There seem to be infinite project management fish in the software as a service sea, but how do you navigate through the endless options and find the best one for you?
Not only that, how do you find one that will work not just for you, but for your entire team and organization? If there’s one major issue with project management software it’s how every single tool promises to help engineers work more efficiently and get things done, while also somehow inspiring non-stop grumbling from half the engineers using them.
To help you out, this guide will:
Let’s consider some of the features you should look for in a project management tool.
The more logical way to weed out your options is to look for tools that have features specifically prescribed for software teams since tools that are specifically not for software teams seem unlikely to work well for software teams Here are some of the most useful features ::
Using a whiteboard or excel sheet to manage your project plans is probably doable for small projects but cannot and will not scale. In software development, things can (and always do) get really hairy, really fast.
You need to be able to visualize and track progress from every angle to understand how various timelines and dependencies can impact each other. A good PM tool doesn’t just help you manage tasks, but also provides your team with the context to see how everyday tasks are contributing towards larger goals without overwhelming them with too much information.
Here are some planning and scheduling features to look for:
Shipping software can be a real balancing act, and choosing the wrong software can knock the whole process out of balance. You need an engineer-friendly PM tool that your teams actually want to use instead of just tolerating it.
There also needs to be a balance between having all of the features that match your needs while still being quick enough to keep up with your continuous development cycle. There are many tools out there that are bloated with features, checking boxes for graphs and reports that maybe one manager will look at once a year, which can make things overly complicated and often laggy.
When you’re trying to go through a mountain of tickets or projects, if you have to spend even just an extra minute or two per thing, well, then that might be an extra 30 minutes per day and an extra 10 hours per month and an extra three work weeks per year and next thing you know you’re retiring and looking back with deep regret at the two years of your life you spent trying to update statuses on bugs you didn’t want to fix.
These days, most software teams are working remotely or are distributed around the world across different time zones. Having a project management tool that empowers asynchronous collaboration is a must.
But it’s not just about collaborating with your own software development team. The right project management tool should bring people from across the company together to accomplish larger goals and initiatives. That means it should also work well for the other core development teams like product and design. Otherwise you’re gonna spend a lot more time in meetings explaining things to people who could have just seen your update within the shared pm software.
Some team collaboration features to look for:
While it would be great if there was a unicorn project management tool that had everything we want already built right in, that doesn’t exist and won’t exist since such a product would be so powerful that it’d devour the entire world.. That’s why it’s important that the PM software you choose integrates with the tools you’re already using.
This will include any and all tools that specifically support a part of your software development lifecycle. So you’ll want to make a list of all the cross-functional tools used during the planning, defining requirements, designing, development, testing, deployment, operations, and maintenance.
Here are some common integrations that your own software development team may be using::
If the PM tool you’re eyeing doesn’t seem to have all of the integrations you need, then make sure the tool has a well-crafted API that can help you automate your workflow, integrate with other applications, and build custom reports.
Another obvious but vital element of a standout PM tool are the reports it provides. In order to plan ahead, manage resources, and make smarter decisions, you need to be able to measure how well projects are managed.
Most project management tools already have a predefined set of reports that you can utilize. Some tools also offer support for customized reporting.
Here are some software development-specific reports to look for:
Time tracking is a bit of a controversial topic among developers. Many engineers feel that tracking their hours is not realistic because much of their work is not done in hourly chunks. Forcing engineers to feel like they’re continually doing administrative work can get in the way of both productivity and happiness. Your tool should make your team feel empowered because happier developers mean better software.
Companies who are confident in their product offer a freemium plan or free trial, so you can test out their project management tool for yourself to make your own judgment. And we’re not just saying that because we offer a freemium plan and free trial both.
This is also a good time to check out what their onboarding, customer support, and other resources are like. Nobody likes a pushy salesperson, but this is the time to get everything you can out of them, whether that’s a demo, in-depth case study, proof of concept, customer referral, or whatever else you need to decide if you’ve found the right fit and make your case..
If you’re already using an existing project management tool and looking to make a switch, it’ll be crucial to have good support. It can be tough enough to make a case for a switch, but ensuring a smooth and easy transition will be paramount to the adoption rate.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s also a good idea to test out the customer support team and go through their support resources. Here are some things to look for, and make sure to also check for depth, not just breadth:
Now you know what features to look for in a project management tool, but how do you go about choosing the right one? Here’s a helpful framework to help you decide.
First, you’ll want to survey your team(s) experiences with your existing tool—that could be another software, a whiteboard, or good old Google Docs.
If you’re not already using a project management software, you can also gauge your team’s experiences with previous PM tools that they’ve used. I can confidently say they will have lots of opinions on what worked and didn’t work.
Next, map out your existing process and where it falls short. You’ll want to lead with your most important workflows and processes.
Or, if you’re just at the beginning stages of developing your product and don’t have a PM tool in place, then it will be really crucial to find a solution that can offer software development-specific workflows, reports, and templates that will scale with you as you grow.
Ask your team to dream up the ideal project management tool. What would that look like? Create a list of features you absolutely need, features that would be a bonus, and equally as important, the features you don’t need or want.
After collecting all of these undoubtedly wonderful opinions, prioritize the features you need by mapping them to your most critical processes and workflows.
. Pick a handful of people who will research what project management tools to try and prioritize that list based on the requisites defined in step 2.
The review team should have cross-functional representation from the core team—engineering, product, and design.
The grande finale is taking those top-choice tools for a spin. I recommend narrowing down the list to around 2-3 options so that you can really take the time to dive into each of the tools.
The review team should provide an analysis of the pros and cons of each tool and how well they match up to your specific needs.
On top of testing the tools, don’t forget to check out their customer support and other resources, too.
To aid in your quest for finding your PM software soulmate, I’ve curated a listof the top project management tools to test out. I’ve also taken the liberty of doing the dirty work for you by rounding up the pros and cons of each tool. Please enjoy.
If Goldilocks was a software engineer testing these PM tools, she would probably say that Jira was too complicated, Trello is not comprehensive enough, and Shortcut was just right.
If Santa Claus compiled a list of all the best PM features from all the good little engineers out there, he’d wrap up Shortcut and leave it under the tree.
If a magic lamp fell at the feet of a software engineer and the Genie within it asked that engineer what they’d most like in a PM tool, that Genie would… you know what, we’re probably reaching a point of overpromising and potentially under delivering so we’ll stop there.
If you want to hear more about Shortcut, check out this case study on why open-source SaaS company, Tidelift chose Shortcut.
How do you go about choosing the right project management software for your software development team?
The best way to find out if a project management software is right for you is to take it for a spin. And because Shortcut was born out of frustration from software engineers using existing PM tools, it was built for software developers like you with teams just like yours.
Give Shortcut a whirl—it’s free to try!