Project scheduling tools: essential features
While features necessary to succeed in a given industry may vary, there are some options that project scheduling programs simply must have.
If your candidate lacks any of those, we advise you to reconsider your choices seriously. Without these features, completing any project will be highly unlikely!
Project scheduling feature #1: Calendar
Knowing the time frame is not enough - you also need to plan your time.
The majority of project scheduling programs offer some kind of calendar in its scope of features. However, this option may be limited to just a general overview of months, weeks, and days with planned projects - and this kind of solution should not satisfy you in any way.
A perfect calendar included in a project scheduling software should provide you with:
- information on people’s capacity. Every IT company needs to find the perfect balance between market demand, the availability of its employees, and its economic ambitions. Information on capacity is vital here, as it helps you see who is available to participate in a new project and assess whether your comany can meet the demand. But what does project scheduling software offers to fulfill this need? This process cannot be accurate without information on specialists’ absences and other duties and projects they participate in. In other words, a perfect project scheduling tool should offer a separate calendar for each specialist in the company, along with a drag and drop feature for flexible editing. Such a software should also have a heatmap for specialists' availability a comparison between planned and worked time with overtime data.
- information on existing projects. A typical software development company works on many projects at the same time. Seeing them and their connections is particularly valuable for the COO and PMO, who can monitor progress and act on the information to prevent any delays. Therefore, the project calendar should be a part of not only the project scheduling program you choose, but also your project portfolio management in general.
- information on public holidays and absences. Would you be able to complete a brand new project over Christmas? Of course not - then why should you schedule a project for this period? A good project scheduling tool should consider even before you realize such an issue exists. The best tools on the market can let you choose a calendar with holidays for a region your company operates in.
Project scheduling feature #2: Flexible charts
Flexible charts are commonly used among all the companies in the IT industry, and they have proven to be invaluable in helping teams to plan work around deadlines and properly allocate resources.
As a result, we have no doubts that such charts should also be included in project scheduling tools - but what does it really mean?
The majority of such programs focus on using charts to provide managers with reports and plans they can use to assess the situation. Such features are, of course, helpful for analysis, but they do not reflect the flexibility of the modern IT industry.
We are sure you can relate to that problem. In fact, we believe every IT manager at least once wished to be able to change an allocation directly from a chart. Fortunately, some project scheduling programs, including Primetric, are capable of it - and you should favor them while picking the right tool for your business.
Project scheduling feature #3: Allocations and resource management
People are the main source of profits for software development companies which sell their employees’ time to the customers. To maximize these profits, these businesses need to take resource management very seriously - and they have to include it in their project scheduling software.
However, for many IT companies adding an employee to each project or IT companies may prove to be way too cumbersome and time-consuming. Therefore, if you want to simplify resource management in your company, you should ensure that the project scheduling program you intend to choose can be used to:
Create and edit allocations from many touchpoints. Creating an allocation in a separate form for each employee may be burdensome. Therefore, while choosing a project scheduling tool, make sure that you can also manage your resources in a more flexible manner. For example, in Primetric, you can create and change allocations:
- on employee’s profile,
- on project’s profile,
- in a calendar and/or on a chart (using drag & drop function - very useful for quick reallocations),
- using intelligent assistant that automatically hints which specialists will best suit project (based on skills, availability and cost rates,
- bulk scheduling (imagine you have 30 people that you want to schedule to a single project - in that case bulk scheduling is a great option)
Add vacancies for a project. Sometimes existing resources are simply not enough. In that case, your prospective project scheduling tool should offer you an option to include vacancies in the system and ensure that the problem is addressed immediately thanks to vacancy reports.
Spot any mistakes and inconsistencies in allocations. In some cases, you may simply have too much on your hands to do a double check of every allocation. Therefore, you should make sure that your tool can do that for you with notifications and overbooking alerts.
Store data on employees’ skills and experience. Resource management is not only about assigning people to the project. In fact, it is about assigning the right people to the projects. A project scheduling program should, therefore, be able to store the information on employees’ skills, experience and preferences to help managers successfully match them with particular operations. Importantly, not every tool has such a feature, so make sure yours does!
Project scheduling feature #4: Budget and expense management
Software development companies need to find balance between numerous projects, dozens of workers and hundreds of internal tasks - and there are very few project scheduling tools that can really reflect such complicated working conditions. This was the case for Netgen - one of our customers who struggled with inaccurate invoices. By choosing Primetric, they were able to manage their finances and reduce the number of mistakes.
Therefore, if you are looking for a program capable of adjusting to IT projects in particular, you should make sure that your pick has features such as:
- different types of contracts for particular employees. In general, IT specialists are either contractors or regular employees - and any IT project scheduling tool should allow you to assign their wages accordingly. It should also be possible to calculate the costs of employee’s work in the same tool, too.
- contract history. In many cases, the company works on many projects for the same customers; some are in constant maintenance phase, while others are the newcomers. Contract history will allow your business to quickly exchange information on the projects and improve them in the future.
- 1st and 2nd degree margins. Many companies disregard their internal costs - at least until they realize that their operations are not profitable anymore. Project accounting in project scheduling tools should include overheads and other recurring and one-time costs to prevent this from happening.
- different currencies. In the IT world, projects are often completed for customers from abroad, by people from many different countries. That situation is almost inevitable, so make sure your project scheduling tool can handle various currencies.
- different billing models (i.e. T&M, Fixed, Retainers, Non-billable). The IT industry has very specific billing systems that are seldom seen in any other businesses. As a result, any project scheduling tool that is to be implemented in an IT organization needs to provide managers with different billing options to choose from.
- financial estimates and forecasts. The price of a software is usually determined based on estimations. They are, however, time consuming at best, and infuriating at worst. Fortunately, a good project scheduling tool should relieve you of this burden, as it can provide you with real-time estimations based on employees’ wages, overheads and other costs included in the system.
- project and organization overheads. An IT company is not only about projects and employees; it also has plenty of other costs and incomes that need to be taken into account in any budget. That is why project scheduling tools should also give managers a chance to include additional expenses and profits in their plans with flexible overheads (both company-wide and specified just for one project). Make sure your tool has such an option, too!
Project scheduling feature #5: Reporting and performance tracking
No project can be deemed successful without extensive data on its finances, resources and other related issues - and they cannot be obtained without reporting and analyzing features.
To ensure a proper monitoring and reporting for all your operations, you should make sure that your prospective project scheduling program has features such as:
- time tracking, often combined with expenses and wages for particular employees. This feature will help managers spot any inconsistencies, delays and other problems that may have an impact on release days or different stages of the project.
- advanced reports based on different metrics. All IT managers are aware of the fact that projects may have various success indicators. While choosing your project scheduling tool, you should seek platforms that can provide you with all of them - whether they include budget, deadlines or human resources. Automated reports can be an additional plus, too.
- real-time reports. Some tools tend to show any changes after hours of waiting, and that cannot be accepted in an environment as flexible as the IT industry. When making your choice, take a closer look at the statistics included in your project scheduling program and make sure that it can instantly include any adjustments in its reports.
Apart from that, you should also pay attention to the metrics included in the reports. Typically, for an IT company they should include:
- planned and tracked utilization,
- 1st and 2nd degree margin,
- planned and actual project profitability,
- RAG status for threats and issues,
However, you should also keep in mind that reports should not limit your research in any way. In fact, they should include a number of customization features that will allow managers to create documents they really need at the moment. They should also be given an option to share the reports, or to freely import and export data whenever it is necessary. That will make managers’ work much easier!
Project scheduling feature #6: Integrations
Anyone working in the IT industry knows that there is rarely just a single tool in place. In fact, usually programmers, testers, managers and other specialists tend to work with dozens of tools facilitating their work to some extent - and, in most of the cases, that simply cannot change for a variety of technological reasons.
However, many first-class project scheduling tools can deal with that problem, too - all thanks to integrations with other programs. Before you make a final decision, you should make sure that all critical tools in your company can be a part of the latest addition to the pool. That usually includes integration with JIRA and other project management tools for:
- Time Tracking (Clockify, Tempo, Toggl, Harvest, etc.)
- Task / Project Management (Jira, Redmine, ClickUp, etc.)
- HR Tools (BambooHR, Hi Bob, Calamari, etc)
- Accounting software (Xero, Quickbooks, etc)
- CRMs (Hubspot, Pipedrive, etc.).
Future-proof qualities of a project scheduling tool
Whether you represent a small, medium or large IT company, we are sure that you plan on it to grow at some point. Your project scheduling software should grow with your business - therefore, it should provide you with:
Scalability. In time, processes in any company can expand to enormous sizes - and project scheduling tools should be capable of supporting them anyway. Growing numbers of employees, projects, larger budgets, new currencies, different settings for company’s branches, advanced overheads and other problems should be seamlessly handled by your program of choice for the years to come. In other words, make sure that the project planning tool can keep up with your requirements later on!
Support. While many managers prefer to solve their problems on their own, there are some situations that simply require professional support from software’s helpline. When that happens, you would definitely prefer to contact a well-informed expert than a bot. To ensure that this happens, read the opinions on the software and pay attention to the details on communication with the support. By doing so you will get help whenever you need it, and you can also count on providers listening and responding to your other feedback.
Security. In project management, you often need to handle gigabytes of sensitive data - all in a third-party software. Therefore, you should ensure that your potential project scheduling program will spare no expense on securing them properly. In some cases, you can find sufficient information on the product's website; if you don’t, do not hesitate to get in touch with the provider - the representatives of a high-quality tool will have no problem sharing the safety details with you.
Flexibility. As we stated before, the IT industry is all about flexibility. Projects change, people come and go, new challenges may arise at any time - and your project scheduling program should be prepared for it. While making your mind, make sure that all the details of your projects, specialists and budget can be adjusted whenever you need them - you may be surprised, but not all products offer such an option!
Maintenance. This may seem like an obvious part of every solution, yet many providers forget to focus on it, resulting in numerous bugs and problems. High quality project scheduling programs should be regularly updated not just to remain fully functional, but also to prevent security threats and other critical issues.
Constant development. If you are a manager or an experienced specialist, you certainly know that business is constantly changing - and so should the tool you use to manage it. The provider of your system should provide you with a detailed roadmap for future development of the solution. Otherwise one day in the future you may be left with a program that you can no longer use…
How to choose the right project scheduling software for you?
- Define your company’s requirements
There are no identical IT companies in the world - that is why you should not follow into other people’s footsteps while choosing your project scheduling program.
However, to do so successfully, you must first determine what your business really needs to scale in the future.
To do so, you can use our use list that includes roles in the company, real life situations and priorities. With its help, you can gather initial requirements and consult them with a vendor.
You can find the list here - download the list of use cases.
Alternatively, you can:
- define main challenges and use cases,
- map / analyze your processes and identify stakeholders responsible for them. Different companies rely on different structures they base their performance on. Identify these patterns, spot bottlenecks and problems and characterize a solution that could help your business solve them.
- talk to your teams and employees. Specialists’ insights can be as valuable, if not more, than these of managers.
- take a closer look at the company's structure. Check whether your resources are assigned to a single or many projects; browse billing models you use and see whether the information flow between different departments and managers is sufficient to support the further development of your business.
Here is the list with the common questions that you should ask yourself and your teammates while choosing a project scheduling tool:
- When exactly do we start scheduling new project? When is the deal closed? Or maybe when does the deal reach a certain level of certainty?
- What is required to prepare an offer for a client? People availability? Cost and income rates?
- Who is responsible for estimations? Do we need an approval workflow?
- How do we estimate new projects? Based on roles? Project phases? Both? Or maybe another way?
- Who makes decisions about new allocation / reallocation?
- Do we have standardized income rates based on seniority / roles / other factors?
- What billing models do we prefer?
- How are clients going to pay us? Upfront? On a monthly/weekly/quarterly basis? After finishing the project?
- How do we analyze project delivery? Do we have must-have KPIs, i.e. RAG status / profitability?
- Should different managers have limited access to specialists that they don’t manage? Or maybe they should see them, but can’t allocate them?
Do you want to download the full list of questions? Download it here.
Having done that, make a list of features that could contribute to improving the situation you have outlined in the checkpoints above. Do not worry if you can’t pinpoint the right options right away - you will definitely come across many such features during your research.
To make things easier and more transparent, you can divide the features you wish to focus on into three categories: essential, nice-to-have and unrequired functionalities. Such a table will help you focus on your priorities later on.
Case 1 - Small Company (0-50 employees)
Small Company has two founders acting as managers with many responsibilities on their hands. For now, they employ 10 IT specialists working with a wide scope of technologies. They are typically involved in 3 different projects. They are, however, not divided into teams; instead, a single programmer can participate in many projects at once.
After assessing its situation, the Small Company has decided that they need a tool with:
- comprehensive reports capable of combining different perspectives for the two founders,
- a database of all the skills and experiences of company’s specialists in order to assign them to the project efficiently,
- project and employee calendar with allocations to prevent overbooking and enable both long- and short-term planning, as well as include holidays and absences in estimations. This is the feature that is of utmost importance for this business.
Case 2 - Medium Company (50-500 employees)
Medium Company has over 150 employees. They are mostly specialized in their respective fields and they have different scopes of skills; some of them are involved in many different projects at the same time.
At this point, the company works on around a dozen different projects for customers. However, they differ in terms of requirements and billing types - some are time and material projects, while others are based on a fixed price. Some projects are also more complicated than others and include several different phases.
To add to that, the Medium Company already uses JIRA for project management and it wishes to stick to the tool. However, the managers could also use some more general view of the company's operations, as JIRA does not have such a feature. What’s more the structure is becoming more and more complicated, so there is a need for approval workflows and access restrictions for different financial data.
Based on the information we can clearly see that the Medium Company needs features such as:
- a database of all the skills and experiences of company’s specialists in order to assign them to the project efficiently,
- advanced project details and IT-specific characteristics, i.e. billing types, stages of the project, estimations, etc. - they would be very advantageous for the business.
- project and employee calendar with flexible allocations both to the entirety of the project and its stages, which is a must-have for the Medium Company,
- integration with JIRA, which is critical for the business,
- comprehensive, high-level reports with detailed information on projects, capacity and other critical issues,
- approval workflows and data access restrictions based on roles
Case 3 - Big Company (500+ employees)
The Big Company employs over 500 people, including managers and specialists in the fields such as IT, marketing, HR, and more. All of these people need to report time to their managers, and they should do that on a single platform. To add to that, the detailed information on their activities should only be available for their managers; therefore, a potential tool for the Big Company should have different roles and access levels for them.
To add to that, the Big Company is simply overwhelmed with dozens of projects at once. They differ in terms of budgets, estimations, overheads and billing types. Additionally, with both contractors and regular employees on board, their wages may also differ from one project to another. Therefore, a project scheduling program should include all of these features.
Resource management is also getting more and more difficult with the growing size of the Big Company. Apart from employee’s skills and capacity, the company also needs to hire new people on a daily basis and report any vacancies to HR. The process could be made much easier if the new project scheduling tool could do that, too.
Managers in the Big Company are highly specialized in their respective fields. There are COO, CFO, PMO, COO and CFO - and all of them expect the new project scheduling software to provide them with valuable insights on their operations. They also need real-time data on every single project so they could react to any changes immediately.
Based on this description we can clearly see that the Big Company needs features such as:
- reporting working hours for workers assigned to particular projects, which is a must-have for the Big Company,
- different roles and access levels for managers and specialists with different responsibilities,
- comprehensive resource management tools with detailed information on specialists’ skills, experience, absences, types of employment and wages for different scenarios, which is necessary for the Big Company,
- reporting vacancies and necessary recruitment processes in the same tool,
- advanced reports for different types of data (i.e. budget, capacity, profits, overheads, and more),
- detailed budget information, including types of contracts, overheads and settling the payments, which must be included in a potential project scheduling software.
- constantly updated data with instant access to all the changes.
- robust integrations with different systems,
- SSO (Google / Azure / Other), so the whole company can easily manage access for newcomers and leavers
2. Conducting research.
Taking a closer look at your own operations is not enough to choose the right project scheduling program. To do so successfully, you will need to rummage through dozens and dozens of offers from different providers.
Even though the research process does not differ much depending on the size of the company, it is probably going to be a grueling journey for you and other managers anyway.
However, you can make it a little bit easier if you focus on finding information on:
- basic terms related to project scheduling software. Try googling features and qualities you are interested in, as well as various phrases related to business intelligence in general. This process will give you a bigger picture of what you may expect from such software.
- visit the websites of popular project scheduling software providers. Do not just scroll through them mindlessly, though; prepare a table comparing the scope of features offered by different solutions. Later on, it will prove to be invaluable for making the final decision.
- check the tools for basic features mentioned above on our list. Additionally, remember to pay attention to scalability, security, support and flexibility of the solutions - you can verify these characteristics by browsing the opinions on the product or contacting the provider directly.
- get a demo of project scheduling software. It is the best way to test whether the program of your choice really matches your requirements. Take part in a trial or book a presentation with a provider's representative to really get a closer look at a software and realistically evaluate its value.
Some tools are focused on automatic onboarding, which offers you no possibility to talk with any expert. Some of them will show you the platform, so you can access it on your own.
In Primetric, we have a different approach. We are giving our customers the whole implementation workflow which helps them to identify must-have use cases, map their structure, identify Product Champion, and successfully implement Primetric in the organization.
If you would like to talk with our Expert - schedule a call here.
3. Decision making process.
Last but not least, it is the high time to make a final decision. It should be an easy task, provided that you closely follow our instructions. To finalize the process, you should:
- compare the solutions in terms of pricing and rule the ones that are clearly out of your budget - or simply are not worth the money;
- compare the features included in project scheduling programs. Use the table you have prepared previously to critically assess the features, determine their priority and choose a handful of options that match your expectations.
- discuss the top priorities with your teams or managers, depending on the circumstances. Then, decide on a project scheduling solution capable of supporting all the critical processes to the largest extent possible.
Case 1 - Small Company
The Small Company is about to decide which project scheduling software to choose. Due to its size, the business only has a small budget; therefore, it rules out all the expensive solutions in the first place.
Then, based on the internal research done at the beginning of the process, the Small Company has determined that project and employee calendar with flexible allocations is the feature their software of choice simply has to have. Therefore, the management rules out all the tools that do not have it (or this option is somehow lacking).
Later on, the management in the Small Company can focus on other features they find potentially useful to find 2-3 project scheduling tools matching their expectations. However, due to their business being constantly developed, they also need to check whether the software can scale with it as the company grows.
At this stage, they can decide on picking one of them based on their experiences from the demo - unless there’s only 1 project scheduling tool on the table.
Case 2 - Medium Company
The Medium Company has a considerably high budget. Therefore, its management only removes from the list of potential solutions the ones that were absurdly overpriced.
Then, just like in the case of the Small Company, the Medium Company focuses on its main features of interest. These include:
- integration with JIRA,
- advanced project details with budgeting,
- project and employee calendar with allocations.
As a result, the Medium Company can wipe out the project scheduling tools that do not meet these needs from the list of solutions that should be taken into consideration.
Afterwards the Medium Company can focus on all the lesser features they would like to include in their preferred solutions. Any project scheduling tools that can offer additional options the Medium Company is looking for is now moving to the top of the list.
Last but not least, with a few managers on board, the Medium Company can take their personal opinions into consideration - in the end, they are the ones that will be using the tool.
Case 3 - Big Company
The Big Company has very generous policies; as a result, it is not limited by a budget while choosing a project scheduling program. Therefore, its list is very long and complicated.
However, in the first place the management in the Big Company wants to make sure that the tool they are going to use has the following features:
- reporting working hours for all the employees,
- advanced resource management features,
- detailed budgeting options for project and employees.
Consequently, any project scheduling tools without these features are removed from the list.
Further on, the managers can look at the bright side of their decisions and take a closer look at the programs that can provide them with additional features they would be happy to have. In the end, they should, of course, include their own impressions in the final decision.
Benefits of project scheduling tools for executives
While picking a project scheduling program, it is important to include the opinions of all the C-level managers - even though they may not like the idea in the first place, as they are probably very busy.
However, the managers should not disregard the process, as they can benefit from the tool more than all the other employees. Why?
The main goal of every CEO is to see his company grow - and project scheduling tools can help him do just that.
With such programs, a CEO can monitor internal processes related to project and resource management and spot any inconsistencies before they impact crucial operations. Project scheduling tools can also provide the manager with detailed information on key indicators and factors contributing to the company's success. Additionally, it may also be used for overseeing daily operations and finding new opportunities for the company to grow.
In the eyes of the CFO, the company is successful when its financial liquidity is maintained without interruptions - and there’s no better way to achieve that goal than by using project scheduling programs.
Project scheduling tools are capable of helping the CFO get a closer look on all the projects finances, from general profits, to wages of a particular specialist. The best software in that category can include details such as:
- budgets with billing types,
- draft budgets for potential projects,
- wages of contractors and employees,
- financial information from company’s branches,
- costs of stages and phases of particular projects,
- information on unprofitable and the most profitable operations.
A good project scheduling program can also be flexible and provide all of these information in various currencies and billing types.
Such a comprehensive overview can be invaluable for any CFO. It not only provides him with real-time information on the company's operations, but it can also be a source of innovation and improvements that can result in even greater profits.
The more projects PMO has on his hands, the harder it is for him to monitor them all - unless they have a project scheduling tool nearby.
Project scheduling programs are usually the base for all of PMO’s responsibilities. With such software, he can:
- spot and resolve any conflicts between different projects,
- precisely allocate resources and discover any mistakes, should they appear,
- efficiently onboard new projects and schedule them according to the availability of resources,
- control the details of every project, including billing type, necessary resources, vacancies, and more,
- monitor the budget in the real time, including key details such as wages, overheads, settled bills, etc.
All things considered, with project scheduling software a PMO can make sure that projects can be completed on time, with the right resources, and with the maximum profit.
Managing all the operations in the company is not an easy task for a COO, but it can get easier with project scheduling software.
Thanks to this solution, a COO can have access to a single source of truth about all the critical processes in the company. That includes:
- information on operations in all the departments and any problems related to their cooperation,
- detailed data on finances and projects, including profitability, overheads, unexpected spendings, and more,
- monitoring project portfolio, spotting any gaps in planning capable of supporting new activities, as well as interfering operations,
- efficient resource management, including capacity planning and new hires.
With a project scheduling program, the COO can successfully monitor all the operations (even the smallest ones), check their status and react accordingly, consequently improving the company's profitability.
Pick the right project scheduling program - pick Primetric
Now that you know how to choose a project scheduling program, you would certainly wish to start your research right now - and we know a perfect place to do this.
With Primetric, you can meet all of the above requirements - and more - with both small and big companies.
You can take a closer look at our solution right now. Book a demo or see how Primetric compares to other project scheduling programs to make the right choice.