Project management tools
It’s not easy to find efficient software that every company team likes to work with. Next we’ll explain which basic requirements PM solutions should meet so they can be used for cross-team collaboration – and introduce important products and providers.
The days when only software developers, digital agencies or the IT department used project management software are long gone. After the release of Basecamp in 1999 as the first lean alternative to Microsoft Project, the top dog at the time, countless lightweight PM tools have come onto the market. The range of offers has become extremely diverse. Whether marketing, customer service, accounting or sales: every team in the company that wants to improve their collaboration and accelerate their processes will find a suitable solution in today’s CloudMarkt that is tailored to their needs.
Productboard, for example, is a modern PM tool that is specially designed for product management teams. Zube from San Francisco brings product and development teams closer together. Conceptboard directly addresses designer teams with its cloud-based collaboration and PM service. Apollo, developed in Italy, brings CRM and project management under one roof and primarily addresses the sales department. At the same time, lean task management apps such as Wunderlist, Todoist, Asana and Trello have long found their way into companies. With useful features, great user interfaces that promise the usability of a consumer app, and an aggressive freemium strategy, these and numerous similar SaaS services made project management attractive for teams beyond the IT department.
Scale project management
But in some cases, the topic of project management can be so extensive that it affects all business areas. Take the launch of a new product, for example. From development and design, through marketing and sales to customer service and support: In such a project, different teams are involved, which should work smoothly and closely together. However, if the developers use Jira, the marketing team prefers to work with Basecamp or Wrike and the support staff use another solution to manage their tickets and issues, this can quickly lead to problems.
Instead of using different isolated solutions for the individual specialist departments and somehow integrating them themselves, many companies prefer to use a holistic solution that serves as a central project hub for all the teams involved. Cross-team applications promise users not only uniformity, consistency and the highest standards of use – for all employees, regardless of which department they work in – but also the mapping of more complex business processes across departmental boundaries.
Professional user management
When it comes to choosing such a solution, less exciting topics such as user administration, permissions and access rights play a crucial role, which is often underestimated. Simple PM tools that are only used internally in a team do not necessarily have to support different user roles or granular user authorizations. Since all project members work in the same team, access management can remain relatively simple. In extreme cases, all users could even easily access all projects, users, tasks and files stored in the system. However, if the team grows, or the PM solution is used by different departments, you simply cannot avoid detailed user settings.
It is then no longer sufficient to be able to grant individual users access to certain projects. Companies must then be able to map their own organizational structure in the software. This means creating different teams, user groups or workspaces and being able to individually adjust their visibility for certain employees or teams. This is not only important to protect certain data from unauthorized access, but also makes the software clearer and easier to use, since each employee only accesses projects and resources that are really relevant to them.
Such features have long been offered not only by large enterprise project management suites, which have to map the complex organizational structures of larger companies with hundreds or even thousands of employees. Mature PM platforms such as RedBooth, ActiveCollab, Wrike and above all Jira now offer enough control mechanisms to professionally manage accounts with hundreds of employees with different roles and authorizations.
Founded in Sydney in 2002, Atlassian was able to position itself as one of the world’s most successful collaboration and project management providers. The listed company from Down Under owes its name in the industry above all to its flagship product Jira. Jira has positioned itself as a comprehensive and flexible alternative for software teams that supports both Scrum and Kanban boards and covers all central aspects of agile project management with over 150 features.
However, the software, which can be used both in the cloud and on-premise, was increasingly used by non-technical teams. Against this background, Atlassian launched a new version of its successful project management platform at the end of 2015, from which every business team in the company should benefit: Jira Core. The product should become the central point of contact for teams in all areas of the company, whether in human resources, marketing, finance or in the legal department. The Scrum boards, agile reporting functions and other tools that are specially designed for software teams are not found in Core. It offers useful functions such as business project templates and user-defined fields and workflows, which project managers can adjust according to their own requirements.
Flexibility is key
Adaptability and flexibility are central prerequisites for a cross-team PM solution. Because every team works differently and each project manager has their own personal management style. What in the eyes of a project manager could be a “killer feature”, for many of their colleagues it could be completely irrelevant . If different teams with different processes and working methods are to work together on one platform, then it is certainly helpful if they can adapt the software to their own requirements and working methods.
With its Jira product family, Atlassian is not the only provider that focuses on adaptability and flexibility. But on the contrary, custom fields and workflows are now part of the standard repertoire of many popular PM services, including Asana, Trello, Monday and Wrike, to name just a few examples. These providers have long recognized that classic project and task parameters such as due date, priority or responsible are no longer enough.
In Asana, the popular task management app from San Francisco, which was started by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, you can add your own fields to tasks and projects to map exactly what is relevant for your company or team. These could be the version number, status information, hourly rates or budget information that the teams need in order to better organize their work. Such custom fields can then be used by users to sort or filter task lists, as well as to create their own dashboards and reports.
Smartsheet: As flexible as Excel
Teams that attach great importance to adaptability and flexibility should take a look at alternative project management services such as Smartsheet or Airtable. Started in 2005, Smartsheet from Washington is pursuing a special approach that promises maximum flexibility. The highlight: the core of the system is not to-do lists or Kanban boards, as is common with most PM systems, but interactive, “intelligent” tables.
Basically, these smart sheets work like normal Excel spreadsheets, but they are supplemented by many useful tools for task management, file sharing, workflow reporting and collaboration, which enable professional project management. Smartsheet is therefore initially suitable for beginners who have somehow managed their projects with Excel and are now looking for a better solution. Smartsheet offers you a familiar work surface with which you are already familiar. But even large-scale projects with many participants, tasks, resources and dependencies can be successfully managed with the software. After all, according to the manufacturer, this is used by over 3.5 million users and 90 percent of the Fortune 100 companies. The company announced an IPO a few weeks ago.
Airtable presents a modern smartsheet alternative that also puts tables in the foreground and is on a strong growth path – a few weeks ago the startup announced that it had raised $52 million in fresh capital. In terms of usability and UI design, the online service launched in San Francisco in 2013, which is now used by well-known companies such as Tesla and Airbnb, makes a better impression than Smartsheet. To begin with, the approach is quite similar. For example, cells can be formatted in over 20 different ways and can then contain not only any formulas, but also unusual content such as checkboxes, multiple selection fields or barcodes. A particular strength of the software is that it creates relationships between the tables: With a special column type, users can easily link the data in one table with data from other tables. Also practical for cross-departmental collaboration: With Airtable Blocks, a new feature that was released a few weeks ago, teams can create any workflow based on the data in their spreadsheets.
All-in-one solutions for SMEs
In addition to classic project management solutions and alternatives such as Smartsheet and Airtable, fast-growing SMEs who want to bring the different teams closer together can use all-in-one solutions that are specially optimized for their target group. Service-oriented companies that work on various customer projects, such as digital agencies, architectural offices and other service providers in the creative industry, can use Teamleader. The startup was founded in Belgium in 2012 and has so far raised around $15 million in capital.
With its comprehensive cloud solution, over 5,000 small and medium-sized companies are already working with it, according to the provider. With project management, CRM, time recording, lead management, calendar management, help desk and telephone traffic (VoIP), Teamleader presents itself as a kind of modern ERP software with which small and medium-sized companies can map their most important processes on a single platform – from project planning, through billing to customer support. Teamleader competes with similar all-in-one solutions such as the collaboration and social intranet system Bitrix24, ActiveCollab, a project management solution from Serbia that has many extras such as time recording and invoicing or Teamwork from Ireland.
While lean business tools are gaining ground in the current cloud era, more extensive platforms remain in high demand, especially in the areas of business collaboration and project management. Mainly, you can see the sense in highly specialized tools and the best-of-breed approach. Because in many areas they can help smaller companies with Excel, email and co. to replace them with more efficient applications and increase their productivity. But too often the topic of project management is so extensive that it affects all business areas. As a result, growing companies in particular, which have to map more complex business processes, rely on a PM solution that cannot only offer uniformity and the highest standards of use, but also flexibility and customization options.
Ultimately, companies will choose a project management solution that has a high chance of success. The main reason for this is that acceptance of the end user is paramount and that employees can achieve noticeable results for themselves by using the software. Above a certain level of complexity, this can only be achieved by using a comprehensive, cross-departmental solution.
Note: The original version of this article was first published in t3n issue # 52.