Starting, or transitioning, a small business using web-based project management software is not a task to be taken lightly. It’s a decision you want to take your time with to make sure that it’s not only the right decision for your small business, but that you choose the right online software. Before committing yourself or your small business to an online project management application, here are a few pros and cons to consider.
Addressing your comfort level with online software
Moving from the desktop style of software to the online equivalent is more of a cultural shift than a technical one. Your company needs to be comfortable with conducting it’s day-to-day business online. This means getting buy-in from everyone who is going to be using the web-based app. It may also mean adjusting your workflow to fit a slightly different methodology than what you are used to. Whatever the intangible barriers are to going online, they need to be addressed and resolved. Otherwise, using online software may never feel like a good fit.
Varying methods of collaboration… which one is right for you?
As ubiquitous as the word “collaboration” may be, the ways in which people collaborate are many and diverse. Some of us prefer face time at a round table, for others a wiki will suffice. Every online project management application out there offers a different interpretation of collaboration. For some it’s integration with Google Apps. For others it’s an online white board. Figure out how you like best to collaborate with your team before adapting a collaboration methodology.
Bringing your team together, regardless of their physical location
Everyone is going remote these days. The Internet and all the technologies it’s enabled are allowing us to go global in ways we’ve never thought possible. While time travel is still an obstacle to be overcome, many web-based project management applications can help cushion it’s current constraints. Tools for keeping a team together overlap collaborative ones, and perhaps aren’t entirely self-evident. The idea is to keep team members in contact with one another outside of the software, through phone calls, video chats, and good, old fashioned meetings. Online project management software should not get in the way already existing communication channels. New technology is good technology, but so is the old.
Having a good data plan
If you’ve been in business for more than a few days you will have accumulated enough data that it takes a while to get up and running with a new web-based service. Look for applications that can import your preexisting data or one that has a support staff that will help out in getting the data imported. It’s overwhelming enough to move your business to an online service. Having to shift around business data can be cumbersome, if not prohibitive.
Enhancing the desktop experience
The desktop, barricaded behind routers and firewalls, is only subject to updates and predetermined intervals. It can take weeks, months, even years, for a vendor to push out new releases to a desktop application. And even then the user has to accept and apply the upgrades. This problem completely evaporates in light of the online software, where updates can be pushed to the server as often as every day, and users simply have to push the reload button to take advantage of them.
Internal servers can be costly
There are plenty of server-based solutions for managing projects in a networked environment, many of which are quite similar to their online counterparts. Some proprietary, some open source, they can be installed on a server in your business environment. While this is a great solution for some, consider the costs in server administration and application maintenance. One prominent selling point of using web-based project management software is that the server administration, and other duties associated with keeping an application online, are all covered by a support staff.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about an application’s security. As how general security concerns have been addressed, and whether or not the online software complies with known security standards. If they can’t name any security standards with which they’ve complied, reconsider. It’s your data going up on their server. Make sure it’s going to be secure.
Choosing the right company behind the web-based project management software
One final factor to weigh in your decision is the company providing the online service. Does it look like they and their software will be around for the long-haul, or is this just a fun experiment they may abandon when they get tired of it? A company’s longevity is important because they are the ones you are entrusting with your data. Also consider the responsiveness of the support staff. A company’s commitment to supporting an online application is a good indicator of their commitment to the long-term life of the application itself.
These pros and cons are just a starting point. Some of them may not apply, and I’m sure I’ve overlooked a few. In the end there may not be a quantifiable way to justify which web-based project management application you choose. But when you find a good fit, you’ll know it. Your team will be humming along, productivity will improve, and someone will inevitably ask, “how did we ever manage projects without this software?”