Project Management User Research Report

Capterra surveyed nearly 200 project management software users to learn what factors impact their purchase decision, how much they’re spending, and how they’re using these tools to achieve business goals.

Published by Eileen O’Loughlin, July 9 2019

Project management software as a category has evolved to encompass a range of products, from team-centric work management tools to enterprise-level portfolio management solutions.

This is both a benefit and a challenge for users.

With hundreds of tools to choose from, it’s almost guaranteed there’s a tool out there that can meet your needs. At the same time, there are hundreds of tools to choose from.

Having that many options makes it difficult to know where to start searching for software. And it makes it that much easier to make a bad investment and wind up paying for features you won’t use, or worse yet, paying for a tool your team won’t use.

Luckily, knowing how your peers have invested in PM software can help you replicate their successes and avoid their mistakes, ultimately saving you time and money.

That’s why we surveyed hundreds of your peers to find out who is using project management software, what criteria they use to evaluate and compare solutions, and what results they’ve seen from their investment.

Key takeaways

  1. Functionality continues to be the most important factor in project management software purchase decisions. However, price has become users’ second biggest concern (surpassing ease of use).
  2. It’s clear that users’ cost-consciousness plays a key role in purchase decisions: 49% of users start their search expecting to pay less than $5,000 annually and 49% end up spending just that.
  3. People need PM tools, and they needed them yesterday: 69% of users spent less than six months choosing their PM software, and 54% spent less than six months implementing the software.
  4. Task boards are the most desired feature by those who don’t have them, and Gantt charts are the most ignored PM software feature by those who have them. Overall, basic features such as task management, collaboration, and reporting are used more often than advanced functionalities.
  5. Users are largely satisfied with their PM tools, reporting positive gains in several areas. The most significant improvement is on the number of projects completed on time, while the area least affected is sponsor support.

Who uses project management software?

The short answer: Adoption is high for businesses in services (IT, software, consulting), financial services/insurance, marketing/advertising, accounting, and engineering industries across nearly every business size.

We asked 400 project management professionals what tools they use to manage projects in their organization. Respondents were split—roughly half use PM software and the other half use manual methods, spreadsheets, or office management tools (e.g., Google Apps or Microsoft Office).

Here’s how respondents’ demographics break down across these two groups:

Demographics of who uses project management software

While PM software adoption is widespread across industries and businesses, regardless of size, it’s clear that the lack of adoption is highest among startups and very small businesses.

For example, 22% of small businesses (less than $1 million in annual revenue) do not use PM software, compared to only 11% that do; and, 12% of businesses with between one and five employees do not use PM software, compared to only 2% that do.

This shows that while spreadsheets and manual methods are often the go-to tools for small teams and businesses, eventually their projects and processes become complex enough to require automated tools.

PRO TIP: If you don’t currently use PM software, here are some warning signs to look out for that can signal when it’s time to invest in an automated solution:

  • Lack of visibility into task or project status
  • Inconsistent execution of processes
  • Siloed teams and information
  • Ineffective collaboration

Conversely, the consistent adoption of PM software among businesses of almost every size shows that this tech provides a clear ROI and a near universal benefit to organizations (benefits that we’ll cover in a later section).

*Note: The remainder of this report will focus on data from the 197 respondents currently using PM software and how they evaluated, purchased, and implemented their tools.

How do companies choose project management software?

The short answer: Users agree that functionality is the most important consideration when making a purchase decision, followed by price, customer support, then ease of use. However, prospective buyers aren’t taking advantage of product demos as much as they should be—just 29% demoed more than two products before making their final purchase decision.

We asked the 197 PM software users to rank the importance of various factors in their purchase decision, including functionality, price, and software popularity.

Functionality continues to be the most important factor in choosing PM software, the same as it was in 2015 when we published our first PM software user report.

However, users are far less concerned with ease of use than they were four years ago and markedly more concerned with price. (We’ll dig into how users’ cost-consciousness plays into software purchases in the next section).

Most important factor in purchasing project management software

PRO TIP: Ease of use is directly tied to user satisfaction. While the majority of users report high levels of satisfaction with their PM solution, for those who aren’t satisfied, the number one cited reason is that the software is hard to use.

Demos are a great way to try out a tool prior to making a purchase decision and can help you test ease of use before you buy. Give vendors a description of how you need to use the tool in your day-to-day, then have them walk you through that process during the demo—and make sure that the end users are on the call to give feedback on the tool’s ease of use.

Functionality (or rather, the lack of the right functionality) is also the main reason why users have switched PM tools in the past.

This is why it’s so essential that you evaluate the needs of your users prior to even starting your search, so you can identify what your must-have features are compared to the nice-to-have features. Breaking functionality down in this way will help you vet prospective products and make a final purchase decision.

Consider the following as you’re analyzing your needs:

  • Do you need a full-featured PM solution? Or are you looking for something targeted to task management or collaboration?
  • Do the key capabilities your team needs come “out of the box,” or do you require customizations or integrations such as adding issue tracking or ticketing for an IT team?
  • Do you have industry-specific needs that require a specialized solution? For example, PM software for HR or marketing versus a general purpose solution.
  • How many users need access to the system?
  • What deployment method are you looking for, cloud-based or installed?

We also asked users how many products they demoed before making their final purchase decision, and the results were surprising: Just 29% demoed more than two solutions before buying their PM tool. This is a huge missed opportunity.

Project management software demos completed before purchase
Demos are the best way to evaluate functionality and vet for ease of use before buying, period. The trick is not to let the vendor control the demo, but to provide a detailed overview of your process and workflows ahead of time so they can tailor the demo to your exact needs.

During the demo, score the product (e.g., rank products on a one to five scale) on criteria such as:

  • How well does the tool meet user requirements?
  • How many clicks does it take to access important features?
  • Do colors, labels, and custom fields help or hinder navigation?
  • Is the tool intuitive for new users? And if not, what support and training options are available?

Of course, don’t go out and demo every product that might be a fit. First, narrow down your options to a shortlist of three to five products and then demo at a minimum your top three options.

How do companies purchase and implement project management software?

The short answer: On the whole, users have pretty accurate expectations for how much PM software costs and what they’re willing to spend, whether that’s $5,000 annually, $10,000 annually, or more. For implementation, ramp-up timelines for PM software are fairly short—the majority of users spent less than six months implementing their PM tool.

We asked respondents what they expected PM software would cost at the start of their search as well as how much they actually spend on this tech (annually, in U.S. dollars). The results show that overall, users have a pretty good idea of what their budget will be before they even get started.

Annual project management software cost: expected vs. actual

The clear exception is for tools in the price range of $10,001 to $25,000 annually—twice as many users end up paying this amount compared to the number of users who expect to pay this at the start of their search (18% versus 9%).

And we see the same trend for tools in the price range of $25,001 to $50,000, although the percentage is much smaller (8% actually pay this amount, compared to 4% who planned to).

The gap here between expected cost vs. actual spend is likely indicative of users requiring more advanced features outside of basic task management and collaboration (e.g., resource management, budgeting, etc.). In order to get those features, they have to upgrade to a more expensive license.

The key to setting accurate price expectations is understanding how many users you need to purchase software for, as well as how much each license will cost. The following table shows a breakdown of what you’ll spend annually* if purchasing tools within these price ranges:

Estimated budget for project management software: license and number of users

*Budget estimates do not include costs associated with setup, maintenance, support, etc. (Source)

We also asked users how long it took them to find and then implement their PM solutions. The results show that it didn’t take users long to evaluate and choose their PM software, nor did they spend very long getting users up to speed on the new tool:

  • 69% spent less than six months evaluating PM tools
  • 54% spent less than six months implementing the new tool at their organization

The key takeaway here is that, provided you set your team up with ample training and onboarding resources, it’s a safe bet that your own PM software implementation will mirror the vast majority of your peers and take less than a year.

Timeline for purchasing project management software

Lastly, we asked users about deployment methods of their current PM tool and found that the majority use a cloud-based solution (60% compared to 40% that use on-premise/desktop solutions).

This finding mirrors the larger consumer shift toward cloud-based tools that provide access to information and updates in real-time, across all devices. In fact, the market for cloud-based PM tools alone is expected to reach $6.68 billion by 2026, according to a market growth report by Transparency Market Research.

How do companies use project management software?

The short answer: The most-used PM software features are task management, reporting, and collaboration. Gantt charts are the most-ignored PM software feature by those who have them, while task boards are the most desired by those who don’t. The greatest percentage of respondents have been using their PM tool for one to two years.

We gave users a list of features and asked them to select whether they have it and use it, whether they have it and don’t use it, and whether they don’t have it but wish they did.

The most-used software features include:

Most used project management software features

The most-ignored software features by users who have them include:

Most ignored project management software features

The most-desired software features by those who don’t have them include:

Most desired project management software features

The results reflect how the category of project management software has evolved from tools designed solely for technical users, i.e., project managers, to also include tools designed for non-technical business professionals, i.e., team leads and “accidental project managers.”

The latter often need general work management solutions that help them manage workflows, organize tasks and activities, and collaborate in a shared workspace. These tools help capture work execution and provide live notifications and data visualizations for various stakeholders.

Meanwhile, project managers and organizations with a higher PM maturity will need more traditional PM tools help to help them execute projects (unique initiatives with a set scope, timeline, and budget/resources). These tools help them plan, monitor, and control costs, schedules, and resources so they can deliver value and meet project success criteria.

The advice here is pretty simple: Before you start your search, evaluate whether you need a collaborative work management tool or a more traditional, and advanced, PM solution.

To avoid paying for features you don’t use, invest in a tool that fits your immediate needs as well as what you think you might need two to three years into the future. Any further out may be too unpredictable. Additionally, it’s likely that within that time frame, your user requirements will shift and require you to re-evaluate PM tools.

This is borne out in our survey results: 93% of users have been using their current PM tool for five years or less, while just 7% have been using it for more than five years.

Duration of project management software use

What is the ROI for project management software?

The short answer: Users report positive gains in several areas, with the most significant improvements in the number of projects completed on time, better workload visibility, and more effective team collaboration. Overall, 70% of users are satisfied with their current PM tool.

We asked users about the impact PM software has had on various project management functions. Users report positive gains across the board.

Impact of software on project management function

To measure the return on investment (ROI) you need to start with “S.M.A.R.T.” goals that are specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time-based. This includes identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can use to measure the impact of your PM software investment.

We also asked users how satisfied they are with their current PM solution. While a quarter of respondents have lukewarm sentiments, 70% are somewhat to extremely satisfied with their investment.

Satisfaction with project management software

We asked those who are neutral toward or dissatisfied why they aren’t satisfied with their current PM tool, and the most-frequently cited reason is because it’s hard to use:

Dissatisfaction with project management software

What does this research mean for you?

According to PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession report, almost 10% of every dollar is wasted as a result of poor project performance. Our findings make it clear that PM software can help you improve project performance, meaning you can re-invest those savings into other areas of your business. So what are you waiting for?

Capterra offers several resources to help you find the products best suited to your specific needs, including:

  • An interactive PM software directory: Filter products to see those with the exact features your team needs. You can also click through to product profiles and see how your peers have rated tools for factors such as value for money, customer support, and ease of use.
  • A list of leading free and open source PM tools: If you’re as cost conscious as the users in our survey, check out our list of top-rated free PM tools and see if their features, support, and training offering meet your needs.

Methodology

Capterra conducted this survey in February 2019 among 400 U.S.-based project management professionals, 197 of which were project management software users. The qualified respondents are decision-makers or have significant involvement with the day-to-day project management at their organization.