No matter the job, you need the right tools. But few jobs have as many contenders for “the right tool” as project management. From reporting to task management and budgeting, project management software needs to get a lot of things right.
That’s because project managers are responsible for keeping teams aligned, making sure projects stay on track and on-budget, and much more. Finding the one piece of software that can do all these things is tough. Maybe even impossible.
We asked six project managers to describe what they would consider perfect project management software, and what tools they’re currently using.
This is our final blog post in a five-part series on the role of project manager. In previous posts, we covered project management responsibilities, certification, skills, and how to get project management jobs. Thank you to our project managers for participating in this series!
What would perfect project management software look like?
Our project managers made one thing clear; the perfect project management software needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. When describing this dream software, most of our project managers had a laundry list of features. For Elizabeth Harrin, who has over 20 years of experience managing projects and is the award-winning blogger behind GirlsGuidetoPM.com, the perfect tool needs to be robust: “It would have a proper Gantt chart, task management, and the ability to properly manage Agile projects with burndown charts and backlog management capabilities – not just a Kanban board, although those are good too.” Project managers rely on a number of methodologies to do their best work, so the perfect software needs to cover them all. Harrin would also appreciate PMO (Project Management Office) and portfolio reporting features.
Martin Thienpont, project manager at Valtech, had a similar list of features for his dream PM tool: “A comprehensive, all-in-one tool would enable me to do and update resource planning, timelines, budget tracking, invoicing, project tracking, and team mood tracking.” For Thienpont, the perfect software isn’t just about helping the project manager complete tasks and achieve goals. It needs to encompass the project from start to finish and is as much about productivity as it is about keeping an eye on your team’s health.
Easy to set up
A PM tool could have every feature known to man, but if it’s front-loaded with an extensive set up process, it might not be worth the hassle. Even if an individual project manager would be willing to put up with the process, Harrin outlines that project managers aren’t always responsible for choosing their tools: “I think people use what their employer provides; it’s not really a conscious choice on the part of the individual.” Which is probably why, when asked about perfect project management tools, she says: “It would configure itself automatically and not need an administrator to set it up.” That, and it would need a low learning curve overall.
Good for managers and team members
For some of our project managers, the perfect project management tool can’t just suit their needs, but their team’s as well. It has to be flexible and fill multiple roles at once. That’s what Olivier Hebert, a Team Lead and Release Train Engineer at Desjardins, points out: “I would say that the perfect PM software would be seamless for the team, yet powerful for management. It would allow the team members to keep using whatever technical tool fits their need, yet track work effort, time progression, and quality expectations of activities at various levels of granularity.” This not only helps the PM and their team work in unison from the same tool, it also avoids the busy work of copy pasting updates from one tool to another. Busy work that Hebert would love to see stomped out.
DuBerger sees it a different way. For him, the perfect PM tool is less all-in-one software than it is a platform to integrate whatever tools the team uses: “A platform where all these products could be interconnected would be a good in-between. That way, you allow your teams the freedom of choosing tools and create maximum value while streamlining your processes.” Project management is about getting everyone working their best, so maybe the perfect tool should reflect that too.
It’s not software
When we ask Cornelius Fichtner, president of OSP International and host of The Project Management Podcast, what the perfect project management tool is, he answers it somewhat differently: “You’re talking to it. There is no such thing as a perfect project management software. Because to me project management is an art. It is your ability to work with people.” While project management tools can handle budgets, roadmaps, and tasks, there will never be a perfect piece of software that replaces the human touch, according to Fichtner. No matter what features the software may have: ”That is data management. Project management itself is a human activity that I don’t think software can handle.”
It doesn’t exist
Two of our project managers had sobering thoughts to share about perfect project management tools. For Alexander Nowak, a marketing and business strategy consultant who managed marketing projects for five years, the answer is pretty simple: “If there is, please show me!”
Laurent DuBerger, an agile coach at Element AI and former project manager at GSoft, had a similar take: “I don’t think there could ever be a perfect one-size-fits-all project management software. I’d rather use the proper tools depending on the stage of the project.”
What project management software do PMs use?
With that in mind, what tools do our project managers use on a daily basis?
Whatever video platform is best for the team, no preference. Airtable is good, too.”
“We are using Jira, and we are also using Wrike. So those are the two tools that we are using here in our company. I did use Microsoft Project quite regularly but the way I was using it, it was more a scheduling and task tool. I never really used all the functionalities of it.”
“Mainly Jira, to centralize work and maximize visibility. For its ease of use — yes, it’s possible — and customizability.”
“We like to use Jira and Confluence for our web development jobs and documentation needs. We even started implementing them for campaign projects.”
“I typically use Timesheets for collecting actual efforts, spreadsheets for planning budgets, calculating burn rates, and previsions. Whiteboards, presentation, and visual tools to illustrate concepts, structures, and timelines. Collaboration suites for centralizing team communication, sharing content/knowledge, and tracking progress. Custom tools for reporting.”
Using the right project management software
Software, like any other tool, is what you make of it. While some project managers will swear up and down that Jira, Asana, or Trello are best for their job, the best piece of software is whatever helps you level up your workflow. The perfect piece of software might not exist quite yet, but your software toolbox is something you develop and tinker with over time, adding the right piece when it comes along. Because many project managers find themselves using multiple tools, an integration solution like Unito can be the perfect addition to their toolset. Keep everything up to date across tools and streamline your workflows during your free 14-day trial with Unito.
This brings us to the end of our project manager interview series. If you’d like to read any of the previous pieces, you can find them here:
- Project management responsibilities
- Project manager certifications
- Project management skills
- How to get a job in project management
A huge thank you to these six project managers for taking part in this interview series.