How to Choose the Right Work Management Software for Your Needs

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All projects are work, but not all work is a project (part 2).

a computer monitor showing a calculator, speech bubbles, and task list representing work management software

In our last article, we broke down the difference between “projects” and nonroutine “work,”—e.g., daily tasks, collaborating with coworkers, low effort and/or low-risk ad hoc requests, etc.—noting that while this type of work doesn’t require the rigor of formal project management, it still needs to be managed.

Enter work management software!

If you heard crickets instead of clapping after that entrance, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of confusion around what work management software is and how it differs from project management software. We’re here to clear that up.

In this article, we’ll explain what work management software is and explore use cases for different types of work management tools. The goal? Finding the right tool for your needs.

Quick overview of work management software

What is work management software?

Work management software helps users manage workflows/processes, organize tasks and activities, and collaborate in a shared workspace. These tools capture work planning and execution, streamline communication, and provide status updates and views relevant to different stakeholders.

You may have heard “work management” software referenced by different names, including:

  • Workplace collaboration tools
  • Team management software
  • Team productivity tools
  • Social software
  • Social collaboration tools

You’ll notice there are a few key themes repeated here: Teams and collaboration.

That’s because the target audience for work management software is nontechnical business professionals and knowledge workers, and a critical purpose of these tools is to facilitate collaboration among users.

Key features include:

There is some overlap between work management and project management software features; the key difference is that project management tools include project planning and tracking and are designed to manage a project’s triple constraints (scope, timeline, and budget). Work management tools don’t offer that degree of oversight.

Learn how work management is different from project management

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Use cases for work management software

According to Gartner, work management tools lend themselves to situations where work can’t be rigorously planned and where the exact order of tasks is uncertain (full report available to Gartner clients).

This type of work is more common in certain roles and industries than others, often where work is more collaborative, requiring creative problem-solving rather than a detailed sequence of instructions and adherence to strict workflows.

Use cases for work management tools include:

  • Counseling
  • Marketing
  • Event coordination
  • Emergency management
  • Research
  • Strategy development

4 categories of work management software

Here’s how Gartner breaks down the different categories of work management software (full report available to Gartner clients):

1. Personal to-do list

Online version of a to-do list, designed for an individual. Examples include: Any.do, Todoist, Wunderlist.

Pros Cons
  • Limited functionality
  • Aimed at the individual, not at teams

2. Shared task/work management

Acts as a centralized workspace; designed for teams; allows users to assign tasks, track work efforts, and collaborate/communicate around these efforts. Examples include: Asana, Basecamp, and Trello.

Pros Cons
  • Increases transparency and accountability
  • Tracking capabilities provide insight into user/team performance
  • Most valuable when used alongside standardized processes
  • Not designed to manage true projects; Lacks project planning, project tracking, resource management, and budget management capabilities

3. Collaboration tools

Provides a shared platform that enables multiple users to communicate and coordinate via file sharing, video calling, and messaging. Examples include: Slack, Yammer, and Confluence.

Pros Cons
  • Streamlines communication and collaboration
  • Often come with pre-built integrations into task and project management tools
  • Requires agreement on how to use (e.g., a communication plan and tool hierarchy)
  • Can backfire and impede your team’s productivity

4. Agile tools

Generally specific to software development teams, provides a collaborative workspace for executing and tracking tasks at each stage of the development lifecycle. Examples include: Leankit, Pivotal Tracker, and SpiraTeam.

Pros Cons
  • Increases transparency and accountability
  • Streamlines communication and collaboration
  • Often highly specialized
  • Most valuable when used alongside standardized processes

How to find the right work management software for your needs

Now that you have an idea of how different tools are used for different purposes, here are your next steps:

  • Analyze end-user needs and identify must-have versus nice-to-have functionality. Based on your required features, you should be able to answer this question “Do I need a standalone tool for task management or collaboration only, or a full-featured work management solution?”
  • Create a shortlist of products based on functionality and team requirements (cloud-based, on-premise, customer service offering, etc.). You can use our directory and filter the product list by the features you’re looking for.
  • Vet products by asking vendors who their target user is and whether they offer your make-or-break features.
  • Narrow your shortlist down (three to five products), demo the products, and score them.
  • Invest in the tool that best fits your needs.

For more tips on how to how to get the best return on your software investment, be sure to follow our blog.

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

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Eileen O'Loughlin

Eileen O’Loughlin is a Senior Project Management Analyst for Capterra. Her research helps small businesses leverage the latest technology and trends to solve key business challenges and achieve strategic goals. Her work has been cited in various publications, including CIO.com, ProjectManagement.com, ProjectsAtWork and DevOps Digest.

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