How to Choose (or Not Choose) Project Management Software For Your Startup

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rsz_whiteboarding-woman-project-management-istockphoto

rsz_whiteboarding-woman-project-management-istockphoto

Critical Tech Considerations for Entrepreneurs

Behind every successful company lies a series of transitions. The difference between growing pains and seamless scaling is usually in the organization. To be clear, growing pains are normal at a startup, but they don’t need to be devastating.

While few studies have been done on how long it really takes to implement new project management software, one thing is certain: It’s going to be longer than you think. While your lean startup might not need the enterprise resources planning (ERP) program necessary for a larger organization, it’s critical to begin consider project management solutions once your company outgrows the CEO’s garage. Here are some factors to evaluate before you invest in a solution.

Do You Even Need Project Management Software?

The right project management software can eliminate useless meetings, endless email exchanges, and missed deadlines. However, software that’s just not the right fit for your company is about as effective as a whiteboard. Even basic project management programs will typically cost between $100-200 per month. If your workflow is focused around several key projects, then software may not be the right solution. However, in the following situations, organizational software might be the right option:

  • Your projects require collaboration or have dependencies which need to be completed.
  • You’re offering work from home arrangements or outsourcing, or you require client approval to proceed on projects.
  • You’re struggling to predict your workload in a week, two weeks, or a month.
  • You’re running “fire drills”, and focusing your team’s time and energy on dealing with crises.

In the earliest stages of the startup phase, operating by running fire drills can work for teams of one or two. As companies grow, it is critical to begin looking beyond that day’s list of items to see how teams work together and how late delivery can affect a company’s overall workflow.

How Much Software Do You Really Need?

Not every startup needs an ERP-style program that takes dedicated employees to demystify and manage. There’s a strong movement towards more basic project management solutions, and some companies may react best to less software. As Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals wrote, “solutions to easy problems are not only easier to implement and support, they’re easier to understand and easier to use.”

Consider your organization’s need for the following components before you invest:

1. Plan to Scale

If your plans for growth are ambitious, a simple, or even free, solution may not scale with your organizations. The learning curve for a new project management program is typically steep, but it is much more difficult to make the switch once you’re mid-stream. Too many features or being able to provide a third-party client with limited access isn’t a bad thing in the beginning, as long as these features don’t interfere with your ability to work in the start.

2. Prepare to Customize

Many basic, inexpensive options for project management software require very little effort to set up, but they’re less flexible. Alternatively, some advanced solutions are so incredibly malleable that your average start up lacks the funds to hire a dedicated program developer. The solution you choose should be able to be easily molded to your workflow.

While some software solutions come out of the box tailored to an industry’s needs, like Brightpod for creative agencies, keep in mind whether or not your customization needs will grow. As Ephricon web marketing president Jon Payne points out, you should be able to customize the interface to reflect your business model, not vice versa.

3. Make Your Software Your Communication Base

Ideally, project management software should serve as an all-in-one solution for communication, document management, and managing processes. Even if you don’t currently need to formally broadcast messages, being able to quickly update colleagues on a project could come in handy in the future. Additionally, support for collaboration through comments and forum-like discussion can significantly streamline your workflow, as can the ability to store a large amount of files by client or project.

Regardless of budget, you shouldn’t have to settle for project management software that must be used in tandem with other programs in order to capture time tracking or keep files in order.

4. Integrate Your Whole Team

Take full advantage of the “freemium” trial, which has become the de facto standard for subscription businesses. Ideally, you won’t be the only individual to take a test drive. Involve other key players to get a gauge of how well your team can use the software. What’s intuitive to some of your staff may be difficult to navigate for others. Doing a trial run with your entire team, or at least representatives from different departments, can increase your chances of a successful implementation.

No matter how nimble your corporate culture is, changing project management software is overwhelming at any stage in the game. While the amount of energy you invest into implementation is critical, choosing software that’s intuitive, flexible, and able to grow with your brand should be top priority.

Image: iStockphoto

5 Comments on "How to Choose (or Not Choose) Project Management Software For Your Startup"

  1. vincy

    One more suggestion I would like to add here is: Transitioning from one project management tool to another is hassle, moreover it involves lot of mind setting. So use the software on trial for a certain time, and only if you feel that this software would be the perfect fit dont take any decisions.
    We faced the problem when we changed from Basecamp – which was expensive and hassle to Replicon – http://www.replicon.com/project-and-program-management and as usual we had a lot of changes to make, but we got assistance from Replicon on this. So make sure your software firm does all these.

  2. Nick Nikolaev

    Hi, Jasmine, 
    Just a few things for your great article:
    Big number of startups works in IT scope and creates such products as web-tools, apps, software. Usually, such startups need special project management tools (based on scrum or agile methodology or bug tracking tools). I mean that it’s almost impossible to use bug tracking tool to manage it projects at the same time as marketing. 
    So, first of all it’s crucial for startup to understand their needs, scope and types of projects they have to manage.

  3. BrianTerry1

    Thanks Jasmine – great article and advice. I use project management software to manage my outsourced staff but the problem I find is they don’t have all the features needed. 
    For example, cost and time tracking is either a stand-alone app or is just not included. In the end I just created my own solution: http://outveo.com

  4. Josh Abraham

    Terrific article Jasmine!
    Though there is no denying that companies need to organize its operations, projects and initiatives. Question is whether to go for simple To-Do list collaboration software or complete suite. What I liked the most from this article is, it focuses on end usere’s requirement and then explores options accordingly (of couse considering scalability).
    Yes, as article states, it has to be scalable, flexible, collaborative, yet I’d like to add just few more expectations one should check against tool (depending on your business operations and expected growth)
    1. Is it complete/ integrated, or you are open to work with multiple tools for project scheduling, tracking, expenses, timesheet tracking, resource management, document sharing, issue/ticket management, risk tracking, etc,? Essentially are you looking for one central platform or prefer to work with discrete ones.
    2. It has to be the most intuitive for (a). Individual team members (b). Project Managers, they are power users.
    3. What about data privayc, security? What is software’s availability, SLA?
    I’d certainly suggest you to give a look at our own tool ZilicusPM (http://www.zilicus.com) and evaluate your expectations against it.

  5. HimaliG

    Nice post Jasmine! A tool I would like to add here is Brightpod ( http://brightpod.com/ ), a project management app specifically for marketing teams. It takes the entire campaign planning and collaboration online so you don’t miss anything. It also has 14 day free trial, do try it out.

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