Software as a Service (SaaS), Project Portfolio Management (PPM) Solutions

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This is the first of several blog posts in which we will evaluate Software as a Service (SaaS), Project Portfolio Management (PPM) software solutions.

During this evaluation, we primarily looked at solutions for small and mid-sized businesses (SMB), and project teams. We loosely define the SMB space as companies with between 100 and 5,000 employees, or between $20 million and $1 billion in annual revenue. More importantly, we looked at tools which are appropriate for organizations with an IT staff of less than 500, fewer than 20 project managers, and no more than 50 concurrent projects. Larger organizations should consider enterprise level solutions. Although some of the products we looked at will support enterprise implementations, there are several other products that we are not covering here.

The following are among the products we initially evaluated at a high level. About half of these we already have some familiarity with. From this initial set of PPM SaaS products, we selected several for a deeper dive and evaluation.

Our goal is to help companies select the best PPM tool for their specific needs. We identify products that we like better under certain circumstances, but we do not declare an overall ‘winner’. All of these products excel at certain things, and they all have shortcomings.

While reviewing PPM solutions, we focused on the following key feature areas.

  • Usability
  • Price
  • Task management
  • Scheduling
  • Resource management
  • Collaboration
  • Mobile
  • Portfolio management

Generally speaking, most of the products we looked at are strong in several common areas. All do a good job of basic task management; creating, updating, assigning, and tracking tasks. Most of them have good collaborative functionality, like messaging, commenting, streams, and sharing documents. They also typically have some form of customizable dashboard, time tracking, reporting capabilities, and mobile application.

Conversely, these products are all weak in some common areas. None are strong in managing project budget or costs. Most are missing the ability to track project risks and issues (Teamwork was an exception). Portfolio Management is another area where they fall short of our expectations, as they lack good project initiation and health evaluation capabilities. While several have some Resource Management capabilities, none meet our expectations. Our assumption is that these features are typically more prevalent in enterprise level solutions, at higher price points.

There are a few areas in which PPM products vary greatly in feature set and style. It is in these areas, where the differences are greater, where we recommend companies focus when evaluating PPM tools. The following are where we found the greatest differences.

  • User interface – Some of the UIs are clean and simple, while others are complex and busy.
  • Resource management –Some have no capabilities here, while others have at least basic functionality.
  • Schedule management – Products range from simple task lists to complex task scheduling with dependencies and multiple resources. A few have gantt chart views.
  • Work effort – Most have tasks with simple start and end dates; no concept of effort level. Others have more complex work effort estimating and tracking.
  • Reporting – Reporting and analytics features vary greatly across these solutions, from displaying simple task lists, to creating custom reports.
  • Pricing – There are three common pricing models: 1) monthly fee for unlimited users, 2) monthly fee for all users, and 3) monthly fee for main users, unlimited contributes at no cost.

Over the next few weeks we will take a closer look at several PPM SaaS products – solutions that we feel stand out from the others. These reviews are intended to give organizations a starting point when looking into PPM tools. Without knowing more about your company (i.e. industry, processes, PMO maturity, team sizes, etc.), we cannot recommend one clear leader. As stated earlier, each of these products excels under different circumstances.

If you have questions or would like to know more about our evaluation, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

SaaS PPM Product EvaluationTerry Courtney