Project Management Software for Startups and SMBs: 5 Must-Haves

By Brian D. Sheehan

As a startup or small/medium business (SMB), there comes a time in project management when post-it notes, cork boards, and strings-around-a-finger fall by the wayside in lieu of more modern methods. Perhaps your client base is growing and your newly-hired Project Manager is dropping some coy hints (or perhaps screaming from the rooftop). “The time has come,” she implores, “we need a Project Management software solution.”

Attitudes toward project management software can be quite varied. In one camp we have the Occasional Users (“Software is just a tool that augments more traditional project management methods”) and on the other side we have the Hard-core Enthusiasts (“Software saves both time money while increasing project management efficiency”). It’s probably wisest to view the subject through the eyes of a bell curve, where most organizations fall somewhere in-between both approaches.

No matter which lens you view, or to which camp you belong, it’s clear that project management software is indeed here to stay and, not surprisingly, there is a veritable buffet of available options other than Microsoft Project. When you reach the Software Crossroads, you may wish to consider the following five requisites when deciding on the most appropriate software solution for your organization:

  1. Geoarbitrage via the cloud.: The last few years have given birth to a number of exciting technologies, the most ubiquitous of which is cloud computing. Although the concept has been around since the 90s, it’s only truly taken flight in the last few years — and has it ever taken off! Growth is off the charts, with some experts estimating that the cloud will host 70% of all corporate data over the next 5 years. One of the greatest benefits of cloud computing, and a new reality for many Project Managers, is that web-based solutions have acted as a catalyst for geoarbitrage — a concept that makes location moot and empowers remote workers worldwide. The days of commutes and sitting in a cubicle are slowly dwindling, as cloud computing enables colleagues to work from home (wherever “home” is, whether 2 or 10,000 miles away). If your organization recognizes the benefits, then a web-based project management software solution may be in your future. What to look for? P.A.D.S.: Price, Availability, Dependability, Security.
  2. The web is wallet-friendly.: Speaking of web-based solutions, going cloud saves you big money. How so? Before the cloud came along, IT Managers relied on dedicated computing power that was physically owned or rented. In addition to the upfront costs, daily expenses dragged down the bottom line for thousands of firms in the form of added personnel (developers, network engineers) and man-hours (upgrades, software maintenance, bug fixes). The cloud changed all of that in one fell swoop by negating the need for owning/renting servers and packaging the capability as a service (e.g., software, infrastructure, platform). These lower costs are also represented in the world of web-based project management solutions (SaaS: software as a service), where service providers offer a range of solutions based on your organization’s specific needs (e.g., enterprise? number of users? storage? advanced functionality?). This pay-as-you-go approach enables startups and SMBs to take advantage of powerful software at a fraction of the cost, without the upkeep, maintenance, and infrastructure-related headaches.
  3. Use the task, Luke.: Ultimately a dependable project management software solution will focus on tasks and how well they are implemented. No matter what your organization’s preferred project management methodology, the need for an established workflow is paramount — and the task is the ideal common denominator to achieve this end. In fact, task-oriented project management is quite a wide umbrella that includes a number of formal methodologies, though the terminology may differ in each. In our ideal software solution, tasks would exist in an environment that is heavily role-based and collaborative. Each task would be highly configurable in order to be inclusive of different project management approaches; parameters would include role assignment, time allocations, a comprehensive set of identifier fields, a mechanism to handle workflow progression (e.g., re-assignment), and some sort of export capability (e.g., Excel, PDF).
  4. Project eye candy.: All text and no graphics is no fun, so our ideal project management software solution should also offer a pertinent set of visualization tools in order to bring your project plans to life. In addition to the old standby (hint: Henry Gantt’s claim to fame), a solution candidate should include a fully integrated calendar that automatically updates as project modifications are made and a roadmap that indicates the current status of the project.
  5. Collaborative communication.: Even if the perfect software system is implemented, all of it is for naught if a robust communication infrastructure is not in place. At the least this should include task and project notifications to all participants and not limited to intra-solution messaging (in other words, include e-mail). Other helpful communication options would include discussion forums and task commenting. Collaboration measures would include a configurable notification system that is easily fine-tuned (e.g., being able to turn off hair-trigger e-mails) and a document repository that supports comprehensive versioning — for example, being able to synchronize your solution’s project folder, a folder on your PC, and your team members’ folders.

At the end of the day, the best project management software solution is the one that addresses your unique needs — hopefully saving you both time and money in the process.

Brian Sheehan is a Content Writer/Blogger for Berlin-based Planio GmbH, a provider of cloud-based project management software. Brian has over 10 years of experience writing technical and marketing documentation for Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. He currently resides in the Philippines with his family and can be reached via e-mail at:

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