Admins / Project Management

Can Salesforce Do Project Management? 12 Questions to Select a Tool

By Jonathan Sapir

When projects are managed poorly, businesses risk the potential loss of millions of dollars – in fact, over $100 million is wasted for every $1 billion invested in projects (source: Project Management Institute (PMI)). Choosing the right project management tool for Salesforce, will not only help you better manage projects in your organization, but also could help to restore 10% of your bottom line returns.

When it comes to doing project management with Salesforce, there are native and non-native options. Yet, with so many applications to choose from, business owners and managers can find themselves in a sea of information, making it difficult to evaluate and select the right applications.

To wade through these options, you need to establish a selection process based on your organization’s unique needs. And, for those who already work with Salesforce, the solution needs to integrate seamlessly with Salesforce.

Salesforce for Project Management

Salesforce today offers so much more than just CRM features. However, if you want to manage projects directly in Salesforce, you will be disappointed to find out that there is no full project management functionality. 

Rumors were sparked when a demo of a new Project Management tool from Salesforce surfaced. The video has been live since the start of November 2020, but nothing has materialized… yet.

READ MORE: New Salesforce Project Management Tool – A Sneak Peek?

With that in mind, let’s explore the options you do have when looking to do project management on Salesforce:

  1. Salesforce Project Management Basic Features: Built-in Salesforce features, with some platform customization, might do the trick for you. This isn’t a substitute for project management software, but it can be enough for small teams to start with. Start tracking progress with Salesforce Tasks, collaborate with your team via Salesforce Chatter, and gain insights with reports and dashboards.
  2. External Project Management Apps: Well-known project management tools on the market include Microsoft Project, Asana,, and Smartsheet. These give you powerful functionality; however, being hosted outside of the Salesforce platform, custom integrations are needed through APIs and/or other third-party apps. This could take Salesforce Admins/Consultants more time to maintain, increasing your overall implementation budget.
  3. Salesforce-Native Project Management Apps: To save potential headaches caused by integrations, you should consider project management apps that were built specifically for Salesforce, available on the AppExchange.

Project Management Methodologies 

  • Waterfall: Derived from the more traditional project management, top-down approach. Project managers strive to eliminate risk and uncertainty by defining the project scope, budgets, and schedule, up front along with project action steps. Waterfall project management utilizes tools such as gantt charts to make projects visible.
  • Agile: Has two basic methods – scrum and kanban. In agile project management, work is performed in stages. Each project is worked on by 5-20 people, in up to 3 teams. This method of project management is scalable, but does require additional project management.
  • PSA (Professional Services Automation): Project management for the services industry, such as IT professionals, auditors, lawyers, marketing agencies, etc. PSA capabilities include project management, documentation, time tracking, billing, reporting, and labor utilization. The enhanced reporting available in PSA tools gives organizations the information they need to better manage their business. 
  • PPM (Portfolio Project Management): Focuses on managing multiple projects, simultaneously, across the enterprise, optimizing the resource mix to best achieve your organizational and financial goals. PPM capabilities center around project prioritization, including project acceleration or termination, as well as cost-benefit analysis.

4 Challenges Buyers Face

1. Meaningless comparisons

If there were a “10 Best Cars” list, it would be of little value to you as a potential buyer. Best for whom? Best for what? If you are driving on the autobahn, a Ferrari may be best. If you spend your time driving around a compact urban area with limited parking, a Smart Car would be a lot “better” than the Ferrari.

And so it is with Project Management packages. You can look at one of the many lists of “Top 10 Project Management Systems” but it would be about as meaningful as the “Top 10 Cars” list.

2. Reviews

The lists are flawed in other ways. Just because a package received the most customer positive reviews, it doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for you. 

The criteria and the weighting of criteria are going to be different from company to company – possibly even department to department, or specific project.

Beware of using the number of customer reviews as a primary indicator – 100 reviews by companies with 10 licenses each may be a lot different than a single review by a company with 10,000 licenses.

There are other reasons that make rankings less effective. Simply because someone gave a system a low rating doesn’t mean the system is bad. Sure, it may be bad – but it also may be that the system just didn’t work for what that particular reviewer needed.

3. Functionality limitations

Every system is based on an architecture. The architecture determines how hard or easy it is to accomplish different objectives.

Project and process management systems have some functionality in common; beyond that, it’s the differences in architecture that dictates how effective a system will be in your environment.

Regardless of how much functionality the system has, if the architecture does not fit well with the way your business operates, it will be like forcing a square peg (your environment) into a round hole (the system architecture).

You are not going to know by simply looking at what functionality the system has to offer. An in-depth proof of concept is the only way to be sure that the architecture will meet the needs of your organization. You must test drive the software (or, to use the car metaphor above), have it test-driven on your roads while you are in the passenger seat.

4. Too many choices

There are so many project management system options out there.  The two main reasons for this are: 

  1. Every organization runs projects, so the demand is huge.
  2. No one has come up with the single best project management system that everyone can use. Just like there is no single “best” car.

Marketing messaging makes all options sound alike; however, there are major differences. Getting a good fit means doing your homework to understand just what kind of solution you need.

Project management software is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all. The devil is often in the details; unless you dig deep, you may not know that the option you selected is just not going to work for you – until it is too late.

Selecting a Project Management System: Questions to Answer

You should ask yourself these questions when looking for a project management system to run either on, or alongside, the Salesforce platform. 

When writing the questions, I assumed that all the solutions you are evaluating have basic project management functionality, such as task assignment, scheduling, Gantt chart, collaboration, files sharing, etc.

1. Do you need a niche solution?

Some companies (or departments) are best served by solutions that are designed to specifically address their needs.

An obvious example is project management for software development. You are likely to want a solution that supports Scrum, backlog prioritization, sprint planning, and developer tools integration. This type of functionality is applicable only to software development projects, so you should be looking for a solution that is tailored specifically to software development.

2. Does it need to be Salesforce-native?

If you are on the Salesforce platform, there are many advantages to implementing a 100% native Salesforce solution:

  • All your data is stored within Salesforce: Uses the tech infrastructure and security standards as Salesforce. Your data is hosted only inside Salesforce and it follows your current security settings and sharing rules.
  • User interface: The solution likely has a similar look and function to Salesforce.
  • API limits: With no integration required, it won’t count against your API usage limits.
  • Dashboards and reports: You can use the familiar built-in tools for building reports. You can also be confident that your data is synced in real-time, providing you with the necessary insights on key trends and bottlenecks.
  • Customization: You can easily customize apps to meet your needs (e.g. adding custom objects and fields, and more). Your Salesforce administrator can manage your project environment, using the configuration concepts they are already familiar with. Project management software updates will be compatible with the latest Salesforce releases.
  • Automation: Using Salesforce Flow, you can, for example, automatically launch a project when an Opportunity is Closed Won based on a specific template, with pre-attached documents, configured predecessors, and more. You can even predefine roles for completing the tasks and then automatically assign all the tasks based on these roles.  
  • Cost: Most likely to be lower, both in terms of subscriptions and maintenance. The vendor is fully committed to the Salesforce platform. You will continue to maximize your investment in Salesforce.

3. What are your use cases?

There are many ways to categorize projects. Ensure you understand which category your organization falls into – or risk running into major difficulties down the road. 

There is no point in buying a product that has functionality you don’t need. Ideally,  choose the simplest option that meets your needs. On the other hand, you don’t want to buy a system that is going to be inadequate a few years from now.

4. All-in-one, or mix and match?

Some vendors attempt to pack a lot of different functionality in a single product. This may be a good thing for a small organization, but not so much for larger organizations that have, for example, dedicated accounting systems or resource management systems. Chances are, the owners of those systems will not want to change their current solution to the one offered by the new project management system.

This dilemma also applies to Project Management Officers (PMOs) who require pre-project planning features, such as risk analysis and opportunity analysis. Solutions that address these needs often satisfy executive management but not the actual project team (that is tasked with actually doing the project work). It may make more sense to address the PMOs needs with a solution that focuses specifically on their planning needs.

5. Repetitive/recurring or one-off?

A tool to manage one-off projects is quite different than one designed to handle recurring projects. For one, there is a need for project templates, and also, optimization between repetitive projects that doesn’t exist in one-off projects.

Ideally, a system for recurring projects should support a service-oriented approach rather than a template solution – it makes re-use, flexibility, and agility much simpler.

6. What is ease-of-use for you?

If you are running one-off projects, ‘ease-of-use’ means many changes can be made to the project plan on-the-fly.

If you are running repetitive projects (such as clinical trials), ‘ease-of-use’ is the ability to orchestrate projects and processes at multiple levels, over a long period of time. Repetitive projects, by definition, aren’t likely to change often, so the ability to make frequent changes is not a high priority.

6. Does the solution integrate with your collaboration tools?

Collaboration is essential to project management communication. The chosen solution must be able to tightly integrate your collaboration tool/s of choice (Chatter, email, MS Teams, Slack, etc.), at a task level.

7. How complex are the business processes that support the project?

Behind every bar in the Gantt chart lies a business process, known as predecessors and successors. In some (typically operational) projects, the business processes can be complex. 

The risk of project failure becomes much greater if these processes are dysfunctional. Therefore, a solution that can explicitly design and execute these processes will provide a significant benefit.

8. How important are customization capabilities?

Most organizations require different levels of customization – from adding their logo, through to customizing modules. For larger organizations with complex requirements, the ability to do deep customization is critical.

There are primarily three levels of software customization:

  1. Configuration performed by the System Administrator, using the built-in customization options.
  2. Extending functionality by using the solution’s API.
  3. Work with the vendor to customize one or more of their software modules.

9. How important is integration?

There are different levels of integration. It’s important to know that the chosen solution can integrate effectively with the key applications and systems that you need.

10. How important is scheduling?

Automated scheduling can get complicated, quickly. It’s critical that you understand your own scheduling needs, and match those to the solution you’re evaluating. There are many aspects you could require: 

  • Multiple algorithms for different phases of a project.
  • Hard and soft dates.
  • Rules for recalculating predecessor and successor dates.
  • Rules for recalculating dates in sub-processes. 
  • And more…

11. How important is methodology?

Some organizations follow rigid methodologies that need to be supported by the software. Other organizations may find a solution that includes a methodology that they haven’t used, but could work well for them. 

Ensure that the solution can work with your methodology, or you can adjust your methodology to adapt to the solution.

12. What is the criteria for project success?

Organizations have different criteria for determining the success of a project. For example, if cost is the primary consideration, it is critical that the solution you choose includes things like budgeting, or that it can interface with your existing accounting solution. 

If time is the primary consideration, or if resources are constrained, then it may be worth considering a product that supports critical chain project management (CCPM) functionality.

How To Make Your Choice

1. If you have niche must-have requirements, look at niche solutions first. 

There is no point trying to adapt a general solution to meet your niche requirements if you can find a solution that already meets your needs.

2. Understand how the system is architected.

If your organization runs recurring projects, explore if the system is designed to build reusable modules that can be independently maintained and versioned. You should be able to dynamically compose modules into end-to-end projects, unique to customer requests, or circumstances. 

If your organization’s projects are hierarchical, networked, or emergent, does the architecture support these topologies? 

Does the architecture provide out-the-box support for complex interdependencies among disparate processes and projects, and can they be viewed as a single project? 

Does the system provide you with all the data you need to analyze and optimize the processes that underlie the bars on the Gantt chart?

3. Go beyond industry analysts for your short list.

Just because a vendor is not listed in an analyst report doesn’t automatically rule them out – after all, it’s impossible for analyst firms to include all the vendors in their in-depth analysis. 

There may be totally viable candidates ‘in plain sight’ that do not make the analyst’s cut. This is a rapidly evolving market, so analyst reports can become outdated from the date they’re published.

4. Understand customer reviews.

Back to the cars analogy – just like the Camry will have more reviews than the Ferrari, doesn’t make the Camry a better choice for your needs. Understand what functionality the reviews are addressing.

5. Consider smaller vendors – but challenge them.

Keep in mind that smaller vendors can be more agile, attentive, and flexible. This often translates to them being able (and willing) to add functionality to their product to meet your requirements. 

The trade-off with flexibility may be scalability. Push the smaller vendors to prove scalability, security, and other capabilities.

6. Don’t limit your vision.

While you’re looking for features that you can think of (your known needs), expand your vision to what you would definitely want, if you knew they were available.

7. Consider implementation questions.

  • How easy is it to install and administer the system?
  • How easy is it to use?
  • Can you start small and scale up as much as you need?

8. Do a proof of concept.

This is the big one. Once you move beyond simple/moderate categories of project management, the only way to ensure that a product will meet your needs is to do a proof of concept. 

Most vendors will work with you to do this, for free. It is worth taking the time upfront, instead of finding later on that functionality turns out to be a poor fit for your needs.

Generally, organizations will select a business challenge for a vendor to tackle, with various inputs, real-world constraints, and a timeframe to complete the proof of concept. 

A two-week turn-around is a common window for a vendor to show they can, or cannot successfully address the requirements. The results will communicate a confidence level of the vendor’s ability to support the customer in the actual implementation.

Project Management Apps: Salesforce-Native and Non-Native

Salesforce-native apps:

Non-native Salesforce apps with an integration to Salesforce:

Every organization is unique. To select the right solution for your organization, make the investment of a proof of concept.

The Author

Jonathan Sapir

Jonathan Sapir is the Founder and CEO of SilverTree Systems and the developers of Work-Relay.


    Thomas Lyttleton
    May 25, 2021 5:59 pm
    Well written. You may also want to look at Atlassian's Jira and of course Salesforce native Leankor.
    Dominic Brunelle
    October 20, 2022 7:37 pm
    May I also suggest Klient, a full blown PSA (Professional Service Automation) Salesforce native.
    Benjamin Burton
    June 05, 2023 9:06 pm
    6. What is ease-of-use for you? 6. Does the solution integrate with your collaboration tools? :o

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