Introduction

At the most basic level, a project management tool will help you manage your projects from start to finish, as well as allow employees at different levels to quickly understand and complete their work on time. In addition, it is aimed towards getting things done (GTD) faster so you spend time on things which add more value to your work.

What are the key features of project management tools?

Web-based project management tools have been around for many years now and as a result, it does far more than just manage projects. They can also carry out project estimations, cost control, budgeting, resource allocation, collaboration, communication, quality management and administration. The aim is to handle all aspects and complexities of larger projects and keep the costs down.

People also use online project management software to deal with uncertainties in the estimates of the duration of each task; arrange tasks to meet various deadlines; and juggle multiple projects simultaneously, as part of an overall objective.

The top 5 project management tools you need to know about

Top 5 project management tools

01. Gantt Charts

The world-famous PM tool that helped in the building of Hoover DamGantt charts are a visual way of representing work as a unit of time. The Gantt chart is an important tool in planning and helps in scheduling your project while considering the dependencies existing between your various work items.

When the Gantt charts were first introduced, they were drawn on paper—and then drawn and re-drawn many times to reflect schedule changes. Project managers then started using pieces of paper or blocks to represent the Gantt charts so that they could be easily moved when required. Now there are several tools that provide Gantt charts online.

Project management tools - Gantt chart

02. Work Breakdown Structure

Before we get into what a work breakdown structure is, let's understand scope. The scope of a project entails work and resources required to complete that project's goal. If this derails or shifts focus, we have what we call "scope creep" on our hands. For example, if writing a book is your goal, researching promotional activities for the finished book is beyond the scope of that particular project.

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a work-structuring PM tool you use to break down your project into manageable partitions. It's a tree-like structure that breaks down the scope into several units. It follows a hierarchy where your end goal is split into stages that can be further divided into tasks or sub-tasks. There are several rules that help in splitting up a project into partitions. An interesting one is the 8/80 rule, which means that a work item at the lowest level should not require more than 80 hours of work or less than 8 hours of work.

Project management tool - Work Breakdown Structure

03. Project Baseline

A graphical way of representing your project values, your baseline is the standard that you set for your project to measure your actual performance against. The project baseline is a project management tool that encompasses the scope baseline, cost baseline, and schedule baseline. Your baseline helps in tracking your real-time progress.

Unplanned work is a major factor that can affect your project's cost, time, and scope. It causes a domino effect. Firstly, there's a risk that the project has gone out of scope by including this extra work. Even if not, the time and cost of the project will have increased. If you don't want to compromise those constraints, the quality of your project will have to take a back seat. 

Project management tools - Project Baseline

04. Team Building Activities

You may wonder what connection team building has with PM tools. Relationships between the team, as well as with the stakeholders, are as important to a project as planning or execution. One way to improve the morale as well as to boost productivity is to conduct activities or even a healthy competition. After all, a friendly little contest energizes everybody. From group surfing lessons to a team pot luck, there's a wide range of fun activities you can use as part of corporate team building.

Team building activities may include encouraging competitions conducted in a controlled environment to disrupt the rat race that's often part of everyday workplace culture. It can also encourage creativity, highlight your team members' various talents, and motivates people to work together to find the best solutions.

Project management tool - Team Building Activities

05. Communications management plan

A project communication plan ensures there's a regular, relevant flow of information between the project members, clients, and other stakeholders by setting steps for who communicates what information to whom and how often. This project management tool ensures everyone involved is kept in the loop, and it helps maintain relationships.

There's the obvious benefit of keeping your stakeholders in the loop, since satisfying their needs is an integral part of a project's success. A communication plan will help tackle any risk that may arise and improve collaboration among the members of your team.

Project management tool - Communications management plan

Key benefits of project management tools

  • It's all about the right time—don't miss it
  • Gantt chart software helps in accommodating delays that occur in real-time. Dependencies can be easily managed using Gantt charts, too. For example, a book has to be written first before it's sent for review. Both these tasks come under the objective of publishing a book, but one must be done before the other can be undertaken. Task dependencies and their effect on time taken to complete a task can be captured and managed with Gantt chart software.

  • Take hold of the slippery scope
  • WBS helps in ideation and is heavily relied upon during planning. It provides an outline to establish yout cost, schedule, and work hours. It also helps identify risks. For example, a branch that cannot be clearly defined can be a scope deviation, which is a risk. 

  • Keep your cost boxed
  • Cost baseline is the comparison between your initial estimate and your actual project spending. It works closely with your schedule and scope baselines because scope and time are factors that can easily cause the cost of a project to deviate from its baseline. While coming up with an initial budget plan for your project, set aside a certain amount of reserve to accommodate any risks that may arise during the project.

  • Collaboration is the key to opening locked doors
  • Collaborate on things outside work to promote effective team communication. The best project management tools for teams encourage people to ask questions, to not overextend themselves, to raise questions about ideas that may not work, to ask for help, and to achieve success in work together as a whole.

  • Close the gap that stops you from listening
  • Cross-functional communication is also an important aspect of project management. Streamlining this communication with a proper plan ensures that all the stakeholders are aware of how to get hold of relevant information. The PM tools ensure that important decisions aren't delayed and all project activities proceed smoothly.