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TechnologyAdvice Buyer's Guide to Visual Project Management SoftwareUpdated: Jan. 21st, 2019
Project management (PM) software is one of the most diverse IT genres on the market, with hundreds, even thousands of solutions that vary by industry, complexity, price, and according to different project management methodologies. Visual project management software offers a number of distinct advantages across the discipline, especially as the demand grows for real-time analysis and data-driven planning. But it can be difficult to know which solutions offer the best functionality and are best-suited for your business.
This guide will help project managers and procurement teams navigate the buying process by outlining common features and software trends, talking points for executive buy-in, and a case study of a leading visual project management solution.
In the project management world, there is a directly causal relationship between planning techniques and project outcomes: garbage in, garbage out, as the expression goes. A widely-quoted stat from the Project Management Institute alleges that 56 percent of all projects fail to satisfy their original goals and business intent. Of course, that doesn’t mean the other 44 percent are complete failures, but it does mean they’re missing some of their marks — whether it be time frame, budget, or stakeholder demands.1
Across the industry, there is a growing demand for visibility, and a consensus that lacking it weighs heavily on project success. Keeping your thumb on the pulse of the project means that you can identify slippage faster, easily appropriate new requirements or mitigate risks, and ensure consistent knowledge sharing between teams. According to a study by Access Group, 48 percent of organizations lack the necessary visibility to keep projects on-course, and 54 percent said their companies struggle with “accessing real-time information.”2
Visual project management software is known as such for its emphasis on graphical representation of real-time data, whether that be milestones, work in progress (WIP), project resources, or task hierarchies. By that definition, visual project management solutions can be found in almost any subgenre of project management, including Scrum, Kanban/Lean, waterfall, and even project portfolio management (PPM).
There are a number of distinct advantages to visual project management, both as a strategy and a specific solution:
- Reduces unnecessary meetings for basic status updates, e.g. “daily scrum”
- Helps project managers isolate problem areas with visualization tools (for instance, if user stories are repeatedly bottlenecking in a specific phase)
Supports better resource planning and allocation by providing macro and micro-level views of team members, tasks, schedules, and skills
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IT buyers may include CTOs/CIOs looking for solutions to manage departmental projects (such as software procurement or network configuration changes) or development teams looking to better manage user stories, new feature integration, bug tracking, and testing. Most IT buyers will opt for a scrum-based visual project management tool, although “Scrum-ban” is attracting growing interest from agile software developers.3
Other agile teams:
Agile is catching on in many non-IT environments where collaboration and iterative progress trumps top-down management.4 Examples might include marketing teams, product developers, and small businesses. Without the complex demands of IT development, many agile teams gravitate toward simpler Kanban and Lean project management solutions with strong visual features.
Traditional project managers:
When projects have larger scope, longer timeframes, and higher risk or must be balanced among a portfolio of multiple projects, “waterfall” is often the reigning methodology, and companies usually hire a dedicated project manager. The best solution for a traditional project manager may be a PPM system with more high-level visualization tools such as Gantt and burndown charts.
Most visual PM solutions combine graphical interfaces and reports with traditional project management tools such as time tracking, resource planning, task management, risk management, budgeting, and collaboration. Here are some examples of the visual features that may be available in a given product:
- Gantt and burndown charts: illustrate time of project elements and remaining work vs. time
- Performance charts: definitions vary, but most provide more detailed stats on project tasks and productivity trends
- **Visual resource planning: **breaks down project by team members, tasks, skillsets, and schedule availability
- Work breakdown structure: provides a visualization of task and subtask structure
- Kanban: card-based system for moving tasks/stories through a repeatable workflow
- Dashboards: display an overview of project data customized by role
- Graphic reports: use charts, graphs, etc. to present information and insights about projects
In the early days of project management software, businesses had to choose between a few expensive, on-premise systems, but the market has experienced rapid expansion over the last decade, in large part due to the growth of cloud-based systems. Priced on a subscription basis and hosted on the web, these solutions can save businesses heavy upfront costs and the ongoing burden of IT management. Since they allow ubiquitous access to real-time data, SaaS solutions typically provide the strongest platform for visual PM tools.
Many projects now rely on collaboration between dispersed teams. This gives project managers access to a broader pool of talent and lets them keep projects rolling around the clock, but it also brings additional challenges in collaboration, accountability, and knowledge management. The growing use of visual PM tools — especially those that centrally manage WIP and performance — is helping remote teams stay in sync about project status and accountable for their own progress.
Business Intelligence Features:
Project management systems generate and store a lot of data, and a growing number of project managers are using this data to make better decisions about resources, deliverables, and future projects. Most modern PM solutions incorporate a number of analytics or business intelligence (BI) tools to help managers turn raw data into actionable intelligence. In a visual project management system, this often takes the form of custom graphic reports on key performance indicators (KPIs), profit margins, resource utilization, and project forecasts.
Creating Executive Buy-In
If you’re leading the initiative on software procurement, you’ll need to build a compelling business case that “sells” visual project management tools to its future stakeholders in the company. That means your executive leaders need to agree with the need for new solution and the value it will add after implementation. Here are some talking points to get you started:
Your chief information officer will want to know the technical implications of implementing a new system — how it will integrate with existing programs, if it will require infrastructure changes, maintenance, and so on. If your team is already using a PM solution, try to highlight some areas where the system is underperforming or lacks important functionality. Often times, a new system centralizes workflows and brings greater ease of use. Cloud-based products, in particular, can reduce the IT burden and improve security by outsourcing infrastructure, support, and updates. Most importantly, use your CIO or CTO’s expertise as a resource for selecting a reliable product that conforms to your organization’ IT environment.
Your CEO has his or her eyes on the big picture, which means you’ll need to demonstrate how visual PM tools can improve the company’s core business model. You can explain that a centralized system with real-time visualization tools will help your teams meet increasingly challenging demands while operating within predetermined timelines and budgets. Your ability to deliver on a project or balance a portfolio of multiple projects is likely a vital element company growth — one that affects your reputation, revenue, and ability to secure future projects. Visual tools will also help your company take a more agile approach to project management, which often translates into higher success rates. Agile companies that quickly adapt to market changes complete 69 percent of their strategic initiatives (vs. 45 percent for non-Agile companies).2
Your chief financial officer, as you might’ve guessed, wants to maximize revenue and minimize cost. Initially, since you’re requesting an expenditure, this puts you on the low-ground. In conversations with your CFO, make sure you clearly define how much visual PM will cost upfront, as well as total cost of ownership (TCO). Try to put together a calculation for projected return on investment, factoring in direct profits (from more projects completed per quarter, acquisition of higher value projects, etc.) as well as costs-saved (through elimination of manual, paper-based workflows, increased productivity and collaboration).
Visual Project Management Software Case Study
Company: Centric Digital5
Centric Digital is a New York City-based consulting firm that specializes in “digital transformation services and solutions,” providing businesses with digital strategies, custom user experiences, and back-end operational systems. Founded in 2009, Centric bootstrapped their way to #34 on the Inc. 500 list. They have 170 team members and offices in 6 countries.
Centric Digital was looking for a solution to help them manage multiple simultaneous budgets, forecast project financials, and better plan their resource utilization. Before 10,000ft, Centric Digital was using Excel and Google Sheets to track their spend and run rates, but the high volume of data made for cumbersome access and frequent errors. On the brink of building their own custom system, they stumbled upon 10,000ft and decided to adopt it immediately.
Brian Manning, Chief Digital Officer, says their company has benefited the most from 10,000ft’s analytics features, including highly visual project reports on utilization, expenses, time and fees, and other metrics. “Being able to digest visual views of budget and utilization has been crucial,” Manning said. “We have also made use of the API to run financial models and reports combining other system data.”
Implementation took about a month, plus a few months of customizing the system for their specific workflows. Centric Digital reported a number of key benefits from using 10,000ft:
- Access to a single, clear view of projects and actuals
- Optimized resource management and revenue forecasting
- 10 percent increase in overall profitability
- 20 percent increase in projects finished under or at budget
- 10 percent increase in recognized revenue
Other Market-Leading Solutions
10,000ft. was a great solution for Centric Digital, but it might not be the right fit for your company’s unique needs. The following solutions offer project managers and teams a myriad of ways to visually manage their projects, tasks, and deliverables.
Choosing the Best Visual Project Management Software
At TechnologyAdvice, our goal is to connect businesses with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the visual project management solutions listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our experts for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized recommendation based on your industry and desired features.
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- “Pulse of the Profession: The High Cost of Low Performance.” PMI. Last modified February 2014. http://www.pmi.org/~/media/PDF/Business-Solutions/PMI_Pulse_2014.ashx
- “Make Sure What Powers Your Business Is Fit For Your Business.” Access Group. Accessed June 2, 2015. http://www.theaccessgroup.com/media/250643/5_project_lessons_to_take_into_2014__whitepaper_v2.pdf
- Gambill, Paul. “Scrumban: A Different Way to be Agile.” Deloitte. Last modified October 14, 2013. http://www.deloittedigital.com/us/blog/scrumban-a-different-way-to-be-agile
- Bellenfant, Rob. “Why Everyone Wants to Be Agile.” Young Upstarts. Last modified March 6, 2015. http://www.youngupstarts.com/2015/03/06/why-everyone-wants-to-be-agile/
- Centric Digital case study. 10,000ft. Accessed June 3, 2015. https://www.10000ft.com/casestudies/centric-digital