Managing projects efficiently and getting them done on time and on budget is no easy task, especially for resource-strained small businesses. Fortunately project management software options exist, but the feature list and software choices can be daunting.
According to Frank Schettini, vice president of IT at the Project Management Institute—a global professional membership association and leading accreditation organization—dashboard and reporting capabilities, along with resource management should top the features list for small businesses.
The ability to integrate your project management platform with the other programs is also crucial. Schettini calls links to applications such as email, spreadsheets and word processing documents fundamental. "You look at some of these tools to be either the repository for all the project artifacts, or to be able to integrate with other things that actually provide those artifacts." Know which tools your team already uses and look for a solution that integrates with them.
And don't forget about mobility. "From a mobile platform perspective, it's important to be able to—in near real time—update projects and report on them," Schettini says. Many of today's platforms include mobile-friendly applications, but not all of them work on every mobile operating system. Be sure that whichever platform you choose supports your team's mobile devices.
Below are just a few of the project management platforms that combine robust features with small business-friendly prices.
3 Project Management Platforms for Small Business
The streamlined AceProject dashboard lets you click on a project tab and quickly find the information that you want. Employees can customize the dashboard to meet their specific needs. Reporting is highly flexible, with fields and filtering capabilities delivering as high-level or granular a report as you'd like.
Time tracking is available, and team members can receive updates, new tasks and reports via email. Expense features include cost tracking, submittal and approval functions and customizable report generation.
AceProject Project Management Software
A document management module stores files in the cloud and offers a particularly user-friendly touch: easy drag-and-drop feature for moving files.
You can export data out of the platform in either CSV or XLS format. And if your company is interested in extending the functionality of AceProject, you can use the API to create customized plug-ins and add-ons.
Gantt chart functionality often separates true project management platforms from other collaboration software. AceProjects lets you view projects in a Gantt chart, and you can also export them as a PDF or image for sharing with others outside the team.
AceProjects supports Android and Windows Phone mobile devices, as are iPhones and iPads.
Packages range from free (up to five people and two projects) to $99 per month for unlimited users, tasks and projects.
Offering functionalities sought after by large companies, Wrike is also flexible and user-friendly enough to suit the small business crowd. Add-ins for Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail provide good integration, and you can add tasks to the system straight from email. It also integrates with Microsoft Excel, so you don’t need to recreate existing spreadsheets.
Wrike Project Management Software
An activity stream offers project updates in real time. The stream supports multiple projects, but per-project filters are available. You can create reports using various criteria to dig into the specific data your team wants to see, and you can save favorite reports to the dashboard for quick access.
The online document collaboration feature lets you view and edit files, and the platform can pull documents from various sources, including Google Drive, Dropbox and Box.
Wrike handles typical Gantt chart stuff, such as creating project milestones and monitoring task dependencies. You'll find apps for both iPhone and Android devices.
The platform's free tier supports up to five people, with additional tiered packages available up to 50 people for $199 per month. Small businesses with more specialized needs can contact the company about enterprise-level packages.
The capability to link with a number of other Zoho products makes Zoho Projects big-business worthy, but it also has features that project-intensive SMBs will love. A dashboard puts project information at your fingertips. Add-on features (some of which require an additional monthly fee) include chat and project wiki pages, as well as Zoho's highly customizable Reports platform.
Zoho integrates with Google Applications, which lets you sync project events with Google Calendar, and sync tasks with Gmail. Of course, it also means that teams can use Google Drive for project files.
Zoho Projects Project Management Software
Document management includes advanced features such as revision tracking and access control. You can structure files into hierarchical folders to match workflow, and you can also associate them with tasks. Dropbox integration is available.
Zoho includes standard Gantt chart functionality, and provides teams a place to manage project activity planning, task dependencies and resource utilization.
Mobile apps are available for iPhone and Android platforms.
The free version supports one project, but the next tier up—at $20 per month—lets SMBs manage 20 projects. Additional tiers are available up to the $80 per month enterprise-level plan, which supports an unlimited number of projects. A handful of features have limited capabilities under the lower-priced tiers, so be sure to look through each plan to see which one meets your needs.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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