A man sits at a desk in front of an open laptop with one hand near his chin in thought. The man has dark hair and a stubbled face. He wears a dark gray sweater over a white collared shirt. In the background, out of focus, is another desk and a gray exposed brick wall.
When choosing project management software, consider which employees will be using it and how they prefer to work and organize. — Getty Images/Drazen Zigic

Not all project management systems are alike. Some work well for small teams needing built-in collaboration and task management features. Others support enterprises with resource utilization tools, advanced reporting options, and unlimited cloud storage. So, how do you choose project management software for your team?

The best approach considers the main factors affecting your staff, clients, and company. After developing criteria, you can objectively evaluate different tools to find the best fit. Take these steps, then check out popular project management solutions for small businesses.

Decide what challenges you want to overcome

Project management software should solve specific problems for your team. According to Wellingtone, the largest obstacles companies face are poor resource management, juggling too many projects, and inconsistency in approach. On your end, you may notice a lot of missed deadlines or projects that go over budget.

Bring your team together to hash out what’s holding them back from being successful. Ask each person to identify one problem they’ve faced when working on a project. Write these statements down to create a shortlist of potential project management solutions.

[Read more: Ready to Grow Your Business? It's Time for CRM Software]

Think about who will use the project management software

Project managers, employees, and clients use software differently, depending on their role, working style, or project management methodology. Some prefer Kanban boards, whereas others want spreadsheets or Gantt charts. Project managers may need to visualize data through timeline, map, or workload views.

Likewise, some types of project management systems charge extra for client or guest use. When comparing platforms, check out which views the software offers and if you can customize access permissions for temporary contractors or clients.

Consider your budget

Many project management systems offer free versions for small teams. But these may have fewer features and customization options. If you have a simple workflow, this may be fine. However, you’ll want advanced capabilities to automate approval steps if each deliverable goes through several stakeholders.

Paid versions range from $5 to over $30 per user. Most vendors give discounts if you prepay annually. Also, consider the time it will take to deploy the software and train users. Tools like Asana or Trello are relatively straightforward, whereas Wrike has a learning curve.

When calculating your total cost of ownership (TCO), think about how using project management software can save (or even help earn) money. Many systems reduce task switching and automate workflows, increasing productivity. Process improvements may boost client satisfaction, leading to more word-of-mouth referrals.

Identify your must-have project management features

Features and functionality differ among software, with some offering native time-tracking tools, whereas others integrate with third-party solutions. Not all systems have Gantt charts or email integrations. List all desired features and prioritize them as low, medium, or high. This way, you can cross off any contenders that don’t have your must-have tools.

Project management features may include the following:

  • Document and file storage capacity.
  • Built-in time tracking.
  • Pre-built automation and custom rules capability.
  • Guest user permissions.
  • Task and sub-task management.
  • Calendar, email, and file-sharing integrations.
  • Kanban boards.
  • Dashboard customization for different roles.
  • Team chat channels.
  • Activity logs.
  • Resource management tools.
  • Company or project knowledge bases (known as Wikis).

[Read more: 10 Apps for Managing Remote Teams]

When calculating your total cost of ownership (TCO), think about how using project management software can save (or even help earn) money.

Assess ease of use

Employee adoption is critical when adding new technologies. Involve them throughout the process, including testing project management software during free trials. Get an idea of the pros and cons of each application by developing a rating system. Ask managers and employees to conduct a test project using the software and complete a brief survey about their experience.

Consider asking questions like:

  • Do you have a favorite feature?
  • What is your least favorite aspect of this software?
  • Were you able to sign on and get up to speed quickly?
  • Did you feel more organized when using the platform?
  • Could you understand your tasks and deadlines?
  • Would you recommend this project management software to a friend?

6 Project management software options

The best project management tools help you glean additional insights from projects while streamlining processes. Each system has a different learning curve, price range, and feature set. Use your checklist and employee feedback to assess solutions. Remember, your software should fit into everyday workflows and allow supervisors to manage projects more effectively, from overseeing task assignments to statuses.

Check out the free trials and plans offered by the following project management software platforms:

  • Monday.com: Modernize operations with a collaborative spreadsheet system. Monday.com offers mobile apps, built-in reporting, and over 200 customizable templates. It has free and paid plans, starting at $6 per user monthly with annual prepayment.
  • Wrike: Centralize project management using Wrike’s free or paid software. It shows account-wide work schedules, integrates with email, and leverages artificial intelligence for automation. Wrike pricing begins at $9.80 per user monthly.
  • ClickUp: Keep your real-time chat messages, documents, group goals, and tasks in a single location with ClickUp. It has a feature-rich free-forever plan and four paid versions, starting at $5 per user monthly with annual billing.
  • Trello: Improve productivity or manage your onboarding processes with Trello’s visual boards, lists, and cards. Trello is free for your whole team, or you can choose from three paid plans, ranging from $5 to $17.50 per user monthly with annual billing.
  • Smartsheet: Manage resources and automate workflows across your enterprise with Smartsheet. Its features work for many industries, from construction to financial services. Smartsheet is free for one user, and subscriptions begin at $7 per user monthly with annual billing.
  • Zoho Projects: Connect your teams worldwide with Zoho Projects. Start by designing a workflow blueprint to visualize your entire process. Then add automation to increase productivity. The free version works for up to three people, and paid plans range from $4 to $9 per user monthly with yearly prepayment.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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