Is your head full of projects and tasks to manage? Do you need some kind of tool to help you keep track? If yes, which one should you use? And what is the difference between projects and tasks anyway?
These might seem like simple questions as first, but there’s more to it than you might think.
Let’s take a closer look
When you have a project to do, your first impulse might be to work with a simple checklist, and that’s not necessarily wrong.
However, there quickly comes a point when the complexity of many projects completely overwhelms the tried and true method of just using a checklist
There’s a vast range of popular project management software solutions out there that are intuitive and effective, and once you start using them, you’ll never look back. However, you can easily be spoiled by choice.
There are scheduling tools, calendars, time-tracking apps, workflow applications, task management tools, team collaboration groupware solutions, and so forth.
- Choose task management tools for simple projects and project management tools for more complex ones
- Also still think about using simple (maybe even analogue) tools
- Cloud-based project management is the best solution for many users
- Choose a tool that meets only your must-haves
- Get an overview of project management tools at Capterra
So how do you choose the best project management tool for your needs?
What’s the Difference between a Project and a Task?
This is a simple one, really:
For example, designing and building a website is a project, whereas updating content to the website is a task because it’s ongoing.
Designing and building a house is a project, whilst doing building maintenance is a task.
The difference can quickly become a bit fuzzy. Putting an addition on the existing house (or website) is also clearly a project, but where do you draw the line?
…are basically any activity we undertake to create or achieve something new – for example a product or service.
Projects have a start date, an end date, clear stages during the project, and a final output or result.
Projects can be divided into stages and tasks that can then be assigned to specific team members.
…on the other hand are individual units of work.
Tasks can form part of a project, or they can be activities in themselves which are performed again and again over time without being part of a project. Tasks can sometimes also be subdivided into smaller sub-tasks.
Do I Need a Task Management or a Project Management Tool?
That depends upon your own needs.
If the project is complex, with multiple stages and tasks, or if more than a few people will be working on the project, then you’ll more likely need a project management tool.
Project management software enables you to plan and manage the stages, tasks, and interdependencies involved with a project and to collaborate with team members.
But if your projects aren’t that complex, are of relatively short duration, or only involve yourself or one or two people working on them, then a task management tool may be a better solution.
There are a couple of task management tools that are simple, yet powerful.
A Whiteboard Can Make an Excellent Task Management Tool
People often think they have to choose a complicated software system for their task management, but have you thought about doing it analogue with a simple whiteboard?
By adding a pad of Post-It notes, or a set of index cards, whiteboards can be just as effective as a computer-based solution.
I’m actually a big fan of whiteboards. I often use them for my own project drafting and planning. Even if it’s a big project that will require a software solution, the whiteboard is frequently a great place to get started.
A whiteboard is simple to use, it’s fast, and it’s especially ideal for team meetings since everyone present can easily get involved and thus gain a better understanding of the overall project.
On the other hand, the two major downsides with a whiteboard are that space is limited on the board and that you can’t access it remotely – obviously, you have to be physically present in order to use it.
Accessible Task Management Tools
You may have heard of task management tools such as Trello, that use aspects of the Kanban paradigm developed by an ex-Toyota vice president to improve manufacturing efficiency.
These kinds of tools are ideal for smaller projects and task management and uses a simple system of cards to give you an at-a-glance view of the entire project. They often also include email integration to support team communication and collaboration.
They are simple, yet effective and avoid all the bells-and-whistles of excessive functionality that many project management tools tend to have and that overwhelm users looking for a simple solution.
If you want a task management system that’s very easy to use, then task management tools such as Trello can be a great choice.
A Spreadsheet Can Also Used for Task Management
When you’re starting out with task and project management, chances are that you’ll likely begin with a spreadsheet. It’s the tool that is most often readily available and with which you’re already familiar.
Often, they’re ideal for task management exactly because they’re easy to access, and they allow you to structure information in a way that suits you best.
And, provided they don’t get too big, spreadsheets are simple to update.
The Limitations of Spreadsheets
Nevertheless, spreadsheets can only take you so far. They’re not that good of a solution when it comes to more complex projects, especially those requiring collaboration between team members.
Spreadsheets don’t provide any specialized features. Basically, all you can do is add columns, lines, and extra sheet tabs.
They also have a tendency to sprout more and more columns and rows, and more and more sheet tabs. It gradually becomes more difficult to get a clear one-glance view of all the activity going on in the project.
There comes a time when your projects outgrow the spreadsheet and you now need to switch to a more sophisticated tool.
Moving from a Task Management to a Project Management System
If your project is more complex, with multiple stages and tasks, or if more than a few people will be working on it, then you’ll be more likely to benefit from a project management tool.
Project management software enables you to plan and manage the stages, tasks, and interdependencies involved within a project and provide for easy communication between team members.
Cloud-based Project Management Tools Are often the Best
Project management software can be run as a desktop-based application, either locally on your PC or via a LAN server-based system. This was traditionally the way project management software operated.
Nowadays, the best project management tools tend to be web- or cloud-based and this is the mode of software I think is the best solution for most users.
Cloud-based project management tools are located online with a provider, which makes them much more convenient to use. There’s no software to install or maintain locally.
They also tend to be easy to use and navigate, which means learning will be more intuitive with little or no need for any formal training.
And being cloud-based means the tool can be accessed from any location simply by means of a web browser and usually from any device.
What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing a Project Management Tool?
When you’re choosing a project management tool, here are some of the aspects you need to consider in order to select the right tool for your own needs:
How Much Collaboration Do Your Projects Involve?
In other words, who is going to be using the system? Just you and maybe one or two other people?
Do you want clients, external partners, or contractors to also have access to the system?
If so, how easy will it be for them to use? And can you set user permission levels appropriately?
If it’s only you or a couple of people working closely on the project, then a task management tool may be a better solution.
If your projects depend on collaborative input from a team of people, then you’ll probably want to use a project management system.
This is especially the case, if the team members are not all located in one place, since email communication can quickly become unwieldy when there are more than a few people working on a project.
Do You Need Scalability for The Future?
Are your projects going to grow in size in the future? Is the volume of projects going to grow?
If so, then you’ll probably want to select a project management tool that can keep pace with growing capacity so you don’t have to switch over to another tool in the future.
What Software Are You Currently Using?
Do you want the tool to easily integrate with your existing software? For example, Microsoft Outlook, SAP, or some other CRM or ERP system?
Some PM tools are primarily agile-based, while others are waterfall-based, such as MS-Project. There are also some that allow both methods.
For example, if you’re in the software development sector, then JIRA is considered the industry standard.
JIRA is specifically designed to meet the project requirements of software development teams, in particular to manage bug and issue-tracking.
What Features Are Your Absolute Must-Haves?
Project management software tends to come with all kinds of bells and whistles. Focus on the benefits you absolutely need, and disregard the extras. They may be nice to have, but they aren’t essential.
Do you want a tool that provides a comprehensive range of features to cover many different project needs, for example budgeting, time tracking, and invoicing?
If more than one person is working on the project, then the ability to manage team collaboration will probably be important.
You may want email communication integrated into the system as well.
E.g. the tool sending emails to relevant team members whenever a change is posted to the system can be helpful to ensure all project members are kept up to date on progress.
What Does It Cost?
Finally, there’s the issue of price.
How much do you want to spend? Most cloud-based project management systems are priced on a monthly basis with discounts available for up-front payments for a longer period.
Prices can also depend upon how many users are required, and sometimes also whether these users are internal company members or external clients or partners.
A good way to get a comprehensive overview of current project management tools is to check out the Project Management Software Review Site at Capterra.
The Capterra site also includes a filter function to help you search for the project management tools that meet your specific requirements.
If your budget doesn’t easily stretch to a paid-for tool, then many of the systems provide a basic version free of charge.
Note, however, that the free versions tend to have limits on the number of users, the functionality, or the amount of storage space provided.
Another option can be open source project management software. If you’re interested in open source project management tools, then I recommend you check out the review of open source project management tools at opensource.com.
Bear in mind though that while these tools are usually free, most need to be downloaded and installed on a local computer rather than being from a cloud-based software provider.
Whatever your current needs are, there is a vast range of project and task management software solutions available. There will most certainly be a tool that fits your requirements and budget.
Feel free to choose a task management tool over a project management tool if your project isn’t too complex and doesn’t really depend on collaboration.
Sometimes, a simple software application or even an analogue solution can do the trick.
Remember to choose a tool that just does what you need. Everything beyond that will merely add to the price.
When you know the requirements of your project management tool, compare possible options online to find the solution that brings together the expected features and your budget.
Did this article help in your search for the right software solution? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below!