A great project management tool can make a world of difference for your team’s productivity and efficiency. 77% of high-performing projects run on a project management tool, but choosing the best project management software for your team is no easy feat.

The decision-making process is even more critical for startups. The right project management software can help startups accelerate their operations while saving time and money.

In this article, we’ve compiled helpful guidelines for understanding your project management needs and a ten-point checklist specifically tailored to help early-stage startups choose the best project management software for their teams.

How to identify your project management software needs

Assess how things are done at present

Even if your startup is small, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of how you and your teams are managing projects today. Identifying your work process helps you get an accurate picture of what’s missing and what you can improve.

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • How long does it take for your team to get started with a project?
  • Does your team face communication barriers?
  • How easily can your team navigate through the project workflow?
  • Can you track individual contributions to the project?
  • How often can you finish a project within the initial deadline?

Illustration by Elizaveta Guba from Ouch!

These are good questions for any size organization to ask before selecting a PM software. But for startups, in particular, you’ll want to consider a few other important factors such as industry, team size, typical project size, and overall workload. Remember, whether you like it or not, successful startups need to run many simultaneous projects to compete in any market.

Understand the technical capacity of your team

Not all project teams are built the same and not all startup founding teams have the same skills. For example, engineering-focused startup founders may be comfortable with tools that require technical knowledge, whereas hustler-style founders might struggle to work with the same tools. Even if your startup doesn’t have “departments” yet, almost certainly the founders are covering one or more key roles.

Being thoughtful about this will also make onboarding a lot easier for your team.

Consider Your Budget

If you’re running a startup, you know that cash is king. And just like any investment, budget plays an important role in selecting a project management tool. Project management tools vary significantly depending on factors such as features, number of users, and support.

You can also find free tiers of these tools that come with limited functionality which can be a great way for a startup to test the waters. Therefore, you need to consider how much you can afford to spend on a project management tool.

Pro Tip: Many project management software providers offer “startup” plans. Sometimes these plans aren’t listed on the pricing page of their website.

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Your 10 point checklist for choosing a project management software

1. Ease of use

Ease-of-use is an essential trait to look for in a project management tool.

 So ask yourself these questions, with your future growth in mind:

  • Can you navigate within the interface easily?
  • Does it offer drag-and-drop functionality?
  • Can you see all your deadlines in one place?
  • Do you need technical knowledge to use the tool?
  • What are the integration or hosting requirements?

Answering these questions will give you an idea of how easily your current and future teams can utilize the features offered by the tool.

2. Robust planning and scheduling features 

Tools like Gantt charts are popular for planning and scheduling tasks in a project. Many  project management tools come with built-in Gantt chart features. Having a Gantt chart feature is essential for teams who work with complex projects and have multiple deadlines to manage at the same time.

Depending on your needs, you can also look for features such as Kanban boards, calendars, and task dependencies to help you effectively plan and schedule tasks. As a startup, you might not know exactly what you’ll need in a year from now. For that reason, it’s probably best to choose something with flexibility in this arena, like monday.com, which has more than 8 different view options.

3. Efficient task management

Your project management tool should have the option to break down tasks into smaller subtasks and assign due dates to keep your team on track. This capability becomes particularly important when you have a larger team. When you grow, it’s critical to keep everyone on task, so be thoughtful about how you’ll do that after you get to 10, 30, 50 or more employees!

If you anticipate dealing with more complex workflows in the future, look for tools that allow you to customize workflows using features like mapping and dependencies.

4. Easy time tracking 

Time tracking helps you keep your projects on the road to success. Most project management tools offer features that let you set and manage deadlines.

Additionally, startups frequently outsource and hire talent that isn’t necessarily “in-house”. If this is the case for your company, then time tracking might be an essential aspect of your project management software, as your contractors or freelancers might be paid on an hourly basis.

5. Integrations with other apps you use

In the early days, startups may be able to function on just a few free tools like Google Docs and Slack. But as you grow, you’ll likely add more specialized services for the million functions your startup is going to be tackling. Integrations between tools is something you’ll probably want.

Many project management tools offer a vast range of integrations, and for good reasons. It’s difficult to replicate the value provided by tools such as Google Drive, Slack, or Figma.

If you want to retrieve information from external apps, look for project management tools that offer integration with the apps you already use.

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6. Effective team collaboration

Startup teams start small. But then they grow. That’s why you should prioritize a number of collaboration features such as the ability to assign roles, notify changes to your team, provide feedback, share resources, and more.

The ability to comment and provide feedback on specific tasks, keeping the discussion contextual is a crucial feature for any project team because it saves a lot of headache and time lost on email threads.

You should also check the file-sharing capacity of the tool. Startups frequently like to use screenshot and annotation tools to quickly share feedback. Attaching these markups to tickets in your project management tool will likely be a daily activity. Another feature to look out for is the ability to update a file with a new version of it to make sure that your team can access the latest information.

If you anticipate your startup having some large teams, you might want to look for tools that allow you to create smaller groups within your team members. For example, if you are leading a marketing team, you can create separate groups for designers, advertisers, SEO experts, and so on.

Illustration by Ivan Haidutski from Ouch!

7. Seamless reporting system

Reporting features such as progress and KPI tracking help you save time on gathering data and compiling reports. You can look for tools that offer a dashboard to get an overview of active and completed tasks, project progress, estimated completion time, and more.

8. Scalability and reliability

Imagine a scenario where a large and complex project comes to your desk and your “bang for the buck” project management tool has no option to upgrade to a more robust and feature-rich plan. This can create unnecessary stress for your startup while you go through the research and implementation process again in the same year or sooner.

When you’re looking for project management software, make sure you choose one that can grow with your workload or team size. You can opt for a tool that has the option to upgrade to plans that cater to larger teams.

9. Flexible pricing plans 

There are a few project management tools that offer generous free plans. Most of them either offer only paid plans with trials or a very limited free plan. While choosing a paid plan, compare each tier carefully to identify the perfect balance between cost and features.

As mentioned earlier, don’t forget to consider the cost of upgrading. If a tool doesn’t have much flexibility in pricing, check if its features are good enough to serve you in the long term.

Almost all of the paid plans come with the option of a demo or a free trial. Sign-up for these free trials and see which tool works best for your startup. And don’t forget to find out about the startup plans, in many cases these programs give you access to top tier plans at almost no cost.

10. Data security

It is fairly easy to get psyched once you find the perfect tool and forget about a crucial aspect – data security.

Remember, you’re going to be storing a lot of important data in your project management tool. Be sure the company behind the product you choose is here to stay and values security as a part of their design.

How to know you’ve found the right tool for your startup 

You are using the minimum number of tools

Lack of organization is a killer for startups. You will find yourself scrambling with too many fragmented tools if your project management software fails to cover the majority of your project needs.

For instance, you might be using separate tools for budget management, time tracking, ticket management, communication, and file sharing because your PM software doesn’t come with these features. A truly robust project management tool allows you to use the tools you love, build effectively workflows, and ditch emails so you can communicate in-context.

You are getting more work done on time

The purpose of a project management tool is to boost the productivity of teams. And given that your startup’s most valuable resource is time, that means you want to maximize productivity asap. Higher productivity means you reach deadlines faster and get more work done within the assigned time.

Illustration by Ivan Haidutski from Ouch!

Your project management tool should help you get started with new projects more quickly. You’ll also be able to keep better track of your allocated resources and manage your workflows efficiently.

Take your time and choose wisely

Choosing the wrong platform can be a costly mistake, especially for a startup. Spend quality time assessing your needs, evaluating your options, and testing your decision before paying for project management software.

The 10-point checklist that we’ve compiled ensures that your startup doesn’t miss out on any crucial feature when choosing a project management tool.

Now that you know what to look for, go out there and begin your search for the perfect project management tool for your startup.

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