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Project Planning Software

Project Planning software allows businesses to create timelines for project completion, allocate resources, assign tasks, and budget for project-related expenses. Project Planning tools often include features such as collaboration tools and reporting/analytics capabilities. Find the best project planning software for your organisation in Australia.

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Project Planning Software Buyers Guide

Introduction

Project planning software allows users to manage their projects and create a workable project execution strategy. In order to achieve this, the very best planning software will allow project managers and other key stakeholders to define the tasks required in order to complete a project, assign those tasks to individual departments or employees, create a timeline for project completion, plan the allocation of resources appropriately, and budget for any related expenses.

The use of project control tools of this kind can play a key role in modern project management, and these project planning applications may either be standalone programs or offered as part of a more comprehensive project management software package. One of the biggest ways in which these applications can assist project managers is through visualisation of the project timeline so that the manager knows what should be happening, when it should occur, who is responsible for each individual task, and what resources need to be provided in order to ensure success.

Carefully defined projects, which are planned out in terms of the tasks required, ownership and responsibilities, resource demands, and budget, are more likely to be successful—planning software can assist greatly with this. As a result, project tools of this kind can enhance project managers' ability to carry out their roles.

Aside from its connection to wider or more comprehensive project management software solutions, planning software is often considered to be related to various other planning tools available too, including task management software and collaboration software. Additionally, it can be used in combination with resource management software and project tracking software. However, it should be noted that the most advanced programs will deliver similar functionality, meaning planning software could potentially take the place of those applications.

Clearly, the different work planning tools on the market will offer different options, functions, and capabilities, and the quality can also vary. Generally, free project planning software is going to be less comprehensive than the best in class solutions. Some tools may also provide additional emphasis on specific areas of project management, such as Agile or Waterfall project management. Nevertheless, there are some core features that help to define this software category, and users can expect the majority of solutions to allow them to:

  • Define project expectations, tasks, timelines, and deadlines, ensuring complete clarity
  • Allocate specific tasks to individuals or departments, and then continually track progress
  • Manage resources so that appropriate time, money, and labour resources are given
  • Provide collaboration tools, create Gantt charts, and monitor the overall status of a project

What is project planning software?

Project planning software is the name given to a category of applications that are designed to assist project managers with the planning and execution of their projects. To achieve this, the software will typically allow users to define tasks, allocate those tasks to specific people, create a work schedule, establish deadlines, and optimise the use of resources. The end result is a solution that will allow businesses to execute their projects more effectively and efficiently.

One of the key motivations behind the use of project planning applications of this kind is the ability to provide real clarity to a planned project so that the end result is satisfactory. Through the use of such tools, project managers and project teams can gain a much better understanding of what they are working on, what is expected, when the project should be finished, and who is responsible for each of the different elements that make up the project as a whole.

Standalone planning software can be used in conjunction with other tools, such as project management software, although in some cases, project planning apps can actually serve many of the same functions, and the most comprehensive options on the market could even replace the need to invest in those solutions. However, in other cases, the planning software may be offered as just one component of a wider suite of project management applications.

What are the benefits of project planning software?

The benefits of project planning programs are primarily centred around their ability to help project managers and their teams to organise the project workforce, create a logical project strategy, clearly define project goals and tasks, establish ownership principles, and provide overall clarity about the work that lies ahead. With that being said, it can also be beneficial to explore some of the specific and tangible benefits associated with these software solutions, and some of the most significant examples include the ability to:

  • Clearly define project expectations: one of the primary benefits that can stem from making use of project planning applications within a business is the ability to clearly define all aspects of a project and establish clear expectations. A major part of project planning involves answering the "who?", "what?", "when?", "why?", and "how?" type questions, and software of this type can assist with this. Answering these questions and having the answers readily available can help to improve project outcomes by providing all members of project teams with greater clarity. Additionally, project managers and other leaders can clearly establish who is responsible for each aspect of the project, who should lead work on specific tasks, and what the chain of command is within the team.
  • Manage resources more efficiently: another key advantage linked to project planning programs is the ability to manage all resources much more efficiently and accurately. This includes effective time management, so that an appropriate amount of time is given to project teams to carry out specific tasks; effective management of money so that the right budget is set for the completion of the project, and so that investments are made in the right areas; and effective management of labour, so that enough team members are allocated to each task, without situations arising where too many people have been assigned to one task, leaving some of those employees with little to do. When resources are managed properly, there is less waste and greater overall efficiency.
  • Access to multiple project planning tools: planning software packages bring together multiple different project planning tools, consolidating them in a single place, including task management, collaboration, and Gantt chart creation options. Having access to all of these different tools in one app can be more convenient for project managers and can help businesses to cut costs by avoiding the need to purchase separate solutions for each of those areas. In addition, the inclusion of these different tools within one application means data from one area can also be easily transferred or copied into another area without running into issues related to compatibility or formatting. This can then lead to significant improvements when it comes to collaboration between different departments, or teamwork between different groups operating within the same larger project team.
  • Allow changes or adjustments to be made: using project planning tools, managers and other senior figures can more easily make adjustments to a project and share information about those changes with stakeholders. If requirements shift, new information is discovered, or feedback emerges from end-users, project managers can use planning software to plot out any adjustments and allow the project team to know as quickly as possible. With the Agile approach, changes could occur relatively frequently, and communicating this information effectively can easily become the main difference between project success and project failure.
  • Visualise project tasks and timelines: finally, software that has been designed to assist with project planning can also help project leaders to actually visualise timelines and quickly see elements like the tasks that have been assigned to different team members, in a clear and concise way. Being able to view this information in an easy-to-digest visual format can be invaluable for helping a project manager to build a complete picture of where their project stands, where it should be in the future, and when that should occur. It also makes it easier to see who is responsible for each stage of the journey and when each of their individual deadlines is.

What are the features of project planning software?

The features of project planning software are designed to assist project managers with the planning and execution of projects. While there can be some significant variation in terms of the options and functions available in each application, there are many common features, which are found in a large number of project planning solutions. Some of the most common and popular features contained in programs of this kind are outlined in more depth below:

  • Resource management: keep track of the most important project resources, including time, money, and labour, and allocate those resources to the right place at the right time. A fundamental part of project management involves knowing how much money is left, where that money is being spent, and where more money may need to be made available. On top of this, projects rely on the work of individual employees, and those employees need to be carefully managed so that they are working on the right tasks, at the right time. Finally, time is one of the most important resources of all, and it needs to be continually managed so that the project remains on schedule. Using project planning applications, managing all of these resources becomes much easier.
  • Task management: define each individual task that needs to be carried out over the course of the project completion process, and allocate those tasks to the right individuals, departments, or teams. Task management is essential for ensuring that project team members understand what they should be working on, why they should be working on it, how long they have to complete their task, and who they will be working alongside. A critical aspect of task management involves defining ownership of each task so that there is certainty on where responsibility lies. The best solutions will also allow adjustments to be made so that tasks can be reallocated to different individuals or teams if the need arises, and so that the details of the task can be altered if new information comes to light.
  • Visualisation: see visual representations of project progress so far in order to gain a clearer sense of where individual tasks stand and what the status of the project as a whole currently is. One of the most common visualisation elements included within software of this kind is a visual timeline. Generally, this timeline can be used to plot out the individual tasks and the amount of time they have been allocated, along with hard deadlines for different sections of the project. Moreover, it is usually possible to mark significant milestones along the way, which can assist the project team with understanding precisely where they are and maintain morale and motivation. Additionally, many solutions provide support for Gantt charts and other graphic illustrations that can help to convey important information about progress and the project schedule.
  • Budget management: establish an overall project budget, allocate financial resources to the different areas of the project team, and continually track how much money remains, how much has been spent, and where that money has been spent. Solutions that include dedicated budget management tools can make it easier to monitor finances and create reports for stakeholders. Additionally, the budget management component can often go hand-in-hand with the resource management component, making it quick and easy to move data between them.
  • Collaboration tools: utilise a variety of collaboration tools and features, which make it easier for different individuals and teams working on the project to share ideas and help each other. On a basic level, software of this kind is likely to include options for channels to share files and communicate, either via a text-based messaging system or video calling. However, going further, some project planning apps will also include options to create digital working environments—which can be made invite-only—which can help project team members to collaborate more effectively through screen sharing, annotation, and similar tools.
  • Progress tracking: monitor the progress of individual tasks, assignments given to teams, and the project as a whole. A status bar can indicate how far along the project is, how much work has been carried out by different teams, and the speed at which this progress has been made. In some cases, this data can then be used to forecast project completion times or to give a better understanding of when individual tasks may be finished. The ability to track progress in this way is vital for overseeing a project because it allows new tasks to be started at the best possible time. Progress reports can also be created and presented to stakeholders to give them regular updates.

Using Capterra's project planning directory, it becomes easier to find the ideal solution based on what they have to offer. More specifically, the directory allows users to sort the available applications according to the features they contain. This then ensures that users are only presented with the programs that actually perform the functions that are required. From there, it becomes much easier to narrow down the options to those that are most suitable.

What should be considered when purchasing project planning software?

When attempting to purchase the ideal project planning program, there are a number of things that must be considered. One thing to keep in mind here is the need to acquire the most suitable software, rather than just the most complete package. After all, the needs of one project team can differ substantially from the needs of another, and the features that matter are also going to vary. A good way to approach this is to ask the following questions:

  • How much does project or job planning software cost? The price of a product or service is always going to be a key factor in any decision that is going to result in a purchase being made, but this issue needs to be considered carefully and holistically, with an awareness of long-term and hidden costs. For instance, the upfront costs linked with software will not factor in issues like setup costs or costs associated with training employees to use the software properly. Within this question, it is also important to think about whether or not it is viable to get the right project planning software free of charge. In cases where requirements are not especially advanced—or where access needs are fairly basic—this may be possible, and it can save businesses significant money. Yet, as a general rule, the free options on the market are likely to lack some features, and they may be less future-proof too.
  • What are the project planning tools? It is important to examine the different software options carefully and develop an understanding of precisely which planning tools are included within each package. While the core features are likely to be similar across the majority of options, some features can be considered differentiators, and these can help with separating the options and identifying the best possible solution for a particular business. For example, the inclusion of both Agile and traditional methodologies will not necessarily feature in every product on the market, so business leaders need to think carefully about the methodologies that are most important to them and then make their decision accordingly. Even in instances where both of these methodologies are supported, the level and quality of support can vary, so it is essential to build a full picture before making a purchase.
  • What is the best deployment option? The answer to this question will depend on how work is carried out within an organisation and what the current setup is, along with numerous other factors. There are two common approaches, with the first being the more conventional on-premise option. Here, software is purchased, owned by the buyer, and installed on company systems, with data storage being the responsibility of the individual organisation. By contrast, the Software as a Service (SaaS) approach is a cloud-based deployment option. With this model, software is acquired from a third-party service provider on a subscription-style basis. The third party is responsible for securely storing data in the cloud, and the software is made accessible via an internet connection. This generally means the software can be accessed remotely or on-site, using a wider variety of devices and operating systems. Costs are more predictable, the service provider assumes responsibility for ensuring the service is working, and the software is up-to-date. There are advantages and disadvantages linked to both approaches. While it is not possible to simply identify the best deployment option in general, it is possible to find the best approach for an individual business, project manager, or project team, based on preferences and circumstances.
  • What is the most popular project planning app? It is also worth giving some thought to the popularity of the different options on the market. The most popular option may not necessarily be the best option for every project manager, but there are advantages that come with popularity, including compatibility when working with third parties and familiarity when training new hires. Popular options are also more likely to have online resources for overcoming some of the most common problems and carrying out some of the more advanced tasks. This can be valuable because it may save a business the time and money associated with accessing professional support.
  • Is remote access to planning software possible? Finally, decision-makers need to think about who actually needs access to the project planning system and where they are going to be working from in order to access it. In some cases, this could be as simple as knowing that project managers need access when they are in the office. However, modern working arrangements are not always this simple and remote, and hybrid approaches are growing. If remote access is going to be required, this is an important point that should help to inform purchasing decisions. It may be that a cloud-based option provides the best combination of accessibility and security in these situations because cloud-based solutions tend to be accessible through any internet device with a modern web browser. This means employees are less likely to encounter compatibility issues along the way.

The most relevant trends related to project planning applications also need to be carefully considered before making a purchase. It is important to find a solution that has been designed with an awareness of these current trends because otherwise, project managers risk acquiring a solution that will become outdated or which will fail to live up to expectations. Some of the most important software and technology trends to give thought to include:

  • Increased use of artificial intelligence: The trend of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming more advanced and reliable can be seen across many different software categories, but it is especially relevant to project management. In fact, Gartner analysts predict that as much as 80 per cent of the current workload of a project manager could be eliminated by 2030 as artificial intelligence continues to improve and takes over. This is especially true with tasks like data collection, progress tracking, and reporting-type tasks. With this in mind, it makes sense for businesses to get a head start on this by investing in solutions that already make use of AI capabilities to automate some of the more repetitive or predictable tasks that unnecessarily take up time when project managers could be carrying out more complex activities instead. Additionally, AI and machine learning can use historical data to identify patterns, and this can be invaluable for creating project workflows that minimise risk and optimise outcomes.
  • The rise of Agile project management: The concept of Agile project management is nothing new, but it is gaining more traction, in large part because it offers greater flexibility and functions as an established methodology, which allows for sudden and even frequent changes to be made during the project lifecycle. In businesses that carry out Agile projects regularly, or where Agile projects are likely to be a feature in the future, it is important to invest in a project planning solution that includes relevant features and supports the Agile framework in general.
  • Heightened demand for mobile access: Hybrid and remote working models are becoming more commonplace, and this means the idea of carrying out tasks from a single device, in a single location, is no longer the reality for many project managers. Instead, project managers may need to be able to access their core tools from anywhere—using portable devices like smartphones or tablets—and this has led to more demand for mobile accessibility. With this in mind, it is worth evaluating the project planning tools available and identifying those that either offer a companion mobile app or provide access to cloud-based software via a mobile web browser.