Online Project Management Software – Complete Tutorial

The software as a service or SaaS as it is commonly known is gaining acceptance in the market rapidly. It has become the option of choice when customers buy software of any kind these days. The project management software market is also affected by this trend in the software industry. Online project management software is the most widely used tool for managing projects and teams in 2016. The size of the market for this software category was around $1.5 Billion in 2012 according to Gartner Report². Online project management software is expanding at a rate of 15% annually. One area that SaaS software traditionally had shortcomings is in places where the internet is not available or too slow. Today most o the globe has access to fast internet. The new technologies which allow offline work and Sync later with the cloud are overcoming this hurdle rapidly. Most users benefit from the collaborative nature of online project management software.  

Advantages of online project management software:

There are many advantages online project management software has compared with desktop applications. I have listed the most important advantages of online software Here:

  • No need to physically buy or download software
  • No need to install software
  • No need for getting software updates and installing them
  • Prices are more affordable and are paid monthly or yearly
  • You can try before you commit to buy
  • The software can be used from anywhere and any device
  • You can add or remove new users to the application easily
  • All improvements in the software are seamlessly seen by all users at the same time
  • Cancel at any time when a project is done

The benefits of online project management software compared to the other delivery methods like desktop applications should be obvious to all. The question now is what features are absolutely needed to make an online project management software a real productivity tool? Obviously, one solution does not fit everybody’s needs, but there are many features that are used by most professionals in the project management discipline. The fact that online project management software is hosted in the cloud enhances the collaborative features needed  in the project management software

Features needed for online project management software:

Below, I have listed the most important features which could be found in most online project management software today. At the top of the list, I have added features that are absolutely needed or essential in these applications with a brief explanation of each feature. At the end of the list, I have added optional or nice to have features that can help managing projects and teams more effective for some market segments.

Essential features:

  • Task Management- Task management is the most important part of any online project management software offering. A good task manager can help teams to plan, track, and finish tasks on time. Task manager should support subtasks, dependencies, attaching files, attaching tags, and leaving comments.
  • Dashboard- The dashboard is where the users see all their tasks and the status of the project or projects in one glance. The best dashboards use Kanban format since it shows the status of each task in real-time. The ability to create and edit tasks right from the Kanban board is a great feature. A color-coding scheme that shows the status of tasks in different colors is a great visual help.
  • Gantt Chart- Gantt chart is the graphical representation of tasks in the project during the project’s life cycle. It is the best tool to show the status of each task and the interrelation of tasks in the project. An interactive Gantt chart should allow changes to the tasks from the Gantt chart itself. Interactive Gantt chart helps save time and reduces mistakes in planning and tracking the project.
  • Document management- There is no project which does not have documents associated with it. During the project’s life cycle a tremendous number of documents and files are created and reviewed. The best place to put project files is the project itself. Those project management applications which support file version and file history, work best.
  • Notifications- As much as we have email, it is not gonna go away anytime soon. Notification is an important part of any project management software. The notification could be in the form of email or push notification online.
  • Rule based access- Not all project members need to have the same access to all project details. In the case of contractors and clients, you might want to give limited access. A good project management software supports giving different access permissions to different members.
  • Collaboration- The main reason for the online project management popularity is the fact it makes collaboration easy and seamless. Chat, follow, and commenting all help to improve collaboration in teams.
  • Messaging application- A messaging tool is essential for group discussions. The team can create message boards based on topics they want to discuss and invite members who need to be part of the discussion. The native message board is preferred, but integrating with a third-party tool like Slack works too.
  • Project report- You have all go all the project information in your project management software. When you need to present the data, isn’t better if the application generates the report for you? Good project management applications have a build reporting mechanism.

Nice to have features:

  • Time tracking- Time tracking is a great feature to have especially for contract projects in which the customer is billed by hours. A good time tracking tool should enable the user to start and stop time from anywhere in the application with minimum steps. An integrated time tracking tool is always better, but third party time tracking tools like Toggl will do the job.
  • Timesheet- For businesses that track time, timesheet, and the ability to invoice their clients is a must. Integration with a good accounting package like Quickbooks helps tremendously.
  • Burndown chart- This is another tool for tracking the progress of the project graphically. The great thing about the Burndown chart is that it can predict the estimated project’s finish time, based on the project’s history.
  • Resource loading- If members of a team are assigned to multiple projects, resource loading is an essential tool. It helps the manager to balance the workload across all projects and make sure all resources are utilized properly.
  • Risk management- This is an area that only the most sophisticated project management software attempt to provide a solution. It lets the team define the risks to projects and actions to be taken if any of those risks materialize at the very beginning of the project.
  • Budgeting- Budget is another advanced feature that helps the project management plan and tracks the budget during the project’s lifecycle. Integration with an accounting package like Quickbook makes the application even more useful.
  • Interactive whiteboard- This is an essential collaboration and brainstorming tool for remote teams. For remote teams, this is a great tool that enables the team to share ideas as though they are in the same room.
  • Bug tracking- Some projects, especially in the software and electronics market segments, have a strong need for a robust bug tracking system. Some applications use the task list for bug tracking. This does not work for complex projects, because bugs are not simple tasks. They are what is wrong with a task, a feature, or a function in the task. As such they are related to tasks by are not the same.
  • Integration with CRM- Customer relationship management systems are a great complementary tool for project management software. The project management application should provide its own CRM tool or integrate with one of many CRM tools available in the market like Salesforce or SugarCRM.

Online project management software vendors

A small sample of project management software vendors is shown below.

Recently we wrote a review of Pros and Cons for Monday in our blog.

Online project management software resources

PS. You may ask why I have chosen a sexy image of a woman at the beach for an article about online project management software? The truth is that project management is far from sexy and in fact downright boring subject. One of the things we are doing to remedy this is by adding color and images to the application to make it more pleasant to the eye and easier to use. Soon you will see the integration of color and gamification in the future versions of the application. In case you were wondering, yes the woman in the picture is a project manager!

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.


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