Planning out a project isn't a piece of cake. It's a challenge for any business, from the smallest one-person startup to the largest corporation. It can be difficult to keep track of all of your team's tasks and ensure that they're being completed on time. Luckily, there are project planning tools to lift you up and see the big picture. But what is it and how do you pick one? We've analyzed our favorites and how they can help below.
Project planning software is designed to help project managers - and project-based businesses - to plan projects more easily and achieve better outcomes as a result. It is typically cloud-based software, which means it can be accessed from any computer with internet access, making it ideal for new remote and hybrid approaches to work.
Project planning solutions provide powerful yet intuitive tools for day-to-day project management - such as project scheduling and resource allocation - and is primarily used by project managers, program managers, and portfolio managers.
However, it also offers other functionality - such as reporting dashboards and analytics - that provide transparency and data for decision-making. This means senior management and department heads are strong secondary users.
Project planning software lets your service-based business:
Software for project planning usually provides a bird’s eye overview of your entire portfolio, as well as granular insights into individual people and projects. Depending on which project management tool you choose, you can typically expect the following types of functionality.
At a project planning level, project management tools let you schedule, onboard, resource, manage and monitor projects more effectively. Project scheduling tools include Gantt charts, timelines, flow charts, and Kanban boards - as well as some automation and workflows. These give project managers the ability to scope, build new projects quickly, and track project progress. Drag-and-drop functionality makes it easy to plan phases, assign tasks and allocate resources according to different project parameters.
When projects change (which they invariably do), it’s quick and easy to model new scenarios. This helps decision-makers minimize disruption to the portfolio - by making well-informed decisions about project changes to deliver the best option for individual and contingent projects. Project planning software also builds into a comprehensive record of predicted vs actual project spend and schedule, which means your project managers can predict these with ever-increasing accuracy in the future.
Resource planning tools include an overview of every individual in your organization - their skills, cost to the project, current allocations, and overall utilization. This lets you choose the right people for your project, so you can deliver optimum client outcomes whilst protecting your profit margins.
PMs can easily experiment with different combinations of available resources - dragging and dropping in colleagues and seeing the impact on cost and schedule. And - of course - on individuals. Service-based businesses need to keep their people operating at optimal capacity - neither over- nor under-utilized. Project planning software lets you hit that Goldilocks spot of resource utilization - making the most of your people while avoiding individual burnout or organizational bottlenecks.
Best project management tools also include essential features for capacity planning. Capacity planning is the process of looking ahead - both at your project pipeline and your strategic goals as an organization - and ensuring you have the capacity to deliver. At Runn, we think of this in terms of your human resources - the people and skills you need to aim high and hit targets. But it could also include other resources such as equipment, facilities or access to materials.
By providing real-time insights and easy-to-understand analytics, project planning software equips senior managers for fast, data-based decision-making. This leads to decisive action to support future strategic initiatives.
Scenario planning is the process of modeling different scenarios - combinations of projects and activities - to see which will deliver the best business outcomes. Without project planning software, this process can take hours - if not days - of data analysts’ time. With project planning software, it is the work of just an hour or so. This means you can seize opportunities with confidence and fill your pipeline with profitable, best-fit projects.
The ultimate benefit of project planning software is that more projects are delivered on time, on budget, and to client satisfaction - which means your service business is successful, sustainable, and in demand.
Project management software provides greater transparency into - and control over - your entire project portfolio and pipeline. As such, it allows you to make more efficient use of your resources, predict capacity and profit margins more accurately, and keep projects on track.
The main benefit of project planning software is that it improves outcomes for projects and clients. PM software tools let project managers plan and monitor projects more effectively - and deliver them more efficiently. This lowers overheads and reduces the risk of projects going over-schedule or over-budget. It also allows PMs to predict costs and schedule more accurately in future, meaning you can quote project fees that accurately reflect the work involved and protect your planned profit margin.
Project planning software takes tired old manual processes and automates them. So instead of labor-intensive admin and analysis stealing your PMs’ valuable time, they can complete planning activities in a few clicks - and to a higher level of accuracy than human error-prone manual work. PMs can make decisions faster, have more time for value-adding activity, and can finally be proactive instead of reactive.
As a service-based business, your human resources are your biggest assets. But also your highest overhead. So managing them efficiently is a key lever of profitability. You need to get the maximum work for your financial investment - without overworking anyone to the point that they become burnt out and unproductive. Project planning software makes it infinitely easier to use people to optimum capacity - on projects where their unique skills deliver strong ROI - without overworking anyone.
The only guaranteed thing in project-based businesses is that nothing is guaranteed. Project planning software lets your business roll with the punches, adapting quickly to change. When the sands shift, you can easily re-model, re-plan and re-allocate resources, budget and schedule - making decisions that protect your contingent projects and profit.
Between improved resource utilization, more accurate quoting, and better schedule management, your project managers can control costs and protect your profit margin. This gives you more money to invest in growth.
Finally, let’s not forget that the benefits above also impact on client satisfaction. With the right people working on the right projects - and schedule and budget under control - you’re in the best position to meet and exceed client expectations. This can boost your reputation and help you win more custom.
There are lots of different project planning software tools on the market. And they offer fairly similar core functionality. So how can you shortlist and select the perfect project management software for your business? We’ve chosen our top ten to narrow the field and get you started.
It includes modules for project planning and resource management, to make sure you get the right people working on the right projects at the right time - to maximize ROI and project profitability. You can intuitively plan projects and schedule resources across the short and long term. And get a dynamic bird’s-eye view of capacity, workload, and availability as you plan.
Powerful reporting lets you track project budgets in real-time, spot risks, and take corrective action easily. Automatic time tracking records what people are working on, so you can monitor and improve utilization and future forecasting with ease.
You can plan different scenarios using placeholder projects to work out the best combination of projects for your business goals. And if you’re not sure what’s coming up, you can use tentative projects to reserve time and space for forthcoming initiatives, even when you’re not sure of the exact parameters.
Like Runn, Forecast is specifically designed as a project planning solution. It provides PMs with visibility across multiple projects so that they can monitor budgets, spot capacity issues, and adjust workloads to keep projects flowing freely. It supports a range of project methodologies including agile, scrum, waterfall, and hybrid approaches.
Forecast is one of several project planning software solutions that uses AI to help plan projects quickly. The auto-schedule feature uses machine learning to predict project and task duration, and auto-allocate resources based on availability. Project managers can then manually refine these according to their needs.
Wrike is a digital work management tool for planning and tracking projects. Your PM can set up a project folder and then break the project down into subfolders for each phase - attaching key information like start and due dates, milestones, etc. Within each project are tasks, which can be assigned to team members.
Team members have their own inbox for project messages and a personalized task list and calendar. Teams can collaborate easily and share their progress using comments and @mentions. Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and other visualization tools make it easy to get a bird’s eye view of projects and progress.
ClickUp is a collaboration and productivity app that brings to-do list, calendars, task management, document sharing, and communication under one roof. It aims to be ‘one app to replace them all’ and has a big functional footprint - with lots of options to customize and integrate with other tools.
Whilst it isn’t specifically a project planning app, it can be used as one. Just organize projects into Folders and tasks into Lists. ClickUp boasts 15 views to visualize work - including lists, boards, Gantt charts, mindmaps and timelines. Collaboration features include whiteboards, comments on tasks, proof and approval workflows, and in-app chat. You can also monitor resource utilization with a team workload overview.
monday.com has a suite of features for project and portfolio management. It can be used to plan project scope, milestones, dependencies, baselines, assign owners and contributors, and more. Templates let you build project plans fast using repeatable project structures, while automation accelerates previously manual tasks.
Task lists, Gantt charts, and Kanban boards provide transparency into individual projects, while the portfolio management dashboard shows budgets, planned vs actual spend, and more for at-a-glance insights into overall program health. The color-coded risk register makes it easy to spot and mitigate issues in advance.
Hive is another web-based project planning software that uses dashboards and visualization tools to make project management easier. It offers Gantt charts for project scheduling, Kanban boards for task management, plus portfolio and personal views, depending on whether you’re looking at the bigger picture or focusing on the day-to-day detail.
Hive includes the ability to host and share documents, and has automated workflows for approval processes, which makes it ideal for collaboration. There’s also in-app messaging and you can even bring your email into Hive too. Powerful proofing and annotation tools make it ideal for creative agencies that need to get campaigns and videos pixel-perfect before going public.
Asana is a project planning platform that offers all of the standard features you’d expect to see in this type of software. Teams can build Gantt charts in minutes and keep track of work via Kanban boards. The calendar view shows teams’ work on a single shared calendar, and real-time reporting provides up-to-date insights into individual projects and the wider portfolio.
Asana includes built-in forms to submit and manage work requests, as well as automation to streamline regular tasks. The Workflow Builder function can - for example - use rules to trigger automatic actions like assigning tasks, updating project status, and sending messages to other tools like Slack. Once you’ve set up a strong workflow, you can save it as a template for others to use - helping share best practices and save time for other teams.
Teamwork is easy-to-use project planning software with an intuitive user experience. It provides at-a-glance insights into project health, resource utilization, planned vs actual spend and schedule, and project profitability. It includes workload and utilization charts, automated time tracking, reporting dashboards and more. It also has bolt-on modules for other areas of your business, including a CRM, content collaboration software, and chat/helpdesk functionality.
Teamwork includes unlimited access to the platform for clients - letting them see time tracking and invoicing information directly - and allowing for in-app communication with them, retaining correspondence for future reference.
As the name suggests, GanttPro is a project planning solution based around the Gantt chart. It is an intuitive and interactive Gantt chart maker that helps plot out the path of your projects, including tasks, sub-tasks, milestones, and dependencies.
It includes a host of other features for effective project management like workspaces for personal tasks, resource allocation, project cost estimating, time tracking and budget management.
Adobe Workfront pitches itself squarely at enterprise-level clients, so if your service business is BIG, Workfront could work for you. The Adobe project planning app boasts easy project onboarding and collaborating between at-scale teams - offering templates, workflow automation, and - of course - easy integration with other Adobe products.
Insights into teammates’ availability, automated task assignment, and auto-populating colleague calendars are just some of the ways Adobe Workfront help larger teams work like a well-oiled machine. Like Runn, Adobe Workfront offers easy scenario planning, evaluating different scenarios side-by-side to determine the best path forward for your business.
To choose the best project planning software for your service business, you should:
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