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Choosing Project Management Software – Enrollment Management 101

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If you’re tired of using spreadsheets, Post-Its, hopes, and dreams to manage your projects, it may be time to invest in project management software, which is our next topic for the Enrollment Management 101 series

What are the benefits of using project management software?

With both web and mobile applications, project management systems can help individuals and large teams manage daily tasks and long-term, complex projects and facilitate collaboration and communication when needed. Popular systems like Trello, Asana, and Wrike have features like multiple views for projects and tasks, filtering and search capabilities and integrations with third-party applications like Google Docs. At my previous school, we created a Google form for internal project requests that could be forwarded to Trello, automatically creating a task in the system. Hacks like this can be game-changers for busy admissions and communications professionals.

If you’ve ever worked with an outside vendor or consultant on a large project you’ve probably seen the magic of project management software at work firsthand. But if you haven’t, with so many choices on the market (including great free options), now is as good of a time as any to get started.  

Who at your school needs to use project management software?

The answer to this question can impact the cost of the tool you choose and implementation logistics. Once you factor in cross-departmental collaboration and more project complexity, you may find that you need additional bells and whistles that only come with premium software plans. Plus, the more people you need to use the software, the more people you’ll need to train and onboard once you’ve chosen a vendor.

A good strategy would be to start out by using the software on your own or with a single team before rolling it out more broadly. Just be sure to choose a platform that’s scalable — you never know when you’ll get the green light for that extra FTE or another department will want to jump on the project management bandwagon. In both instances, you’ll want to make sure you’ve chosen software that can easily grow with you without confusing billing changes or other logistical headaches. 

Is project management software easy to use?

It can be! There are enough options on the market right now for schools to have plenty to choose from when it comes to easy-to-use project management software. As you’re evaluating options, think about the amount of time and effort that will be required to train yourself, your team, and/or colleagues in other departments. We all have a range of comfort levels when it comes to technology, and if you want to get up and running quickly with your new system, simplicity, and ease of use are key.

Look for intuitive interfaces that users with a variety of skill sets can pick up fairly quickly. Pay attention to the availability of resources like blogs and resource centers with training materials, use cases, and guides to help you with onboarding.

What kind of tech support is available for project management software?

Whether you’re a project management novice or simply want to be able to phone a friend when you run into an issue, you want to make sure that technical support is readily available to you and any colleagues who will be using your project management tool. As you’ve probably experienced, these days getting support for almost anything from a live human can be a challenge. The baseline technical support that’s available through most project management systems is on par with what you’ll see from most tech companies — chatbots, user forums, and knowledge base pages that allow you to search for issues and questions by topic. 

If you have time to wait, many project management platforms offer options for submitting messages to request technical support, but look for tools that offer robust options for real-time answers to common questions so you don’t get bogged down when issues come up.

Is project management software secure?

We may be living in the age of privacy, but security is a feature that can be overlooked when people are reviewing these kinds of tools. Information about user security and privacy should be front and center on a platform’s website — if it’s hard to find that could be a red flag. Look for user authentication features like two-factor authentication and single sign-on (SSO), which provides an added element of security by limiting the number of usernames, passwords, logins you have to use online. You’ll also want to look closely for information about data sharing, user activity monitoring, and data encryption to ensure that your school’s data can only be accessed by the people you want to have access to it. Finally, the websites for some project management systems provide helpful information about additional security features that are available for the mobile versions of these systems.

Can free project management software give you what you need? 

You might be thinking, “All of this sounds great, but I don’t have the budget for that.” Fortunately, that’s okay. Many project management tools (including the ones mentioned at the beginning of this post) offer solid free plans to help you get started and to allow you to experiment before committing to something long-term. As you’re evaluating plans, you’ll notice a range of options that are offered for free between platforms, and not all features are created equal. Look for things like limitations for storage and users — many tools offer unlimited users and storage at no cost so you can give access to the people at your school who need it and upload documents and files to your heart’s content. The latter will also come in handy when you want to refer back to archived projects and files at a later time. That would be pretty great, wouldn’t it?

For paid subscriptions, there is a wide range of cost and plan levels, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $25 per user, per month. “Enterprise” plans will typically require you to contact a platform’s sales team to set up due to the individualized nature of these plans. One thing to pay attention to as you’re evaluating tools is that the highlighted monthly prices are based on subscriptions that are paid annually, so if you need to go month-to-month, expect to pay slightly higher prices per month than what appears in larger type on pricing comparison pages. Fortunately, many platforms offer non-profit discounts to help you keep costs under control.

If better project management has been on your mind but you haven’t taken the leap, I hope this guide helps you find and choose the tool that will make your job a little bit easier this year.

Angela is the Manager, B2B Brand Strategy at Niche, where she supports content and partner engagement strategy in Niche's work with K-12 and higher education institutions. Before joining Niche, she was the director of marketing and communications at Flint Hill School, a PK-12, co-ed day school outside of Washington, DC. In addition to developing research and content for Enrollment Insights, Angela is a frequent conference presenter, guest author, and podcast guest.