What is the Best Project Management Software for You?

July 20, 2015 Marcus Varner

So, you're searching for the world's best project management software to streamline your work processes, improve team communication and help you effectively track projects and tasks? Look no further than one of the 161 options listed here:

best project management software word cloud

Or maybe you could compare and contrast the 424 project management solutions featured on Capterra.com's list, 118 of which include one or more user reviews, so you can gain hundreds of helpful insights from those who have actually used the software.

If you find those user reviews too numerous and subjective to be useful, consider posting your question directly on a site like Quora.com, including a bit of context about the field or industry in which you work, as follows:

  • What is the best project management software for enterprise IT teams?
  • What is the best project management software for a medium-sized web agency with multiple projects?
  • What is the best project management software for a content marketing team?

Bear in mind, you may get as many as 122 different recommendations, from 122 different individuals. Asking which is the best project management software is a little bit like asking which is the best city to live in or which ice cream flavor is the best. (The answer to this last one, of course, is Ben & Jerry's "Chubby Hubby.")

There is no objective "best" solution that will work for every individual, department or team. But it is possible to find a project management software that is capable of addressing your team's specific needs.

Here are three unconventional tips that will help you narrow down the literally hundreds of options and find a perfectly suitable choice for your business.

1. Become a Better Decision Maker

In her fascinating 2014 TED Talk, philosopher Ruth Chang explains why decision-making is so difficult.

[embed]http://www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices?language=en#t-8637[/embed]

"What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate. In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall," Chang explains.

When it comes to project management software, it would be impossible to rate one solution as objectively better than all the rest. There are some solutions that are best for enterprise-level creative teams who blend agile and traditional methodologies. There are other solutions that are best for startup tech companies with a total of 5 employees spread across 3 different states.

If you're wondering, as we all are, why are there literally hundreds of project management software solutions on the market--with new ones seemingly released on an hourly basis--read John Boitnott's interesting take in Inc.com. He says:

"Due to everyone having different preferences, the genesis of many of these project management tools comes from developers who have been building products and working with different teams in their careers. They notice that their preferences might not fit with the products on the market. Therefore, they get the idea to build their own project management software."

There's at least one solution for nearly every specialized need. And, as Chang explains in her TED Talk, you can decide among them by "exercising your normative power" and "creating reasons for yourself." In the absence of a clear, obvious choice, you get to say:

  • We want to work with a company based in our home state.
  • We want the project management solution chosen by tech brands we trust, like Adobe and Cisco.
  • We want to work with a firm that's privately owned--or not.
  • We like the company with the lion logo.
  • We'll make our choice based on who has the most knowledgeable--and least pushy--sales rep.

2. Be a Satisficer vs. a Maximiser

The tide of new software options probably won't recede anytime soon, and it's not going to get any easier to choose the best project management software for your business out of 424 possibilities.

The answer? Don't decide from a pool of 424 options. Choose from a pool of 5 options.

On a recent Quora.com thread, project management expert and author Mike Clayton advised, "Don't be a 'maximiser' and seek THE BEST tool. Be a 'satisficer' and test a few likely candidates and choose the best of those. Use the answers to your [online poll of other users] to choose a shortlist of five to evaluate."

Clayton is referring to research from psychology professor Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, which shows that having too many options can have a variety of negative effects.

"First, there is the problem of gaining adequate information about the options to make a choice. Second, there is the problem that as options expand, people's standards for what is an acceptable outcome rise. And third, there is the problem that as options expand, people may come to believe that any unacceptable result is their fault, because with so many options, they should be able to find a satisfactory one." —"Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness is a Matter of Choice" in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

To find the five solutions you'll evaluate for your business, there are a couple of directions you can go, beyond a simple Google search:

  • Ask for recommendations from friends who work in similar industries on similar-sized teams
  • Ask project management experts you are connected to socially, via LinkedIn, Google+, and other tools
  • Consult websites that specialize in helping businesses find the right software solutions, such as trustradius.com, g2crowd.com or softwareadvice.com.

finding the best project management software for you is a big decision

3. Weigh Simplicity Against Features

One easy way to narrow down the list of options is to look at the age and size of your team and compare it to the age and size of the potential software solution.

"The most well established issue trackers and project management tools are more than ten years old," continued Boitnott in Inc.com. "As they mature, their target market has scaled from SMBs to the enterprise…. Larger teams require more structure and features to satisfy their requirements."

If you're working with a small, startup team, you may find all the features you need in a small, startup project-management tool. The newer the tool, the more likely it is to be very simple and intuitive right out of the gate, and to include the latest design and user-experience features. These tools seem sleek, new, cool and easy to use—because they probably are. It's easy to be simple and streamlined when the features are limited.

However, if you are working with a large, complex team, you will likely have needs that extend far beyond what the newest software on the block can offer. Look for an enterprise-level work-management tool that has been around for a decade or more, so the vendor has had time to refine their product, build in specialized features and customize it for different needs. Yes, there will be a greater learning curve and increased complexity with this kind of tool, but the added power and features you'll have at your fingertips will be well worth the time spent getting up to speed.

Forget About Finding "The Best"

In a space where there are more choices than anyone could ever wrap their brain around, these three unconventional tips can help you find a perfectly suitable project management software for your business. (Notice I did not say the "best project management software.")

First, realize that hard choices are hard because there is no objective best option. Pro-con lists won't always do the trick. So own your team's destiny as you choose your own reasons and decide based on those reasons. Second, narrow down the possibilities to a manageable number (5 for example), before doing an in-depth evaluation. You'll find that acting like a satisficer instead of a maximizer will make you just as happy with your choice in the long run—maybe even happier. And third, be sure to weigh simplicity against functionality, depending on the size and scope of the work you do, as you narrow down your options and make your final choice.

Even if you don't end up with the very best project management software known to all humankind, if it adequately addresses your needs and makes your work life easier, then that's all that matters.

"So what's the best project management tool for you? As with any area, it depends primarily on your needs. Are you hoping for a single tool that can provide a bit of functionality in a number of different areas? Or are you really looking for a strong, single-tasking application for an important area like issue-management or time-tracking? Do you need a tool that will allow your internal team detailed control over tasks and workflow, or something that will allow external stakeholders to easily get in and know what's going on?" —Laura S. Quinn on idealware.org


Could Workfront be the best work management solution for your team? Take a sneak peek with our new product demo video below:

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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