Choosing project management software: 9-step plan to the right decision
Can't do without software? If your SME or corporate group is about to select project management software, you probably don't know where to start looking for the right PM tool for you. The jungle of international and national providers seems deep and impenetrable at first. This guide paves your way through the PM software market and leads you to the right decision in nine steps.
Project PMS Finder: Select project management software in 9 steps
Typing "best project management software" into Google once and selecting the first search hit is not enough. Selecting a project management software (PMS for short) is a longer process that requires diligence, a well thought-out strategy and conscious evaluation.
This is not only true for large companies; SMEs, agencies or project offices should also approach the search for the right project management tool in a structured and careful manner. Consider the selection of project management software as a project in its own right, which may well take up to a year. If available in your organization, this is a task that the PMO should take the lead on.
This project "Selection of project management software" can be divided into three phases of three work steps each:
Phase A: Development of a requirements catalog
- Inventory & Needs Analysis
- Inclusion of user stories
- Determine contract form and service model
Phase B: Conduct selection process
- Market sounding
- Product presentations
- Practical test of a shortlist of project management software products
Phase C: Decision and preparation for implementation
- Obtain offers
- Drafting and signing contracts
- Create acceptance and prepare introduction
Step 1: Inventory & Needs Analysis
Before you even begin to look at what is on offer and the available selection of project management solutions, you should first look inwards, analyze your own needs and determine your current position. As part of an audit, record the current state of project management in your organization as concretely and specifically as possible.
As part of such a status quo analysis, clarify the following questions, for example:
- Which project management methods and frameworks have you been using to date?
- How complex are the projects you are implementing?
- How many team members and departments are involved in the implementation?
- Do you regularly involve external employees or external stakeholders?
- Do you primarily manage single projects or multiple projects (multi-project management) simultaneously?
- Which other applications do you already use to map parts of your project management? Do you want to continue using these applications or should the new PM software replace the previous solutions?
- Which processes would you like to improve?
Step 2: Include user stories of the users
In order to determine the desired scope of functions in more detail, the next step should be to interview all team members, project managers and stakeholders who will be working with the software in the future. Based on their previous experience, each stakeholder should recapitulate which processes should be mapped and automated. The users can contribute these requirements as a user story.
Questions such as the following need to be clarified:
- Which functions for agile project management should be included (e.g., Scrum including sprint planning tools, Kanban board)?
- How far-reaching are the requirements for an integrated document management system?
- Should billing and invoicing be done from the PMS?
- What time tracking capabilities should the product include?
- Does project portfolio management (PPM) make sense?
- Which integrations and interfaces to other programs are necessary?
- To what extent should customers or external employees be involved in the project work and thus also in the software usage?
Step 3: Determine contract form and service model
Many providers sell their PMS as cloud or software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions. With this concept, you usually acquire time-limited usage rights in a subscription model. You access web-based project management software via an Internet browser. No installation is necessary because the data is stored on the manufacturer's remote hardware. As a result, all parties with appropriate rights have access to the data.
If you purchase PM software under the on-premise license model for a one-time payment, it is installed locally on your company computer. The data sovereignty is yours alone, but you should have an appropriate server infrastructure and the technical requirements.
Many software vendors offer both options. At this point, consult the expertise of your IT department or an external IT specialist.
If you have the software vendor host data - especially sensitive customer data - in the model of your choice, find out in advance where the vendor maintains its servers. Make sure that the server location is in Germany or at least within the EU. The software should meet the requirements of the DSGVO (Basic Data Protection Regulation) and the BDSG (Federal Data Protection Act). If you want to secure yourself as much as possible, make sure that the software provider has a certified information security management system (ISMS) according to ISO 27001.
You should record the results of the first three steps in a concrete requirements catalog that includes desired features, functions, views and requirements of all subsequent users on the one hand and the technical requirements for the software on the other. This catalog is the basis for the following project management software evaluation.
Step 4: Probe the market in a targeted manner
Now you can venture into the jungle of providers well prepared and fearless. However, you should not start the search engine without a plan. The following procedures have proven to be particularly practical:
- Research project management software tests. Keep in mind that software comparisons and sometimes even so called "tests" are in many cases affiliate partnerships where the best rated products pay for a good review and ranking. More suitable are magazines and trade journals or renowned sites where, in addition to objectively written product reviews, numerous verified evaluations can be submitted by users, for example projektmagazin, Projektmanagement Aktuell of the German Association for Project Management (GPM) or Capterra.
- Listen to what project management programs your competitors are using at trade shows, industry events, industry portals, or industry-specific groups on social business networks such as LinkedIn or Xing. Industry-specific solutions could possibly be beneficial for your scope as well.
- In addition, consult recommendations from search engines. Ideally, get specific information and do not just search for "project management software", but specify your query and search for "project management software construction industry" or "project management software agency", for example. It can also be worthwhile to search for a functional focus, e.g. "project management software time recording" or "project controlling software".
First, collect names of possible PM programs. After that, you can check the websites of the software providers to find out which functions and requirements the respective product covers. Take your previously formulated requirements catalog as a basis to systematically "knock off" each software according to this scheme.
When selecting project management software, rigorously cross off from the list all those products that do not cover all the sub-areas you need. If a required functionality is completely missing, it is not worthwhile to deal further with a PM software provider.
If a provider is missing a desired piece of information, you can use the opportunity right away to test the provider's service hotline and consulting expertise. After this initial software evaluation, screen out the project management programs that do not meet your requirements. The three to five best PMSs remain in the running.
Step 5: Arrange presentations
Now it finally gets practical: Arrange one software presentation each with the manufacturers and have the software products demonstrated. It is advisable to attend a presentation as a team and formulate questions in advance. During each software presentation, specifically address the points in your requirements catalog that
- you were not able to clarify perfectly using the information on the website.
- are particularly important to you.
- are interesting in terms of navigation or usability.
Then sift through the list and cross out the products that did not convince you in terms of design, usability or navigation. The selection of project management solutions should now have shrunk to two or three products.
Step 6: Hands-on - the PM software practice test
Do not make the mistake of rashly selecting project management software that you have only become acquainted with on the basis of the functional description and in the context of a presentation. Of course, the sales staff of the manufacturers know exactly the weaknesses of their products and focus on highlighting only the strengths of their software in every presentation.
In order to really judge the user-friendliness of a software, you have to do it yourself: Let's go to the project management software test! Insist that as many of your employees as possible are given the opportunity to test the software in all areas. The longer the test period, the better. Each test user should repeatedly perform all the actions that he or she would later perform in daily use.
Have each test user rate the usability at the end of the test period according to a previously defined, standardized rating system. A rating scale in the range of -3 to +3 or -5 to +5, in each case with supplementary comments, is suitable. Scales extending into the minus range allow testers to actively express disagreement or abstention regarding an aspect, which a school grading system of 1-6 or a point scale of 1-10 does not allow. If individual employees or entire departments cannot come to terms with the operation of individual modules or functional areas at all, the software will meet with lasting resistance.
Evaluate the results afterwards and do not forget to give them an appropriate weighting. If a software leads in the overall average of the evaluations, but at the same time a key function was rated in the minus range by all testers, you should still delete it from the list. If none of the PMSs on the shortlist passes the usability test, you should return to step 4.
Step 7: Obtain offers
Parallel to step 6, you can already request quotations from the various suppliers. Play with open cards and calmly let the sales staff know that you are still testing other products and which products you are testing. Due to the wide range of products on offer, the providers will probably want to get to know you and also get to know your requirements and needs better. This way, you can certainly dust off one or the other goodie or additional module at a reduced price.
Ask for information about how long the implementation of the project management software and training of all employees will take and when the project team can start working with the software.
Step 8: Review and finalize the contract
In the final decision, involve the people who will be working most intensively with the software - most likely the project managers - and don't just look at the introductory price. Seemingly low-priced providers sometimes offer hidden additional and support costs.
Depending on whether you have opted for a license purchase or a SaaS model, you will enter into a purchase contract or a lease agreement. Take enough time to study the contract and have it reviewed. Record detailed technical requirements such as availabilities, responsibilities, service times, response times, support accessibility, etc. in a separate service level agreement (SLA).
Step 9: Prepare software implementation
Once you've made your decision and the ink is dry, make an effort to bring your employees along and prepare them for the upcoming software rollout. Arrange introductory events and user training sessions so that your entire team, or at least some users, feel ready to work with the new project management software early on. Although the actual introduction of the software is a separate project, the transition to the selection of the project management software is fluid.
Therefore, inform your employees about the progress of the selection process as transparently as possible. Keep an open ear and encourage employees to express themselves critically. In this way, you create a basis of trust so that problems can also be discussed openly during the induction process.
The selection and introduction of a comprehensive software solution, such as the selection of project management software, entails many more or less far-reaching interventions for your employees in their working methods or even their roles in the company. Therefore, accompany the entire process not only from the introduction, but already from the selection of the project management software closely flanking measures of the change management.
Seek and maintain contact with the user consultants of your new project management software provider. Ideally, you will work closely together to design an implementation strategy tailored to your company and thus create further acceptance for the new software.
Conclusion - this is how your "Project management software selection" project succeeds
Choosing the right project management software is a project in itself. Proceed in a structured manner and use our 9-step plan to make an informed decision.
Whether you decide on a specialized individual solution, a modular combination solution that covers various subareas or a comprehensive overall solution for your project management or even a comprehensive business coordination software depending on your needs, whether you prefer a web app in the SaaS model or an on-prem solution, whether your software is equipped with a Scrum module, Gantt charts or Kanban board or not - the decisive factor for the success of a later software introduction and permanent software use is the acceptance of the users.
Are you looking for a total solution for your project management? A solution that adapts to your requirements? Then don't miss out on a look at Projektron BCS! Projektron BCS covers all the functionalities mentioned in the text with its modular structure. You only pay for the modules you really need. Make an appointment right away for a free presentation and a test phase!
We wish you success in your selection of the right project management software!
About the author
Like all other departments at Projektron GmbH, Marketing also uses the possibilities of project management software to implement projects efficiently. Kai Sulkowski is an editor in the marketing department and is always informed about current developments and innovations from the world of project management.