Inefficient tools defeat even the best of teams.
A software engineer’s expertise is nothing if they don’t know where to share their knowledge or how to update managers on progress. And external investors won’t love discovering an initial budget increase three months into the project because they missed the memo.
Avoid these headaches by equipping your team for success by using efficient and effective project planning tools.
What are project management planning tools?
Project management planning tools help project managers assign tasks and monitor progress across personnel and execution stages. These methods often also help teammates complete their work by improving visibility, which supports collaboration and task delegation between coworkers.
Some tools for project planning are quite simple, like to-do lists and time trackers. Others are more advanced, like using Gantt charts to visualize dependencies or Kanban boards to monitor task status.
But no matter the tactics you choose, these planning tools have the same aim: to streamline project work so teams complete tasks faster and with fewer hiccups.
The benefits of using project planning tools
Project planning software streamlines the entire execution process, saving everyone time searching for task assignments and asking questions that planning documentation could’ve answered.
These tools also:
- Offer useful visual representations: Simple project planning tools like flowcharts offer everyone a visual overview of task progress and general timelines, so employees don’t need to read through documents searching for this information. Even those who aren’t visual learners might find this big-picture snapshot useful to quickly understand where a project’s at, like checking the “To-do” section of a Kanban board.
- Helps teams understand priorities: Task prioritization and dependency lists clearly define the most important action items. From the project’s start, employees understand where to prioritize their efforts to avoid wasting time.
- Provides external stakeholders with useful documentation: The documentation these tools provide — like project timelines and work breakdowns — offers external stakeholders important information not muddied by details they don’t need.
- Helps teams improve: Project planning tools provide the documentation your team members need to improve. They can reflect on this data to evaluate inefficiencies, like tasks that take too long and outdated processes, to then make any necessary adjustments.
Key features of common project planning tools
No matter your department — from software development to marketing — project managers typically perform the same duties, like task management and budget allocation. To accommodate these needs, most online planning tools offer the following features:
- Workflow visualizations
- Time tracking
- Task details
- Real-time updates
- Project completion estimates
- Budget estimates
- Resource allocation details
- Document collaboration and sharing
- Risk analyses
You’ll typically use a web-based platform to create your project planning documentation, like Tempo for roadmaps or Google Sheets for budgeting information. The features gained from your planning tools will depend on where you create these documents and how many you use.
5 of the best project planning tools
The right planning tools depend on your team members’ needs. There’s no sense in embracing a method that doesn’t work for everyone or adding eight tools people constantly need to update. When considering which of these five tools to implement, brainstorm your needs with everyone involved in project work to ensure you find something that streamlines processes instead of hindering them.
That said, here are five project management tool examples that suit most situations.
1. Work breakdown structures (WBSs)
Probably the first and most important part of project planning, a WBS takes the central project goal and breaks it down into smaller, actionable pieces. This often resembles your critical path: the tasks you must complete (and in what order) to succeed. But a WBS also includes useful information like task statuses and owners so everyone can monitor responsibilities and progress.
A project roadmap clearly defines how to get from point A (initiation) to point B (closure). Like all maps, this likely involves some meandering, so roadmaps typically aren’t perfectly linear. Instead, they’re strategic and complex plans that cover all side to-dos and task dependencies necessary to successfully complete a project.
There are various ways to create roadmaps, like with a flowchart, timeline, or calendar. Just remember to include important details like:
- Why and how each task aligns with overall project goals
- The resources required for the project as a whole
- An overall timeline and task start and end-dates
- Cross-functional dependencies
3. Gantt charts
Gantt charts visualize tasks and timelines — but their most notable feature is how they clearly define task dependencies. These charts show each piece of work as a bar stretching across the main timeline for as long as that task should take or is taking (you can determine how you’d like to organize this). Each bar is color coded — typically by teammate or department — to quickly offer you an overview of simultaneous work and task progress.
You can also add further details to your chart, depending on the project management software you choose. You might make each bar clickable to access information like responsible teammates, necessary resources, and potential roadblocks worth watching out for.
4. Communication plans
Especially for cross-functional teams, so much communication is involved to successfully execute a project while keeping external stakeholders informed on progress. You must communicate task priorities, challenges and mitigation plans, and deliverable adjustments, to name a few examples.
Communication plans define how and when information will flow between everyone involved. This includes who to go to for what questions and meeting and deliverable review schedules so everyone understands when they’ll glean insights and updates.
5. Project baselines
A baseline is your initial projection for the three main project constraints: cost, time, and scope. Set your ideal limit for each before starting and track how you’re doing throughout project execution. This visibility into deviations from the baseline helps you avoid scope creep and make cost and timeline adjustments as necessary.
Once you’ve chosen your ideal planning tools and started creating project documentation, store these documents somewhere central to promote team visibility. It would be a shame to use helpful planning methods yet still suffer from lost time while teammates search for documents and answers to their questions.
Let Tempo’s tools enhance your project planning
Nothing beats a well-planned project — one that’s flexible enough for adjustments but checks every box so your team feels well-informed and prepared to meet expectations.
Don’t waste any time trying out different applications and platforms. Start creating more effective project planning documents with Roadmunk and Timesheets, just two of the many tools Tempo offers to enhance your workflow.