recurring costs, implementation, support, and any potential contingencies.

Once you’ve calculated your budget, it’s time to make your final choice.

Final Step: Make a choice

Congratulations! You’ve diligently followed each step in this comprehensive guide to select the best project management software for your organization’s needs. Now, it’s time to make your final choice.

8.1. Review your findings

Take a moment to review all the insights and data you’ve gathered throughout this journey. 

You’ve defined your project needs, noted your challenges, understood your project management team, identified the “must-have” features, created a list of software platforms, tested them with your team, and calculated your budget.

8.2. Make an informed decision

With all the information at your disposal, make an informed decision. Select the project management software that best addresses your needs, challenges, and limitations while staying within your budgetary constraints.

Now, we’d like to introduce you to a potential option for your project management software needs: PPM Express, a comprehensive project portfolio management platform that empowers organizations to easily manage and optimize their projects and portfolios. 

With a focus on simplicity, collaboration, and data-driven decision-making, PPM Express provides a wide range of features and capabilities, including:

  • Real-time portfolio visibility: Gain insights into your entire project portfolio with real-time dashboards and reports.
  • Resource management: Efficiently allocate and manage resources to maximize productivity.
  • Integration capabilities: Seamlessly integrate with popular project management and collaboration tools.
  • User-friendly interface: Enjoy an intuitive and user-friendly interface that accelerates user adoption.
  • Comprehensive support: Access dedicated customer support and resources to ensure a smooth implementation.

As you’re finalizing your decision, we invite you to explore PPM Express as a potential solution for your project management needs.

8.3. Implement and optimize

Once you’ve chosen, it’s time to implement the selected project management solution and optimize your project management processes. Ensure your team is well-trained and that you have a plan for a successful rollout.

Continuously monitor the software’s performance and gather feedback from your team. Be prepared to adapt and make improvements as your organization’s needs evolve.

You’ve taken the crucial steps to choose the best project management software, and now it’s time to leverage this tool to drive your projects to success. 

Embrace this new chapter confidently with PPM Express, and may your organization thrive in its project management endeavors.

How To Choose The Best Project Management Software: A Step-by-Step Guide
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