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Project management software has the capacity to help plan, organize, and manage resource pools and develop resource estimates. Depending on the sophistication of the software, it can manage estimation and planning, scheduling, cost control and budget management, resource allocation, collaboration software, communication, decision-making, quality management and documentation or administration systems. Today, numerous PC-based project management software packages exist, and they are finding their way into almost every type of business. In the early days, however, project management software ran on big mainframe computers and was used only in the large projects. These early systems were limited in their capabilities and, by today's standards, were difficult to use.
One of the most common project management software tool types is scheduling tools. Scheduling tools are used to sequence project activities and assign dates and resources to them. The detail and sophistication of a schedule produced by a scheduling tool can vary considerably with the project management methodology used, the features provided and the scheduling methods supported. Scheduling tools may include support for:
Project planning software can be expected to provide information to various people or stakeholders, and can be used to measure and justify the level of effort required to complete the project(s). Typical requirements might include:
Project management software has been implemented as a program that runs on the desktop of each user. Project management tools that are implemented as desktop software are typically single-user applications used by the project manager or another subject matter expert, such as a scheduler or risk manager.
Project management software has been implemented as a web application to be accessed using a web browser. This may also include the ability to use a smartphone or tablet to gain access to the application.
A personal project management application is one used at home, typically to manage lifestyle or home projects. There is considerable overlap with single user systems, although personal project management software typically involves simpler interfaces. See also non-specialised tools below.
A single-user system is programmed with the assumption that only one person will ever need to edit the project plan at once. This may be used in small companies, or ones where only a few people are involved in top-down project planning. Desktop applications generally fall into this category.
A collaborative system is designed to support multiple users modifying different sections of the plan at once; for example, updating the areas they personally are responsible for such that those estimates get integrated into the overall plan. Web-based tools, including extranets, generally fall into this category, but have the limitation that they can only be used when the user has live Internet access. To address this limitation, some software tools using client–server architecture provide a rich client that runs on users' desktop computer and replicate project and task information to other project team members through a central server when users connect periodically to the network. Some tools allow team members to check out their schedules (and others' as read only) to work on them while not on the network. When reconnecting to the database, all changes are synchronized with the other schedules.
An integrated system combines project management or project planning, with many other aspects of company life. For example, projects can have bug tracking issues assigned to each project, the list of project customers becomes a customer relationship management module, and each person on the project plan has their own task lists, calendars, and messaging functionality associated with their projects.
Similarly, specialised tools like SourceForge integrate project management software with source control (CVS) software and bug-tracking software, so that each piece of information can be integrated into the same system.
While specialized software is common, software that is not project management-specific is often used in the management of projects. In particular, office productivity tools are used by most project managers.
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