How to select a project management platform for Salesforce.com

How do you select the right project management system for your organization where there are so many to choose from?

By Jon Sapir, CEO, Work-Relay.com

Meaningless Comparisons

If there were a "10 Best Cars" list, it would be of little value to you as a potential buyer. Best for whom? Best for what? If you are driving on the autobahn, a Ferrari may be best. If you spend your time driving around a compact urban area with limited parking, a Smart Car would a lot "better" than the Ferrari.

And so it is with Project Management packages. You can look at one of the many lists of "Top 10 Project Management Systems" but it would be about as meaningful as the Top 10 Cars list.

The lists are flawed in other ways. Just because a package received the most customer positive reviews, it doesn't mean it's the best solution for you. If the list is based on a set of criteria that some journalist or analyst came up with, it for sure doesn't reflect your weighting of the criteria.  The criteria and the weighting of criteria are going to be different from company to company - possibly even department to department, or specific project.

Beware of using the number of customer reviews as a primary indicator - 100 reviews by companies with 10 licenses each may be a lot different than a single review by a company  with 10,000 licenses.

Or you can go to one of those rapidly proliferating sites that purport to help you choose the right one based on a series of basic questions that may or may not include what's really important to you.

There are other considerations that make across the board ranking nonsense. Simply because someone gave a system a low rating doesn't mean the system is bad. It may be bad, but it also may be that the system just didn't work for what they needed. Just because an analyst didn't include a package in an evaluation doesn't mean the product shouldn't be considered by you. And the number of customer reviews tells you nothing about the suitability of the product to your environment.

So many choices

There are so many project management system options out there for two reasons: (1) every organization runs projects, so the demand is huge; and (2) no one has come up with the single best project management system that everyone can use. Just like there is no single "best" car.

Marketing makes all of them sound alike. But there are major differences, and some vendor solutions will work for you while others won't. Getting a good fit means doing your homework to understand just what kind of solution you need.

Project management software is most definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition. To make it even more difficult, the devil is often in the details. Unless you dig deep, you may not know until it is too late that the option you selected is just not going to work for you.

Finding the right solution

This document is designed to provide a set of questions that you should consider when looking for a project management system to run on the Salesforce platform, and offers some suggestions on how best to make your decision.

Questions you need to answer

For the purpose of this article, it is assumed that all the solutions have basic project management functionality, like task assignment, scheduling, Gantt chart, collaboration, files sharing, etc.

Do you need a niche solution?

Some companies (or departments) are best served by solutions that are designed to specifically address their needs. An obvious example is software development. You are likely to want a solution that supports things like Scrum boards, backlog prioritization, sprint planning, and developer tools integration. This type of functionality is applicable only to software development projects, so you should be looking for a solution that is tailored specifically to software development.  Related to software development are Project Portfolio Management and Application Lifecycle Management.

Does it need to be 100% native Salesforce?

If you are on the Salesforce platform, there are many advantages to implementing a 100% native Salesforce solution:

  1. All your data is stored within Salesforce.

  2. It is tightly integrated with Chatter.

  3. It shares a single data store with Salesforce.com.

  4. It has a similar look and function to Salesforce.

  5. It does not count against your API usage limits.

  6. You can leverage all the apps and integration tools on Appexchange.

  7. The app can be customized using the same Salesforce tools you already have.

  8. You can use the built-in tools you are used to for building dashboards and reports.

  9. You can use the Salesforce administrator to manage your project environment.

  10. The cost is likely to be lower, both in terms of subscriptions and maintenance.

  11. The vendor is fully committed to the Salesforce platform.

What are the use cases?

There are of course many ways to categorize projects, but these differences are usually the most relevant once you get beyond the niche solutions:




  • Small group
  • Nested to-do lists
  • Task durations
  • Task assignments
  • Simple scheduling (start and end dates, not automated)



  • Departmental
  • Resource capacity
  • Predecessor/Successor
  • Intelligent scheduling (auto rescheduling)
  • Milestones


  • Enterprise - spans functional groups
  • Includes multiple business processes
  • Integration of external systems
  • Multi-project environment
  • Multi-project rollup
  • Cross project planning
  • Automated notifications, reminders, etc.
  • Estimated time to completion
  • Resource leveling
  • Multi-level permissions
  • Forms for data capture
  • Calculate critical path
  • Planned, revised, actual dates
  • Template creation, versioning, cloning
  • Some customization


  • Enterprise and beyond
  • Global
  • Multi-year
  • Multiple organizations
  • Multiple diverse teams
  • Complex business processes
  • Multiple levels of sub-projects
  • Automated rules
  • Multiple conditional paths
  • Early warning system
  • Allocation of resources between projects based on global priorities
  • Hundreds of concurrent projects with thousands of tasks
  • Project interdependencies (cross project dependencies)
  • Heavily customized


Once you get into the highly complex and megaprojects, you are likely to be better off with a solution that has deep business process management capability. These type of projects often fail because the processes that underlie them are dysfunctional.

All-in-one or mix and match?

Some vendors attempt to pack a lot of different functionality in a single product. This is likely to be a good thing for a small organization, but not so much for larger organizations that have, for example, dedicated accounting systems or dedicated resource management systems.  Chances are, the owners of those systems are not going to want to have to change to the solution offered by your project management system.

This dilemma also applies to PMOs that require pre-project planning features such as risk analysis and opportunity analysis. Many times, solutions that address these needs satisfy executive management but not the actual project team that is tasked with getting the project done. In this case, it may make more sense to address the PMOs needs with a solution that focuses specifically on their planning needs.

How important is integration with your social network?

Since communication and collaboration is so essential to project management, this is a critical factor. If the product has its own activity stream, file sharing, etc., this could be a major impediment to implementation and usage in general.

How important are the business processes that support the project?

Behind every bar in the Gantt chart lies a business process, specified as predecessors and successors. In some (typically operational) projects, the business processes can be complex. If these processes are in any way dysfunctional, the risk of project failure is much greater. Therefore, a solution that provides the ability to explicitly design and execute these processes will provide a significant benefit.

How important is customization?

There are many different levels of customization, going from adding your logo all the way to customizing complete modules. For larger organizations with complex requirements, the ability to do deep customization is critical.

There are typically three levels of software customization:

  1. Configuration performed by the System Administrator using the built-in customization options.

  2. Use the product API to extend the software.

  3. Work with the vendor to customize one or more of their software modules.

How important is integration?

There are different types of integration. It's important to know that the solution you select can do what you need in an acceptable manner.

You may need an API to pass data between applications. You also may want to plug-in additional functionality without having to write code.

How important is methodology?

Some organizations follow rigid methodologies that need to be supported by the software.  Others organizations may find a solution that includes a methodology that they haven't used but will work well for them.

What is the criteria for project success?

Organizations have different criteria for determining the success of a project. For example, if cost is the primary consideration, it is critical that the solution you choose includes things like budgeting, or that it can interface with your existing accounting solution. If time is the primary consideration, or if resources are constrained, then it may be worth considering a product that supports critical chain project management (CCPM) functionality.

How to make your selection

1. If you have niche must-have requirements, look at these solutions first

There is no point trying to adapt a general solution to meet your niche requirements if you can find a solution that already meets your needs.

2. Don't rely solely on analysts for your short list

Just because a vendor is not listed in an Analyst report don't automatically rule them out. It is impossible even for large analyst firms to include all the vendors in their in-depth analysis. There may be totally viable candidates that do not make the analyst's cut. And of course, this is a rapidly evolving market, so analyst reports are pretty much out-of-date the moment they are published.

3. Don't rely solely on customer reviews for your short list

Just like a Camry will have a many more reviews than Ferrari doesn't make the Camry a better choice for your needs. Also, many public companies are unable to give reviews for legal reasons.

4. Consider smaller vendors

Keep in mind that smaller vendors can be more agile, more attentive and more flexible, as well as being willing and able to add functionality to their product to meet your requirements.

5. Don't limit your vision

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
- Henry Ford

Instead of only looking for things that YOU can think of, look the things you would definitely want if you knew they were available. So it's important to look beyond your known needs to see what else is being offered that would help your organization.

6. Consider implemenation questions

  • How easy is it to install and administer the system?

  • How easy is it to use?

  • Can you start small and scale up as much as you need?

And this is the big one:

7. Do a proof of concept

Once you move beyond the simple and moderate categories of project management, the only way to make sure that a product will meet your needs is to do a proof of concept. Most vendors will work with you to do this for free. It is worth taking the time up front to make sure, instead of finding later on that functionality that you thought was there turns out to be a poor fit for your needs.


Every organization is unique. Selecting the right solution for your organization requires careful consideration and experimentation.

Not doing a proof of concept for the more complex project environments can lead to serious problems down the road.

Given the many advantages provided by solutions that are 100% native Salesforce, this would be a good place to start. Current 100% native solutions on the Salesforce platform include:

Non-native Salesforce products with Salesforce integration include:

  • Mavenlink

  • Wrike

  • Clarizen

  • LiquidPlanner

  • Workfront

More Stories By Ben Bradley

Known for wearing plaid and sweater vests before they were popular, Ben Bradley is managing director of Macon Raine, Inc. (www.maconraine.com) - a management consulting, marketing and demand generation firm for technology organizations. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and was a member of the undergraduate Iowa Writer’s Workshop. His interests include the intersection of technology and marketing. Because he was never very good at sports and doesn’t have many hobbies, his primary interests include the role of marketing on internal technology adoption, micro-finance, military uses of technology and media, self-organizing networks, network and physical security, collaboration and groupware. He frequently lectures his children on a variety of topics. Bradley was raised in Wheaton, Illinois and currently resides in Glen Ellyn, Illinois with his wife, two children and a purebred Latvian Goathound named Stella.

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