Many of us cut our teeth on Microsoft Project and other desktop project management applications. However, the changing workforce and the power of the cloud make Software as a Service (SaaS) project management applications an appealing option for project teams.

Despite the ease of use that a SaaS project management application may present for a project team or an entire delivery organization, there are factors to consider when migrating from a standard desktop application to the cloud. Here are five of the most important.

1: Reassess your project management application users

A common objection to Microsoft Project is that there is only one person on the team who understands it enough to use it or read the output. While that objection is changing with recent releases, SaaS-based project management tools give you the opportunity to truly democratize information across the project team and to your stakeholders. Many of today’s SaaS project management applications can accommodate team members inputting scheduling and task information through a web interface or mobile app.

When migrating to a SaaS project management application, ensure your new SaaS project management application requirements factor in the following:

  • Mobile access from Android and iOS devices (if they are represented on the team)
  • Multiple views into the project information including Gantt chart, calendar, and task lists
  • Status reporting features
  • Cloud file storage (for project documents)
  • Project analytics
  • Email alerts for overdue tasks
  • Activity streams (useful for team members to track status on tasks)

2: Seek the best possible collaboration experience

When asked about migrating to a SaaS project management application, Wrike CEO Andrew Filev relayed to me in an email, “If you manage “information workers,’ be zealous in picking a project management platform with the best collaboration experience. Otherwise, most of the work statuses and data will still flow through email and other collaboration solutions, which puts a big burden on project managers to update the schedule and on everyone to find that information when it’s needed.

He reasons, “The divide between project management and collaboration solutions has been the Achilles heel of many implementations, but that no longer has to be the case, as the best SaaS project management solutions provide you with a real-time collaboration experience, comparable to enterprise collaboration platforms. It’s also important that your project management platform plays nicely with the collaboration systems that you already have in place or might have in the future.”

Similar to Filev, a while ago I began to see collaboration and even communications as integral to project management applications. Throughout my career, it’s where I found project management applications flounder and those apps never realize their potential inside software development organizations because of the following:

  • The project schedule was locked in a format other applications and even team members couldn’t readily understand;
  • The project management application had a user community of one, thus creating a decentralized approach to project scheduling; and
  • Project management may not have always been a formal discipline inside the organization.

3: Plan for centralization

Working as a contract technical writer put me inside a wide range of organizations, but the one thing that remained unchanged was the fact there was the project manager with Microsoft Project experience or “the person who knew Microsoft Project enough to make it work.” While Microsoft Project remains a defacto standard inside many enterprises, it typically was project output that sometimes lived its own life outside the realities of the development team and their projects. A SaaS project management application can exist as a central hub for project activities.

When migrating to a SaaS project management application, you need to plan for the following:

  • Central project calendar vs. project dates being distributed to the four winds of productivity apps, sticky notes, dates books, and human memory.
  • Existing project scheduling data in a format that the new SaaS project management application can intake.
  • Changes in product development processes to accommodate the new SaaS-based project management application.
  • Introduction of new SaaS-based project management features to solve business and collaboration problems.

4: Integrate the SaaS project management application with other applications

Another option that SaaS project management applications offer teams is the integration with other applications. For example, enterprises standardized on Google Apps for Business can take advantage of apps such as Teambox, Wrike, and Mavenlink that integrate with Google Apps at various levels. Another example is Podio, which integrates with Microsoft Exchange, Dropbox, Box, and GoToMeeting. Creative leveraging of application integration is one way to implant a SaaS project management application firmly into the workflow of your project team vs. a one-off desktop application on some project manager’s desktop.

5: Define the role of application administrator

Although in this post I pay homage to the people who make Microsoft Project work inside project teams today, there will still be a need for an application administrator for a SaaS project management application. Unlike the “Microsoft Project guy” who made Microsoft Project work, the administrator(s) of your SaaS project management application would have a hand in the following:

  • Granting and managing account access and roles;
  • Providing user training and support, especially when app updates go live; and
  • Integrating the application with other SaaS applications.

The administrator(s) of your SaaS project management application don’t necessarily need to be the project manager; however, I recommend that the application administrator(s) sit with the project team vs. at the IT help desk.

Your project management application now on SaaS

SaaS project management applications can be a bargain when you compare their pricing with desktop project management applications. Their real value is how they democratize project management information and use the cloud to improve project management tracking, communications, and collaboration. There is power in centralizing project management activities, but you have to make the move with a migration plan in mind to ensure your successful transition from the desktop to the cloud.

Read more about SaaS and the cloud

Check out the ZDNet and TechRepublic special feature Cloud: How to do SaaS right and our downloadable Executive’s Guide to Best Practices in SaaS and the Cloud.