We hold that there are three basic tiers to the project and portfolio management solution marketplace.

  • Low end tools
  • Mid-market solutions
  • High end systems

The three tiers differ in terms of the following:

  • Functionality
  • Investment
  • Maturity level of the project team
  • Time to implement

What do we mean by entry level tools?

Entry level end tools are basic in functionality and, in some cases, limited to a small functional set. For example, there are collaboration tools like Dropbox that permit a team to share files and documents with ease. This tool does a great job at a single function or couple of functions.

There are also some terrific low end tools that perform basic or entry level functionality like Basecamp. For teams that want to track tasks and share files, this solution can be a good fit for certain teams.

Low end tools can be free of charge in the case of open source tools, or offer free versions like Dropbox does. Many free solutions charge incremental prices for usage levels or additional functionality.

In the Basecamp example, the pricing is very affordable and can make it easy to go from a single user application like Excel or Word, to an online tool. 

In many cases, you get what you pay for. For example, many low end software providers do not offer phone support. Really, in their defense, the pricing does not make personalized support possible.

Maturity level of the project team
Low end tools are great when almost everyone on the team is new to project management. The demands on functionality are low. So, if updating tasks is sufficient, then a low end tool might be a good fit. If you need tasks to be connected in a project schedule, then you might need a mid-market solution.

Time to implement
Low end tools take very little time to implement. In the case of DropBox, as the tool has very limited functionality, there is not much to learn.

A mid-market project and portfolio management (PPM) solution like Project Insight offers several advantages:

Mid-market solutions offer a blend of robust feature sets along with ease of use.

Where low end systems are $5,000 and under, a mid-market solution may range from $5,000 to $50,000 depending on needs, size of team and amount of implementation assistance your project team might need.

Maturity level of the project team
As far as maturity level goes, a team with a CMM ranking of 0-3 can use a mid-market solution. There is no need to be doomed to the single user applications like Excel and MS Project due to low maturity level.

Time to implement
Implementation timelines will range from two weeks to two months, again, depending on team size and the adoption issues your project team might be facing.

Now, let’s turn to the high end systems:

High end systems are rather complex in functionality and can be quite extensive. In this segment, you have players like SAP Project, Oracle Project, Clarity and Microsoft Project Server. The great thing about these systems is that they offer every feature set ever dreamed up to manage projects, from portfolio analysis, to risk analysis, to evaluating net present value, running ‘what if’ scenarios and more.

High-end project and portfolio management systems come with a high end price tag. It’s like buying a Rolls Royce. You will start at spending six figures and go up from there. At a recent Gartner conference, during a customer case study session, a price tag of $500,000 was mentioned, when the licenses, implementation and training were all added up.

The upfront investment of such systems can be prohibitive for many at the departmental level of even Fortune 100 companies. The initial investment will also add to the time it takes to actually make a decision, as large capital expenditures require more sign offs.

Maturity level of the project team
When attending a PMI chapter meeting, a Microsoft Project implementer and consultant stated vociferously that a project team should not even embark on an implementation of this system until it has reached a CMM (capability maturity model) maturity level of 3.5 or better. When I asked him what solution those teams are supposed to use until they reach CMM 3.5 or better, he replied ‘Excel.’

Time to implement
High end systems take longer to implement. Naturally, as you have more functionality and configuration to perform, it will take longer. Rarely are these systems sold without extensive implementation and training budgets. We had one project manager that had used Clarity at another organization. She said that the team was ‘locked in a room for two weeks straight’ before being allowed to log in. That’s the level of complexity we’re dealing with.


Be sure to invest in the right tier of solution, one that fits your team’s maturity, your functional needs, the budget range and your sense of urgency for getting up and running. You might start with a low end tool and use that for a time period, then upgrade to a mid-market. Or, if your project team has rigorous business processes developed and in place, a high end system could be right for you.

Whatever you do, find a solution that gives your team room for growth.

Online 11/21/2016
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