Published October 25, 2022
Most client service teams will need a project management tool as they scale, and when that time comes, it’s important to have the right tool.
Whether it’s writing new procedures, onboarding a key client, or undertaking a business improvement review, you’ll sometimes need to hive off a large piece of work, and you’ll need a project management tool to keep track of it. When choosing a project management tool for client service teams, it’s important to consider the specific needs of your team. There are many different project management tools available, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are a few key factors you can use to make comparisons between them:
Any assessment of the available software starts with an evaluation of the team using it. Different teams will have different needs, and your software’s key features need to be suited to your specific team. That means considering the connected factors of size and complexity.
Size largely speaks for itself. The bigger your team, the more people are going to need access to the software, and the more likely it is that you’ll have multiple people working together on a single project. The projects themselves are more likely to have a large scale and long duration.
The complexity of the projects your team members manage will depend upon the work that they do and the organisation the team sits within. In a small organisation with straightforward work, projects are likely to be simple, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. Consider the projects you’ve dealt with already and that are coming up, and be realistic about how complex they’re likely to get.
If the team is small and the projects are relatively simple, a basic tool with minimal features may be enough. If the team is large and the projects are complex, you’ll need something more robust.
The second factor to consider is the team's needs. This involves looking more deeply at the likely projects and at the capabilities of your employees.
Consider the features that are important for your projects. You’ll almost certainly want to be able to produce gantt charts, task dependencies, and lists of goals. You’ll probably want to create threat and opportunity analyses, but do you need these to relate to specific parts of the project, or will an overview be enough? Do you want to include lean analysis tools for more efficient processes?
As well as specific features, consider how they’re deployed. Do you need a tool that is highly customisable or one that is simple and easy to use? This will depend a lot on the capabilities and working practices of your team. For teams with big projects and software-savvy colleagues, a highly customisable program is ideal, as it can be adapted to different situations. For those with smaller burdens it may be unnecessary. Where team members aren’t used to high levels of customisation or a wide variety of project management techniques, it may even be a hindrance, with extra options only adding confusion and causing mistakes. In a case like that, simple project management toolkit templates are better, allowing the team to get started more easily.
Next consider the budget.
There are many project management tools on the market. Some can be bought for a single set fee, while others have the ongoing costs and updates of software as a service (SaaS). There are even free open source project management tools. Some of those with fees include freemium options, so that you can try their basic settings before paying.
Budget is going to set a hard limit around what you can get. As far as possible, you’ll need to choose a tool that fits the team's needs and sticks within that budget. If you can’t find a tool that fits both criteria, then you might have to go into battle with the budget holder for your team and its needs.
In the end, budget is the factor likely to lead to disappointment. Even the best free option won’t do everything you want. Be ready to accept some limits, to consider which features are vital and which are nice to have.
One of the main benefits of project management is that it helps a team to work smoothly together. Your project management tool should support collaboration.
Look for features that allow team members to communicate and work together on tasks. Are there way users can make comments while leaving a text or task unchanged? Does the timeline for the project show who owns which tasks and who created them? Can the project management tool itself be used to schedule tasks, calls, and meetings?
Good project management is all about teamwork, so find software to help users collaborate.
Integration is another important point to consider. Does the project management tool you’re looking at integrate with other tools and systems that your team uses? One of the advantages of better project management software is the ability to work across platforms and to manage all of your projects from one place.
Whether integration is a project management tool requirement or just a nice afterthought will depend on how you’re working. This is more important for large teams with lots of complex projects than for a lone manager tracking occasional improvement work.
Any time spent working on projects has to be justified, and that means reporting.
The tool should help you track the progress of your projects and report on them. You should be able to see at a glance how you’re doing against objectives, check resource allocation, and track time spent on project work.
The software should also allow you to generate reports that show the impact of your projects on your business. This could be measured in financial benefits, savings of staff time, reduced errors, or improvements in the customer experience. The important things are to keep track of why you’re doing this project and to be able to justify it if challenged.
Finally, think about the customer support you’ll receive when using the software.
If you’re using a paid project management tool, then your team should have access to customer support in case they have questions or problems. What matters isn’t just the existence of that support but the speed and the clarity of responses. Can you call them up to talk through a difficult issue, or are you regularly redirected to long FAQs without the answers? It’s hard to judge this quality up front, but a little online research should tell you the company’s reputation.
For free and open source project management tools, there might not be any customer support. This is the downside of working with these tools. If possible, avoid committing to them unless you have someone in house who understands the software, and make sure that person understands the customer support role they’re about to gain.
Project work varies hugely, but the evaluation criteria for choosing a project management tool are similar regardless of the client service team:
Find a tool that fits your team’s size, complexity, needs, and budget.
Look for collaboration, integration, reporting, and customer support.
If you can meet those standards, then you’ll find a tool that works for you.
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