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3 project management software features users need now

Small businesses love to use project management software. Research conducted last year revealed that 60 percent of organizations using project management software have revenue of $50 million or less. 60 percent is a big number since just 44 percent of all project managers use software to guide their work.

But the news isn’t all good. Capterra’s research also showed that 88 percent of businesses have used their project management software for less than five years. Worse still, almost half (44 percent) of project management software buyers were switching because the previous software they used was no longer supported or did not have the features they needed.

Things don’t look much better this year. Software Advice’s 2016 Buyer Report on IT project management tools found that 56 percent of IT project managers are shopping for replacements to their current software. This suggests that there’s a disconnect between project management software features that users need and what today’s tools offer.

GetApp wanted to hear what’s wrong straight from the source. So, we asked three PMs which project management software features they need today to excel at work tomorrow.

1. Integrations x 10

It’s tough for SaaS products to succeed without offering robust integrations. That’s why GetApp’s Category Leaders ranking system uses integrations as one of its five unique data points.

When the computing systems for two different tools (like Trello and Slack) can “talk” to each other, they’re able to function as one system. This saves a lot of time, money, and frustration.

Unfortunately, our sources said that the project management tools they use don’t offer enough integrations. Glyn Matthews – a technical project lead at Softkinetic in Brussels – uses seven tools to manage projects. These range from the Microsoft Office suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) all the way down to Sharpies and Post-Its. Within Matthews’ suite of tools, only one of them – JIRA – is built to support the project management workflow.

“The tools are frustrating, of course,” Matthews told me. “It’s not so much features they’re lacking as the ability to integrate with each other, as well as usability. If we [were] looking to improve, I wouldn’t look for new software tools or features but find a way to collaborate better. Probably by relying less on email.”

Frank Lee manages marketing projects at Rebates Zone. He shared that he loves using Trello to manage projects. But despite features like its multi-functional hierarchy, Lee said that its lack of IFTTT integration is one drawback:

“IFTTT is a conditional web-based service which explores the possibilities of different social phenomena in connection with the other services, such as Gmail, Facebook or Instagram,” Lee explained.

“With IFTTT, all the social trending connects via apps, resulting in a harmonious flow of any social change at all web services. Since social changes are fundamental in deciding the future of any project, [the] predisposed integration of IFTTT with Trello will be a remarkable advancement towards success.”

2. Chat tools

We don’t work in email because it’s fun. We do so because it’s the de facto way to communicate – and a lot of software lacks built-in messaging.

Since projects are growing more complex and involve more stakeholders, communication matters more than ever. Yet of the 10 tools on PC Magazine’s Best Product Management Software of 2016 list, only four offer integrated chat tools. This takes most project teams out of their software when they need to communicate. It also means that they either must use project management software which integrates with a chat tool or use two separate solutions.

Przemek Pipiora is a product manager who oversees landing page projects at GetResponse. Like Matthews, Pipiora uses several tools to manage projects because one does not meet all of his needs. When asked which feature is missing from his project management software, he said he’d love JIRA to build an easy communications tool with chat and customization options:

“Atlassian [which owns JIRA] offers tools like Confluence where you can discuss the projects, but it’s not exactly what I want. It’s too complicated, too slow, and not very user friendly.”

3. Custom Gantt charts

Gantt charts are almost a century old, but far from outdated in project management. Zoho Projects shipped its web-based project management app a decade ago, which was the first to feature Gantt charts. These charts still rank high atop lists of coveted project management software features.

Gantt charts give project managers a way to show tasks and their dependencies with stakeholders. Since business environments change more quickly than ever before, it’s important that PMs have an easy way to share project status with everyone who depends on its success.

Unfortunately, Gantt charts still appear too rarely among project management software features. Of the 434 software solutions listed on GetApp’s Project Management & Planning Software page, only 57 – 15 percent – have Gantt charts listed as a feature. Lee reiterated that despite his love of Trello, its lack of Gantt charts are a challenge for him:

“For instance, Gantt charts are fundamental to overview the extent of any project’s success or its overall credibility but Trello lacks this function. Similarly, the notification system doesn’t work properly, and you have to check your profile every time you want to see the progress, which is time-consuming.”

It’s up to 25 percent more expensive to get new customers than it is to keep the ones you have right now. Customer acquisition cost (CAC) might not be the most sexy metric. But the project management software features above are worth reviewing if businesses want to keep customers happy.

Q4 starts in just a few weeks, and project managers will start planning for next year soon. This means that they’ll also start shopping for new software if their current tools fail to meet their needs. It’s true that each new software feature is an investment in time and money. But the total costs of building these features might not be as heavy as an end-of-year churn rate.

Which features are missing from your own project management software? Tell us in the comments!

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Lauren Maffeo :