A significant percentage of corporate projects are oft delayed and go over-budget, particularly in construction, and it’s typically the result of improper planning and tracking. Luckily there are project management tools on the market that can help even small companies run their projects on time and on budget.

In today’s business environment, you’re no longer competing against companies in the same geographic area, so being first to market is more critical than ever – and there’s an increasing requirement to use tools that will streamline the delivery of your products and services.

But a lot of SMBs are still using Excel to manage their projects, says Ariel Deluy, director of the Project Management Centre (PMC) in the Greater Toronto Area. A spreadsheet application doesn’t give you the ability to see how resources are being managed or how projects are coming along. And, a lot of project managers have this information on their laptop or PC, so when they leave, the entire business acumen is gone.

The size of your organization may not be the best way to determine your requirements. You might only have 25 employees but they may all be involved in project management. Or you might be a company of 200 and run projects on an ongoing basis but still have no one on staff that is formally involved in project management.

SMBs with more complex requirements tend to use Primavera SureTrak, says Deluy, since it’s a flagship in the industry. Options include those for construction and the energy, high-tech, public and financial services sectors, among others. But a lot of companies are Microsoft shops and tend to have a few copies of Microsoft Project, which is particularly useful for scheduling (and also has vertical options). Other industry-specific tools include EdgeBuilder for the construction industry.

Another option that has emerged over the past few years is open source software for project management, such as Open Workbench, says Mauricio Rodriguez, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group. Microsoft Project has the largest installed base in the market, so you may need to invest in it for customer compatibility reasons. But if you’re just doing scheduling, he says, open source is a good alternative because Microsoft Project is getting more expensive.

In reality, companies – even large ones – only use about 20 per cent of the functionality of project management software, says Rodriguez. In other words, they over-purchase. So before you buy, ask yourself a few questions. How big is the project I’m going to manage? How many project managers will be using the software?

If you are a small business but manage very large projects, the complexity of those projects will require sophisticated project management software, such as Microsoft Project or Primavera SureTrak. If your company does not have a mature IT infrastructure but you plan to run a project off-site with employees spending significant time in the field, then you might consider a hosted, or on-demand solution, such as eProject, where you only have to pay by the user.

“If you’re a small company and have simple requirements but a considerable amount of users, I would consider open source because it’s free,” says Rodriguez, though the functionality may not be as good as some of the commercial products.

Over the past few years there’s been a move toward extending project management capabilities out to all types of stakeholders – not just project managers, but team members, business users, resource managers and executives who want better visibility into the progress and status of a project, says Irwin Rodrigues, director of product management for Microsoft Project with Microsoft Canada. Within Project Server, for example, is Project Center, which provides a Web-based view of all projects by function.

“It can live and breathe on its own, but more and more we’re seeing the demand for integrating the solution into other line of business systems in an organization,” he says. “A lot of companies integrate Project Server with their favourite ERP [enterprise resource planning] system or custom HR system.”

But SMBs should consider project management training and processes before paying too much attention to the software, says Info-Tech’s Rodriguez. State-of-the-art software won’t be able to tell your project managers how to scope a project or do risk management. There are a lot of human elements involved in a project – such as leadership – and no product on the market can provide that.

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