One of the key components of successfully delivering a project on time and within budget is a great project management, which in turn should be supported by effective and efficient project management system.
Rising number of startups and new projects from larger companies drives demand for such systems. And while there are already very large players on the market, advent of SaaS opened many opportunities for smaller products with sleeker interface, more focused set of features and better price options to enter and take their share. Creating SaaS solution now is easier than ever, but it is still very hard to achieve the level of quality enterprise clients expect from you. The recipe to success is to use best practices and best design patterns, employ latest technologies and experienced developers.
Right expertise is only half of the equation. The other half is the right approach. We at Apriorit have a lot of experience providing SaaS platforms development services, including project management software development, and we decided to share it with you in this article, in order to help you form the right approach to creating your own SaaS project management software.
Before we look at SaaS PM software development, first of all, let’s define what a project management system is. Project management system is a software designed to help with every stage of leading a project from initial planning to final delivery. Different systems provide different sets of features and have various levels of complexity.
Modern project management software should have the capability to plan workloads, manage risks, track issues, track and display various statistics, etc. But regardless of the included features, we can distinguish four main concepts, that define modern successful project management system. Such system should be:
- Social – modern projects often include locally distributed teams and project management software should provide a way for such teams to collaborate and work together. Great example of social integration is Wrike that provides a very easy way to receive updates from your coworkers, send them messages and share task and information about the project.
- Mobile – mobile integration is paramount in modern business environment. Competent project management software is expected to work seamlessly on mobile devices with high performance and convenient interface. Great example of mobile integration is Project Insight which was created using HTML5 and provides mobile experience on par with the desktop one.
- Simple – users expect simple and intuitive interface that can be learned in short amount of time. Great project management software examples of such an easy-to-understand UI are solutions from Pie and Tenrox.
- Powerful – when it comes to project management software, users expect a rich set of features, giving them full control over scheduling, time estimation, resource management, issue tracking, etc., coupled with the ability to see any information about the project, compare various data and conduct analytics. Microsoft Project is one of the most popular systems on the market and a great example of this. It has a powerful budgeting feature, comprehensive Gantt charts, great scheduling tool and many other feature to effectively overview and manage the project.
By combining all of these elements together you will have a system, capable of standing up to a fierce competition in the current project management software market.
Building SaaS CRM systems: A Brief Overview
Project management software had become widespread way before cloud technology became popular. Many companies are still using and developing project management solutions with on premise delivery model. However, with the advent of cloud, many companies switched to SaaS and the number of SaaS solution in this market grows by the day.
SaaS presents its own unique set of advantages, as compared to on premise model:
- Price - SaaS systems are much cheaper and usually provide flexible pricing options that fit companies of any size
- Fast deployment and easy maintenance - SaaS systems provide much faster deployment, coupled with automatic patching and updates, alleviating the need of the client to maintain their own software.
- Collaboration - SaaS systems provide a strong set of social features, allowing the whole team to collaborate and freely exchange information about the project in real time.
- Mobile support - SaaS solutions allow clients to work whenever they like it and how they like it, accessing data with their device of choice.
While SaaS systems offer all of the above, on premise solutions traditionally had the upper hand when it came to availability and security. With on premise solutions you had all your data under your control and always available, with security limited only by the security of your corporate network. However, SaaS solutions made impressive advancements in these areas, now providing customers with high availability and sufficient level of data protection.
Obvious advantages of SaaS delivery model made it arguably much more popular, both among developers and customers. Even Microsoft now offers SaaS version of its popular on premise project management solution Microsoft Project as a part of their Office 365 effort. In our opinion, when it comes to delivery method for project management software, it is a no brainer what to choose.
Sophisticated project management SaaS systems can be very complex to build. Task becomes much more manageable if you brake it into simple chunks and consider each of them one at a time:
Architecture - First thing you need to do is devise the right foundation – design the architecture of your solution and choose technology stack behind it. These decisions heavily depend on the vision and specific details of your project. But generally, you want to think about architecture that supports scalability, and allows to easily add new features and build on top of an initial design.
Infrastructure - For implementing SaaS delivery model you need to fulfill a specific set of non-functional requirements, mainly, devise an infrastructure for your solution. With good prices and a lot of offers on the market, it’s much more common to choose IaaS provider, such as Amazon or Microsoft, instead of building your own datacenter. Before making a choice, you should evaluate different offers and find the one that better suits your technical needs and your budget.
Security - When creating SaaS application, security should be one of your paramount concerns. It means always encrypting communications between your clients and servers and organizing data storage in a secure fashion. Project management software handles very sensitive data, that, if leaked, may cost your clients their business, which in turn may cost you yours. Another important security point you need to consider is secure authentication system. There are many ways to implement this, with the easiest being two-factor authentication via smartphone. Depending on your target audience, you may want to look into more sophisticated solutions.
Mobile - With the use of smartphones and tablets for business purposes becoming more and more popular, customers expect seamless mobile integration from their project management systems. It is paramount to start thinking about mobile version at the earliest stages of the project and choose you technology stack and architecture accordingly.
Integration - Customers are expecting integration with large number of services and already available solutions, allowing them to share, socialize and cooperate on the project. Depending on the ideas and technology behind the project, it can be simple email integration, or something more sophisticated like databases, spreadsheets, instant messaging, and video conferencing solutions. Consider to include migration tool to allow customers to seamlessly transfer all data from competitor solutions.
Customization - Large feature set of your project management system should be matched by detailed customization options. One of the purposes of project management software is to display all the necessary data, and to this end, your users should be able to customize dashboards, interface layouts, create customizable reports, etc., in other words, personalize their experience in order to be able to see only information they need. Deep level of customization is something to be expected and you should definitely start developing your GUI with it in mind.
Presentation - Modern look and intuitive user interface can go a long way in ensuring popularity of your solution. There are a number of ways to organize workflow and the secret is to find a right balance between ease-of-use and presenting user with all possible details and information about the project. Level of complexity of your user interface should depend on your target audience, but keep in mind that companies will be less willing to migrate to your system, if it requires several month of training to start using it effectively.
Feature set is the last and probably most important block necessary to build project management SaaS system. It’s up to you what features to include in your solution, but here is the list of most common ones, that users grew to expect:
Time estimation and tracking - this is the most basic feature, that allows users to plan workloads for individual stakeholders, manage schedules, produce and manage estimates, and make sure that the project proceeds on time.
Budgeting – this feature allows to estimate costs of the project. It should include ability to manage estimated time and expenses, support for various currencies, and ability to easily re-calculate expenses if needed.
Invoicing – project management software can be used to simplify and automate billing.
Risk analysis – this feature allows you to conduct risk analysis and management, including assessing current potential risks and devising strategies and measure to mitigate them.
Requirement management – this feature allows you conduct requirement analysis and identify the necessary requirements for the project, and then track and manage them and add and track changes if necessary.
Issue tracking – you can allow stakeholders to report issues with the project, designate priorities to those issues and track them until they are resolved.
Gantt charts – this is a very effective tool for visual representation of your project, providing your with detailed overview of all planned activities, allowing for effective planning and scheduling. These charts are very popular and unless your project management tool employs very innovative and untraditional way of presenting a wide view of the project and comparing planned activities and results, you will be better off implementing them.
You can choose to make a more comprehensive package, by including all of the abovementioned features, or focus on single thing and do it as best as you can. Every strategy is viable, the main question is how much does it cost to develop when it comes to both time and money. Success will ultimately depend on completeness of your vision and skill and experience of your development team.
Building SaaS project management software can be very challenging. In this article we tried to answer the question of how to develop project management SaaS and give you a comprehensive overview of what it takes to create such a project. We hope that this article will help you on a path to making your own project management software a success.