Did you know there’s a world championship for Excel spreadsheets? In August 2017, a high school senior named John Dumoulin took top honors at the annual Excel division of the Microsoft Office Specialist World Championship. That such a championship exists confirms how ubiquitous Excel is. But while it excels (sorry) at many distinct tasks, it’s far from ideal for project management.

Excel is a great way to chart and organize large data sets. That said, there are several reasons why Excel falls short when it’s time to manage projects. From its lack of auto-updates and project summaries to the need for manual reporting, it’s clear that Excel wasn’t built for project teams. So, that begs a question: Why do so many project teams still use it?

Excel’s siren song

According to unique data we collected from small and midsize businesses (SMBs) looking for project management software, six out of 10 project managers in SMBs use manual methods to organize their work. These methods range from Excel down to pens and paper.

Let that sink in: Most project managers try to plan sprints, manage releases, assign tasks, and work with engineering teams using the equivalent of Excel and a Sharpie.

Which brings us back to our first question: “Why?”

First, the good news: There’s a better way to lead projects. There are now several cloud-based project management software tools that step up where Excel falls short.

Because their data lives in the Cloud, these apps are accessible from any device. Each tool takes charge of housing user data, which erases the need for for an in-house IT team to manage costly servers. And since cloud software is often priced on a monthly or annual subscription, it tends to lack the upfront licensing fees of native software that comes pre-installed on business servers.

The pains of software shopping

Now, the bad news: Shopping for software is no easy task. There are endless project management software tools to choose from, which is both a blessing and a curse.

Which tools have the features you need most? Should you choose a more robust, expense option or a cheaper app with less features that your team might outgrow soon? And what’s the difference between Agile vs. task project management software anyway?!

As you can imagine, answering these questions takes a lot of time that busy SMB leaders don’t have. So, they often settle for the devil they know: Excel.

But before you crawl back down Excel’s Sum rabbit hole, we’ve got more good news: GetApp did most of the hard work for you. The infographic below shares some project management software evaluation criteria. We’ve used our own research on project management software buyers to tell you the biggest mistakes they made. Consider this intel a one-up on your competition!

You’ll learn:

  • How much your peers budget for project management software.
  • The most crucial project management software features you’ll need.
  • The consideration many software buyers forget.

Finally, we’ll share a tool to help guide your search: GetApp’s project management software scorecard.

Don’t spend too much – or too little

Small business owners often don’t how much they should spend on project management software. This can result in choosing a tool that might not have the features their teams need.

New software shoppers are often unsure how project management software will add value to their businesses, and at what cost. To solve this challenge, view your purchase of project management software as an investment in efficiency — not direct financial return.

Then, adjust your business budget to include a software purchase. Our research shows that companies are willing to pay an average of $60 per user per month for project management software.

Don’t pay for software features you won’t use

Small business owners sometimes choose the most popular tool without assessing if it’s a strong fit for their project teams’ unique needs. For example, JIRA is one of the most renowned project management tools, but it largely supports technical projects. So, it might offer more (and different) features than what a project team at a small digital agency needs.

There are several different types of project management software. This makes it hard for new and/or non-technical project managers to know which features they need most when evaluating tools.

To clear this hurdle, know the difference between project management software features that are “must-have” vs. “nice to have.” Our research shows that users cite time tracking and project scheduling as the key features they need from project management software.

Then, you can customize your search based on additional, more specific features. GetApp’s software catalogs let you customize your search by checking the boxes for which features you need on the left side of the screen. 

Don’t forget about integrations

New project management software buyers often forget to check if the tools they’re researching integrate with the other cloud-based apps that their teams already use.

It’s easy to view each cloud-based software tool in isolation – especially if you’ve only used desktop software. But one of cloud software’s biggest benefits is its ability to work with other cloud-based apps, like Slack and Dropbox. This keeps all your project data in one place rather than in separate systems, where it’s more likely to get lost.

Start by confirming which cloud-based business apps your project team relies on for everything from customer relationships to file sharing. Then, narrow your project management software search down to tools that integrate with most (if not all) of these apps. You can also use Zapier to build easy integrations between apps.

3 project management software evaluation criteria to help your business go the distance

Do you need more project management software evaluation criteria?

GetApp’s goal is to help every small business owner find the tools they need to grow. We’ve seen how finding the right software can help small business owners save time, money, and a lot of patience.

But we know that searching for software also takes time, money, and a lot of patience. So, we built our software scorecards to speed up the process. Start by selecting:

  • Which features you need most.
  • Your software budget.
  • The devices that you and your colleagues use.

You’ll see a list of apps that are the best fit for your needs. Then, you’ll select which apps should go in your scorecard. Once you’ve chosen the most relevant apps, you can compare them side-by-side and meet your project management match.

Project management is hard enough on its own. Our goal is to help you find the best software and let your team thrive.

Project management software scorecard