The purpose of an online project management system is to organize and simplify projects from start to finish. With that in mind, there are several basic functions that almost every online project management system has:
- Organizational systems keep track of files and documents. Most allow users to customize the filing system. For example, you might want to create a master folder for each project and subfolders for the different phases of those projects. The goal of the system is to make it easy to find any single piece of information in a project, no matter how complex that project may be.
- Document management tracks document modifications, including the identity of the person who changed the file. Many systems archive older copies of files rather than delete them.
- Scheduling is another key feature for most systems. Whether it's a centralized calendar with to-do lists or an automated schedule of e-mails to keep everyone informed and on task, scheduling plays a big role in project management. Many systems include streamlined features that let managers keep track of who's doing what and the project's progress as a whole.
- Time tracking is also important for many companies. With this function, software keeps track of how much time people spend working on each part of a project. Many companies bill customers based on how much time was spent on a particular project. Others might pay employees at an hourly rate. Time tracking applications let the company keep tabs on how many hours each person in the project has worked on various phases of the project.
- Documentation functions keep a detailed history of projects, which can help protect a company from liability. For example, let's say a construction company gets a request to build a house. The client makes a change to the house's design early in the project. The construction company makes a note of the client's requests and documents it using an online project management system. Later, when construction is complete, the client expresses dissatisfaction with the way the house looks due to the changes in design. With the documentation feature, the construction company has a record that can help it prove that the changes were at the client's request.
- Issue tracking lets users create a file to report any problems or issues that crop up during a project. These applications have a feature that e-mails the appropriate parties so that the issue can be resolved as quickly as possible. Once someone fixes the problem, he or she can note it in the issue report. The system then files the report as part of the documentation function.
There are two major approaches to online project management software -- client/server systems and Web application systems. What's the difference? Keep reading to find out.