Ultimate Guide to Selecting a Project Management System for Salesforce

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When projects are managed poorly, businesses risk the potential loss of millions of dollars. The Project Management Institute (PMI), states that, on average, over $100 million is wasted for every $1 billion invested in projects. Choosing the right tool, which could help to restore 10% bottom line returns and also help you better manage projects in your organization, is therefore a critical success factor.

There are a plethora of software packages designed to help us in every aspect of project management. When it comes to doing project management with Salesforce, there are native and non-native options (which this guide covers, and I recommend you read this first). Yet with so many applications to choose from, business owners and managers can find themselves mired in a sea of information, making it difficult to evaluate and select the right applications to increase productivity and streamline their endeavors.

To wade through these options, you need to establish a selection process based on your organization’s unique needs.  Deciding which app best fits your business is a question of specifically pinpointing exactly what project management architecture and functionality you need, and choosing a solution that best addresses it.  And, for those who already work with Salesforce, not only does your chosen solution need to meet the organization’s specific needs, it also needs to integrate seamlessly with Salesforce.

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.

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. If the list is based on a set of criteria that some journalist or analyst came up with, it for sure doesn’t reflect your weighting of the criteria. 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.

Or you can go to one of those rapidly proliferating sites that purport to help you choose the right application based on a series of basic questions that may or may not include what’s really important to you.

There are other considerations that render rankings less effective. Simply because someone gave a system a low rating doesn’t mean the system is bad. It may be bad, but it also may be that the system just didn’t work for what they needed. Just because an analyst didn’t include a package in an evaluation doesn’t mean the product shouldn’t be considered by you.

The limits of functionality

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

Beyond the common functionality shared among project and process management systems, the architecture is what really dictates how effective a system will be in your environment.

If the architecture does not fit well with the way your business operates, it won’t matter how much functionality the system has. It will be like forcing a square peg (your environment) into a round hole (the system architecture).

The only way to be sure that the architecture meets the needs of your organization is to do an in-depth proof of concept. You are not going to know by simply looking at what functionality the system has to offer. 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.

So many choices

There are so many project management system options out there for two primary reasons: (1) every organization runs projects, so the demand is huge; and unsurprisingly (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 makes all of them sound alike. But there are major differences, and some vendor solutions will work for you while others won’t. 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 proposition. To make it even more difficult, the devil is often in the details. Unless you dig deep, you may not know until it is too late that the option you selected is just not going to work for you.

Finding the right solution

Below are a set of questions that you should consider when looking for a project management system to run either on or with the Salesforce platform, and offers some suggestions on how best to make your decision.

Questions you need to answer

For the purpose of this document, it is assumed that all the solutions have basic project management functionality, like task assignment, scheduling, Gantt chart, collaboration, files sharing, etc.

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 software development. You are likely to want a solution that supports things like 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.

Does it need to be 100% native Salesforce?

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

  1. All your data is stored within Salesforce.
  2. The solution has a similar look and function to Salesforce.
  3. The solution does not count against your API usage limits.
  4. You can leverage all the applications and integration tools on Appexchange.
  5. You can use the familiar built-in tools for building dashboards and reports.
  6. You can use the Salesforce administrator to manage your project environment.
  7. The cost is likely to be lower, both in terms of subscriptions and maintenance.
  8. The vendor is fully committed to the Salesforce platform.
  9. You maximize your investment in Salesforce.

What is the use case?

There are of course many ways to categorize projects, but the project category differences are most relevant once you get beyond the niche solutions. Make sure you understand which category your organization falls into, else you are likely to run into major difficulties down the road. For example, if you need to customize the system you choose, make sure that it has the level of customizability you are going to need.

There is no point in buying a product that has functionality you don’t need. You really want to go with 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.

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 dedicated resource management systems. Chances are, the owners of those systems will not want to change to the solution offered by your project management system.

This dilemma also applies to PMOs that require pre-project planning features such as risk analysis and opportunity analysis. Many times, solutions that address these needs satisfy executive management but not the actual project team that is tasked with getting the project done. In this case, it may make more sense to address the PMOs needs with a solution that focuses specifically on their planning needs.

Repetitive/Recurring or One-Off?

A tool to manage one-off projects is quite different than one designed to handle recurring projects. For one thing, there is an optimization dimension in repetitive projects that obviously doesn’t exist in one-off projects. There is also, at a minimum, the need for project templates.

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

What is Ease-of-use for you?

If you are running one-off projects, ease of use for you equates to an ability to make lots of changes to the project plan on-the-fly.

On the other hand, if you are running repetitive projects like clinical trials, ease of use for you will be the ability to orchestrate projects and processes at multiple levels over a long period of time. By definition, repetitive projects aren’t likely to change all that often, so the ability to make frequent changes is not a high priority.

Does the solution integrate with your social network?

Communication and collaboration are essential to project management. The solution selected must be able to tightly integrate your collaboration tool of choice at a task level, be it Chatter, email, MS Teams, or Slack.

How complex are the business processes that support the project?

Behind every bar in the Gantt chart lies a business process, specified as predecessors and successors. In some (typically operational) projects, the business processes can be complex. If these processes are in any way dysfunctional, the risk of project failure is much greater. Therefore, a solution that provides the ability to explicitly design and execute these processes will provide a significant benefit.

How important is customization?

Traditionally, most organizations require many different levels of customization, going from adding your logo 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 API.
  3. Work with the vendor to customize one or more of their software modules.

How important is integration?

There are different levels of integration. It’s important to know that the solution you select can integrate in an effective manner with the key applications and systems that you need.

How important is scheduling?

Automated scheduling can get complicated in a hurry. There are many options to be considered: the need for multiple algorithms for different phases of a project; the need for hard and soft dates; rules for recalculating predecessor and successor dates; rules for recalculating dates in sub-processes. And more..

It’s critical that you understand your own scheduling needs and match those to the candidate solution.

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 will work well for them. Ensuring the solution can work with your methodology or you can adjust your methodology to adapt to the solution is a key consideration.

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 selection

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, and can be dynamically composed into end-to-end projects depending on unique customer requests or prevailing 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 don’t automatically rule them out. It is impossible even for large analyst firms to include all the vendors in their in-depth analysis. There may be totally viable candidates that do not make the analyst’s cut. And of course, this is a rapidly evolving market, so analyst reports are pretty much out-of-date the moment they are published.

4. Understand customer reviews

Just like a Camry will have many more reviews than 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, more attentive and more flexible, as well as being willing and able to add functionality to their product to meet your requirements. The trade-off may be scalability. Push the smaller vendors to prove scalability, security, and other enterprise-software level capabilities exist even if the size of the company is modest.

6. Don’t limit your vision

Instead of only looking for things that YOU can think of, look at the things you would definitely want if you knew they were available. So it’s important to look beyond your known needs to see what else is being offered that would help your organization.

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 the simple and moderate categories of project management, the only way to make sure 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 to make sure, instead of finding later on that functionality that you thought was there 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 from the customer. The results will communicate a confidence level of the vendor’s ability to support the customer in the real-world, actual implementation.

Not doing a proof of concept for complex, recurring project environments can lead to serious problems down the road.

Conclusion

Every organization is unique. To select the right solution for your organization, make the investment of a proof of concept.
A sampling of project management systems include:

100% native Salesforce

Non-native Salesforce products with Salesforce integration:

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One thought on “Ultimate Guide to Selecting a Project Management System for Salesforce

  1. Thomas Lyttleton

    Reply

    Well written. You may also want to look at Atlassian’s Jira and of course Salesforce native Leankor.

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