Looking for versatile project management software? Important things you need to know

February 24, 2014

Before you even start to look for a timesheet, billing and project cost management solution you need to define a set of criteria which will determine the required functionalities. Then, based on those requirements you will be able to select the product which will fulfill your expectations.
Beyond the software specifications themselves and the price of the solution, you will need to take additional criteria into consideration (will software be regularly updated, what about customer service and support, is the solution user-friendly...)

The 12 key questions you should ask yourself when selecting a project management solution.

1.    Should I limit myself to a simple timesheet and expense software or should I consider a more detailed multifunctional solution?

A quick Web search will propose a multitude of possible solutions. But let’s not forget to compare apples with apples.  All those solutions do not include the same levels of functionalities. Purchasing ca basic time recording solution is a first step toward the standardization of your processes. However, this solution could quickly show signs of limitation, particularly regarding the financial management of your projects.

2.    How reliable are my current time entries and expenses? How can I control my project costs?

Most small and medium sized companies with billable and non-billable hours will often use a patchwork of solutions that do not communicate/integrate with each other. Therefore, what about the reliability and integrity of time and expense data in this context?  Let’s answer a few questions:

•    Does everyone use the same terminology to describe an activity?
•    How rates are managed?
•    Does it sometimes happen that time is logged against the wrong project?
•    Is the approval process standardized?
•    Can you quickly generate reports to see the profitability of a project based on time entries, or will you need to juggle these data to produce a report with uncertain conclusions?

3.    Can you create projects and easily manage their financial status?

Ideally, time management software allows users to manage the time they spend on a project. Who talks about project also refers to budget. It is therefore important that the solution can not only record the time worked for a particular project, but it must also allow the calculation of budgets and  their monitoring through reports, all on the same software platform. Otherwise, the project manager will have a useful but certainly inadequate financial project management tool.

4.    Does software offer the possibility to create different project types? For instance, project based on phases, or on activities?

While the implementation of a new software tool requires a learning curve for the users, this tool must however provide the flexibility required to allow its buyers to create their projects according to their specific needs. It should allow projects to be built in according to phases and decreasing levels of sub-phases. From an organizational and financial point of view, you should be able to breakdown your project into as many steps as needed that can be managed individually while allowing a global overview, crucial for the project manager.

5.     Can I set budgets for each activity or phase in a project?

Creating a budget for a project is recommended. However, if the budget is defined in an undetailed way you might have a hard time managing it. Indeed, the project might consist in several phases, themselves composed of several sub-phases,    composed of multiple activities. Hence hourly rates might vary tremendously depending on the activity, the phase, the employees, or their professional qualification. It is recommended to have a tool to calculate the budget for each activity/phase and expenditure composing the project.

6.    Does software allows me to log and differentiate billable from non-billable elements, and differentiate cost from selling price?

Every hour spent on a project is not necessarily billable (Administrative, support, etc.). However, this non-billable time is directly related to the project and in that sense has an impact on its profitability. It is therefore required that the future    management software is able to differentiate billable elements from those who are not.

7.    Does software offers the flexibility of using multiple rates (single rate per project, per activity, per employee, by period, function)

Although all your projects might be presently at a fixed rate, this situation could change according to the growth of your business. It is therefore useful to have a tool that provides you with the flexibility to apply different rates in different ways (by activity, function, per employee, per customer, per phase, etc.).

8.    Does software communicate with my accounting software, and my payroll system?

Unless you lean toward an ERP system, the timesheets solution will not have an accounting nor a payroll module. The purpose of time management software being to centralize and standardize the input of time and expenses to easily invoice you will need to transfer this information to your accounting software. This is why it is essential  that the proposed solution includes a transfer module in order to communicate this data to your billing and payroll software.

9.    What types of reports do I need to properly control my projects? Does software offer these reports?

If managing time and expenses is a priority for project management, it is equally important to have management indicators that tell you about the status of the project from a financial point of view, namely with regards to budget, work in progress, profitability, employee productivity, etc. Hence, software must include an efficient report generator.

10.    Can my invoice formats be imported or created in this software?

A key element to consider when selecting a time management software is its ability to generate invoices. The selected solution should offer that kind of flexibility. Ideally, software should propose an expanded range of invoice formats and also should allow customization of invoice formats.

11.     What are the evolution perspectives of my software (adding-withdrawing licenses, customization of reports and invoice formats)?

Each company is expected to grow throughout time and its needs too. Implementing a time and billing software implies an impact on the existing administrative, organizational and financial processes. Hence, the solution must be flexible enough to follow those changes which might occur during the company life stages (increasing or decreasing needs).

12. Do I need a web application to remotely enter my timesheet documents and/or my expenses?

In the today business world access to information at all times is a must. At any given time, the contractor or the project manager needs to consult the project files, and to document timesheets and expenses accounts. The software industry is evolving more and more toward a SaaS model. Based on that, your choice should provide you with a web and mobile access.