…is really difficult to pin down. There are so many variables and hundreds of project management tools to choose from. In this post, I shed some light on the selection process based on my experience.

Background

Having been an advanced user of an enterprise PM (ePM) application for a number of years, as well as an avid Basecamp user, I was keen to find out which products filled the gap between simple task management/collaboration tools and high voltage ePMs.

I started researching tools about 12 months ago. At the time I was blown away by the sheer volume of so-called project management tools out there – there are hundreds, if not thousands of them. On face value, most of the tools look awesome. They have elegant websites, with seemingly competitive pricing and comparative features. It’s not until you install, then try to use these tools that you quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

Evaluation process

My criteria for selection was relatively simple. I wanted one web-based tool which could be used for:

  • Project management
  • Task management & collaboration
  • CRM, including pipeline & quotes
  • Timesheets
  • Billing
  • Reporting across all these areas

Three factors were showstoppers for me:

  • Was the cost affordable for an SME?
  • Was the tool very easy to use?
  • Was the tool web-based?

Once a tool met those criteria, I installed it, then started an evaluation process based on my requirements…

Must haves

  • Weekly timesheet, populated with assigned tasks, really easy for people to complete and to add new tasks themselves, because you know everyone hates doing timesheets!
  • Project management (tasks, milestones, dependencies, gantt/schedule, collaboration, notifications)
  • Project financial management (actuals, ETCs, variance to budget)
  • Capacity planning (ie a way to capture sold and unsold projects, then move projects around to fill all the gaps in the schedule without having to edit data on individual projects)
  • Smartphone app/mobile version, at least for timesheets
  • Dashboard view of all projects (preferably gantt) with flags to highlight problem areas (task overruns, milestone overruns, budget overruns etc)

Nice to haves

  • Xero API (because I use Xero)
  • CRM capability – leads, contacts, track conversations, view pipeline, prioritise, convert to project
  • Issue tracking
  • Estimates/quotes and invoices (for T&M, fixed price, recurring)
  • Financial reporting – budget/actual time/invoiced to date

Here’s a bit more detail about the tools evaluated…

PM tool evaluation summary

Best project management tool

So the winner for me is…

LiquidPlanner – for resource capacity planning, project management, timesheets, reporting. It’s priority-based scheduling paradigm is amazing and like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s not super-cheap but is affordable for the SME market. It enables you to manage work in progress, enables the team to easily do their timesheets and provide estimates to complete (bonus!), fills the gaps in your schedule automatically, and enables you to quickly and easily assess your capacity for upcoming projects.

We’ve coupled LiquidPlanner with Asana for to-do lists, CRM, issue tracking and collaboration with clients and the team. High level tasks are in LiquidPlanner (ie phase level), detailed tasks are in Asana. It’s working well, and is not too much work to maintain.

We use Xero for accounting and financial management. And we have a spreadsheet or two which integrate the information we need from each system. Seems there is no one tool which does it all, yet 😉

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