PPM vs. Microsoft Project: 11 Reasons A PPM Is Better!

PPM vs. Microsoft Project? A question coming up more and more for project managers as they daydream of a better tool. Laziness breeds ingenuity – and thus PPM tools were born. It probably looked something like this: 

Project Manager slams hands against desk in frustration “Microsoft Project is such a pain! By the time all the updates are complete, our data is already out of date. We need a way for our team to collaborate and supply real-time project updates. There must be a better solution!” 

Once upon a time, MS Project was a great solution, way back inPPM vs. Microsoft Project 1984 when Microsoft first released the software, or even 1990 with Version 1 for Windows. MS Project has had a good long life, serving its purpose, and helping Project Managers plan and schedule their projects during those pesky pre-connectivity years of the digital age. 

But let’s face it, even as the software has continued to evolve with technology, it’s never quite made the jump into the 21st century as so many other platforms have. In the age of the cloud, MS Project is still a client-based application (that’s so last century!). Although modern PPM tools vary in sophistication and complexity, they only exist because Project stakeholders need something more.

In the contemporary digital age, real-time collaboration and instantaneous project updates are imperative tools in any Project Manager’s toolbelt. Customers are saying so long to client-based applications and hello to cloud-based platforms with enhanced functionality that supply increased visibility into not just projects, but also programs and portfolios too.  

It’s 2021 and like so many other providers, Microsoft offers five editions including Project for the web, Project Online, Project Online desktop client, Project Professional, and Project Standard. Project for the web is like Project Lite. The software exists, it’s available via the web, and it works with Microsoft O365 software (for an additional fee of course), and it requires minimal system resources but that’s it.

To obtain the functionality that Microsoft Project is famous for, customers still need to buy a desktop client for resource planning and management, demand management, and all those higher functions. Furthermore, the “collaboration and communication” methods touted by the Microsoft website are all via Teams. That means there is no true in-context collaboration, and that users would need to pay additional licensing fees to access that functionality. 

So, knowing that (technically) Microsoft Project is only years behind in technology instead of decades, I will discuss the (top) 11 reasons that cloud-based PPM tools are better than that insipid Microsoft Project. 

  • Microsoft Project is a client-based application

    MSPJ is going to be more responsive than any online system, if the system has sufficient resources at least!

    As mentioned above, Microsoft does offer a version of Project for the web, but the functionality is extremely limited. Cloud-based PPM tool users can typically access via a website and often even log in using Single Sign On, honestly it doesn’t get easier than that. Full functionality still requires (gasp) users to install a client-based application. These days it’s probably a relatively quick download and web installation, rather than 42 floppy discs, right? I certainly hope so at least. Running the software requires at least a 2-core 1.6 GHz or faster CPU, and 4GB each of hard drive space and RAM. So, if your resources are sufficient, installing and running Microsoft Project will result in a highly responsive application. Until your hard drive crashes and you lose your project file of course. Since most PPM tools are cloudbased, they won’t always be quite as responsive, but you also won’t lose all your data if a hard drive crashes or laptop gets stolen either. 

  • The benefit of an online system is that plans are accessible in real time.

    The plan is not just for the PM – but for the whole team, so get it off the desktop and into a live environment.

    Does your scheduler spend more than half of their time updating the project schedule with updates from your partners or from resources updates? Are your schedule updates stale before they’ve even been revised in the system? When your resources have access to the project plan, as soon as they charge their time or update the percent complete on a task, those updates are already live. No reason to update a scheduler, who then updates the project plan. Enable partners to make real time updates without giving them access to proprietary or confidential information too 

  • Real-Time Reporting

    Reporting on portfolios, programs, and projects so PMs and PMO leaders don’t have to answer 100 emails from resources, bosses, executives, or stakeholders asking what the status is.

    Honestly, this is probably the #1 reason that project managers and executives alike, absolutely love cloud-based PPM tools. Real-time reporting is an absolute must in today’s day and age. Real-time reports enable leaders to make the important decisions with current data, rather than stale and outdated information. If your team is still calculating percent complete and cost at complete off a data date, well, you’re certainly not alone but why not work with current data instead? As soon as resources perform updates in the system, those changes are reflected in reports and dashboards that can be tailored to a variety of use cases. Stakeholders can use reports as tools to ensure that resources are performing updates in a timely fashion. Executives will be confident they are making decisions with the most accurate information available.  

  • If project plans are offline, it hinders the team from working collaboratively

    Not only can resources perform updates, but they can also collaborate in real time using in-context discussion posts. Project resources and collaborators can start or continue discussions all within an individual project. Furthermore, online PPMs tools now support @tagging to ensure that the proper team members are engaged in the conversation. Collaborative in-context conversations keep the Project Manager and Team engaged and on-track.  

  • An online PPM tool will be a bit less responsive

    That’s OK because it’s doing data checks and running validation rules and distributing notifications.

    You might be saying, hey we’ve talked about responsiveness alreadyYou’re right, we did. But that was in relation to actual system responsiveness (local vs cloud resource availability). Now, we’re talking about enhanced capabilities that cloud PPM tools offer that a client application like Microsoft Project doesn’t. Transitioning from a client-based scheduling application to a cloud-based PPM tool is a natural progression – like the transition from scheduling in a spreadsheet to scheduling software in the first place. PPM software allows administrators to write validation rules, and workflows, and customize behind the scenes actions that enhance and ease the user experience. It might reduce response time, but that’s because of all the complex back-end processing those users never even know is happening! 

  • Importing and exporting into a PPM tool isn’t efficient or effective

    So, your Project Managers are used to working in MS Project, and they don’t want to make the change? That’s not a valid reason to maintain the status quo when it comes to managing your projects and portfolios and/or projects in MS Project (or any other client-based application for that matter)Yes, you can update MS Project and then import those changes into a PPM platform, but really, that’s twice the work and nobody has time for that these days. Most cloud-based PPM tools provide significantly more functionality when working in the native environment than is allowed via imports. If you’re not sure how to influence your Project Managers to make the switch, there’s probably sales material or blogs out there detailing the benefits for your particular industry or market.  

  • "I need to offline edit when I’m not online" is not a good excuse in the year 2021

    Nearly everywhere that you will actually work is online.

    Sure, there are a few exceptions, but honestly internet connectivity is readily available and dependable almost anywhere these days. Trains, planes, and automobiles all offer Wi-Fi capabilities. Some cities even provide free Wi-Fi connectivity for their residents. If someone absolutely must work offline, most tools do allow exporting to spreadsheet format that users can manipulate via Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and reimport. Of course, there’s inherent risks with this method since resources could be updating the project plan while a user is working offline, and the changes could conflict. Even if your team spends part of their time in a faraday cage, or secure facility where absolutely no external network access is allowed, an online PPM tool is still going to be your best bet.  

  • Scheduling a resource to a task instantly updates budgets and workload too

    Online PPM tools often offer integrated financial and resource management within the systemhonestly, it’s pretty much a requirement these days. Since Project Managers need a single source of truth when it comes to their projects, PPM tools offer a degree of financial management in their systems. Not all tools are created equal, so it is imperative that you decide what your organization needs before transitioning to a new platform. Some platforms offer highly sophisticated financial management while others only offer basic financials like user rates and durations. Typically, though, any mainstream PPM will have both financial and resource management modules and provide real time updates to budgets and resource loads. Sure, MS Project offers similar capabilities, but if that information exists only on the Project Manager’s system and doesn’t get communicated to Project Stakeholders and/or Executives there’s not much value. Your organization already has financial systems and controls in place? Well, the good news is, “there’s an app for that”.   

  • Standard and custom integrations ensure consistency of data between systems

    Integrations might not quite be “apps” but, they do provide a means of communicating important data between systems. Most online PPM platforms offer, at a minimum, standard integrations with external systems. Since the Project Management Organization is often a division of an organization, there are existing financial, time tracking, data lakes, and human/enterprise resource management systems in use within organizations. The developers of these online PPM tools understand the need for data integrity and provide the necessary tools to ensure secure transmission of data between these systems. Where standard integrations may not exist, at the minimum the platform will typically support integrations via Application Programming Interfaces or APIs.  Standard and custom integrations ensure that systems can transmit data between platforms and maintain the integrity of the data simultaneously.  

  • Real-time collaboration with internal and external resources is essential

    Virtual teams are the new normal – I know I didn’t want to go there either, but it is an honest fact. As so many have painfully discovered in the last year or so, virtual teams must be able to communicate effectively while still preserving the project record. Cloud-based PPM tools offer simple, yet real time methods of communication, even when projects involve external resources and stakeholders. Some platforms allow external users to consume data but not contribute without a license, others supply the capability to flag external users and limit the data they have visibility too. Furthermore, publishing widgets allow explicit view only access to a subset of project data, allowing a specific audience access to information that would otherwise remain siloed 

  • Automation, automation, automation

    We’ve touched on these subjects before, but honestly, in today’s instant gratification society, automation is where it’s at. MS Project just can’t compete with modern cloud-based software platforms with amazing configuration capabilities. Between integrations and configurations, formulas and validation rules; the automation capabilities of modern PPM tools far outweigh any possible arguments for maintaining your project plan in Microsoft Project. Oh, and honestly your Project Managers will thank you when they don’t have to log in to five different applications to produce their status reports.  

Is your organization still tracking projects in spreadsheets and considering an alternative? Are you using Project and it doesn’t fit your needs? Have you lost your project files because of a system crash? Tired of importing and exporting data that’s stale before you’ve even entered it in the system? Do you need to work and communicate in real time with both internal and external stakeholders? Do you want to request that resources perform real-time updates? Do you have programs or portfolios of projects to manage? Did I mention the free trials?

Go forth and explore the wide world of cloud-based PPM platforms and find a solution that supports your organization, rather than structuring your PMO to support archaic project plans in software that never quite met all of your organization’s needs to begin withAt Kolme Group, we have worked hard to find the best PPM tools on the market. Check out our preferred PPM tools, here.

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 30-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool needs and best steps forward

Effectively Managing Global Projects

Effectively Managing Global Projects is hard work! A common theme in business today is the myopia regarding an international and multicultural environment. As humans we usually all operate in one social context belonging to the nation from which we hale (which for most of us is also the country in which we live). We generally do not give much thought to the fact that people elsewhere might behave or perceive behavior differently. That is the myopia, and it makes sense; the notion that something could be seen differently elsewhere is most of the time completely irrelevant. Global business, however, is the game changer, and overcoming this myopia is essential to survive in business. Luckily, it is not so difficult if you know how to perceive it.

The Challenge

The idea of a global economy is almost as old as humanity itself, and has gone through many different periods, evolutions, and struggles over the millennia. From the spice traders to the Vikings to the pirates, you could say that the pursuit of the global economy has given us some of the most interesting characters of human history. Recently, starting in the late 20th century there was huge push for large corporations to harness globalization, generally for the purposes of increased profits through lower costs, or increased revenues through new perspectives driving innovation. Today, “Globalization” is no longer a business buzzword but a reality that is here to stay.

Every day most of us will work (sometimes very closely) with teams that have a rich diversity of cultural backgrounds. While it still happens that we might be collocated with our teams (whereby default in this situation some people represent the “home team” and some people represent the “visiting team”), more and more often this collaboration is virtual, where every person on a team – each with his and her own nuanced cultural understanding of human and business interaction – will still be geographically located in their own home context.

Effectively Managing Global Projects

This can provide and interesting challenge for many of us since most people have never worked (or even traveled) internationally, and with little or no practice in the understanding of the global-cultural kaleidoscope we have all been very quickly placed in this relatively new multinational working environment. So how do we navigate it and understand it when we all have so much work we need to do at the same time? How do we embrace it so that we can all be successful in our teams and in our jobs?

It is almost impossible to look at the job description of a project management role and not see ‘Stakeholder Management’ listed as one of the essential duties. That is because it is such an important part of managing projects. In addition, it is not easy. Stakeholder management is a delicate balance of earning trust, leading by example, managing by influence as opposed to by force while still ensuring everyone is completing their work by the agreed upon deadlines.

There is a great deal of emotional intelligence and an elegant streak of personal finesse that makes a project manager great at their job. Already, virtual work has made this slightly more difficult to attain. Looking at each other through computer screens – sometimes with cameras off or mics muted – and communicating heavily through emails and chats, we lose the nuance of body language, smiles, laughs, and a lot of other interpersonal human touches that help us form bonds with others.

Combining this disadvantage with the one that comes from cross-cultural communication (which can often come with a language barrier of varying degrees) can cause a lot of anxiety in the workplace, and it is important to be mindful of this. There is now a lot of ground to gain in the ‘earning trust’ department.

Here are some of the important things to consider when managing a global team

  • Speak In PowerPoint

    Do you speak a second language that you learned later in life, that you do not speak at native fluency? Have you ever lived (or even traveled) abroad and felt completely out of place around groups of people speaking in a language you don’t entirely understand? If you answered “No” to one (or especially both) of those questions you should pay very close attention to this next section.

    I have been to public speaking seminars and been told that a slide should not exceed six lines, and that each line should not exceed six words. In addition, they also tell you “Don’t speak in PowerPoint!” In other words, when your slides meet the proper criteria do not just read off the bullet points. However, when managing a global team, I like to think the opposite of that theory is true: “Speak in PowerPoint”. In other words, be concise and precise in your language; do not embellish with five-dollar words and avoid the use of idiomatic expressions.

    We as native English speakers are incredibly fortunate that English won the lottery of modern global business language. The countries where English is spoken natively are also notoriously bad at educating its people in other languages. As a result, we have very little empathy for most of the people on our global teams for whom English is not their native language. As an American expat working abroad, I can tell you how frustrating it is to be in meeting and with a group of people speaking in another language, even a language I speak fluently (just not natively.) Imagine a dog watching a steak as it gets thrown around in a circle from one person to another. That is how I always felt I looked in such meetings, trying desperately to understand each person as they spoke and hoping I could gain clarity on the sound bites I did not understand by concentrating on reading lips.

    This experience made me acutely aware of what it is like for many of my colleagues for whom English is not a native language. Now back home I often find myself getting very frustrated by unnecessarily big English words, colloquial idioms, any expression/usage of the word “get”, and just a lot of word vomit. I am not frustrated for myself; I am frustrated because I know how difficult it makes things for others.

    Simplifying your language is itself a simple practice; just a little mindfulness will go a very long way in the success of your global project, and in the comfort of your multicultural team. In addition, think about things that transcend language, like visual aids.

    Another important part of “Speaking in PowerPoint” is the visceral aspect. Gantt charts, timelines, calendars, graphs, dashboards, even stick figures. When it comes to assigning responsibilities, setting deadlines (preferably using the YYYY-MM-DD format), getting progress reports, etc., the more you can do using any kind of visual representation the more transparent everything will be for everyone.

    Lastly, remember that in our increasingly virtual workplace misunderstandings can be compounded because of shaky internet connections, the inability to read lips, not having a clarification question asked in time because of a muted microphone. Clarity and visual aids are even more important in overcoming those barriers. To this regard, a best practice to consider is to send out any prepared documents (such as a PowerPoint) before the call; and all notes, screenshots of the virtual whiteboard, etc., after the call.

  • Cultural Relativism vs Ethical Imperialism

    If a practice or behavior differs starkly between cultures how can a determination of right or wrong be made? Is that a determination that need even be made, and if so, by whom? During my MBA program in Global Management we discussed this nebulous and often difficult concept rather extensively as it can cause some serious problems in global business. One of the most prominent examples is the idea of gift giving. In Japan, it is a normal practice to give gifts when conducting business. In fact, not doing so could put a relationship at risk. However, an American entity wishing to do business with a Japanese entity that thinks “When in Rome…” and engages in this practice will now have most likely violated the United States’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

    So how can this be reconciled?

    The answer is not an easy one. Luckily, managing global projects typically does not involve such an extreme scenario; however, we will regularly experience this fundamental dilemma. For example, I was an expat project manager working for a large American multinational in Europe. Many a time did I find myself thinking in discussions with my European colleagues “Yes, I know this is Europe, but you work for an American company and this is how Americans do things.” That would be a time when I was thinking like an Imperialist. However, on calls with my American leaders sitting Stateside who were frustrated that – to give one example – it was now July, the project deadline was fast approaching in September, yet my entire team was about to go on vacation for the whole month of August. I would need to explain to them “Well, this is Europe. We are doing business in their house and here this is just how things are done.”

    That is me acting more like a relativist.

    As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, this is a difficult concept to grasp because there is no easy answer. Even when an answer seems “easy” (e.g., because the alternative would violate a federal law) it does not actually solve the misunderstanding that can occur to the audience on the other side of the conversation. Not all examples involve a legal constraint on one end though. Did you know that in some cultures it is frowned upon in a business meeting to jump straight into business? In a one-hour meeting the first fifteen minutes will often be spent in casual conversation regarding family (and probably football1).

    This might seem strange to an American project manager who has a lot to cover in that hour and cannot imagine a quarter of it being ‘wasted on chit chat’. But is it being wasted? The people in that room see that as a valuable opportunity to nurture their personal relationships with one another. The American PM might not see this, and therefore perceives it as a waste of valuable time. While the agenda items that get covered will be reduced with only 75% of the meeting left, the dividends it pays off in the backend with trust and collaboration amongst coworkers is certainly valuable.

    How damaging might it be for the American PM to not respect this practice and jump straight to business. This person has American attitudes and an American boss to report to, and completion is easier to quantify in a report than is trust amongst colleagues. What is this PM to do? This is a balance that every person operating in a global context will need to strike. Accepting that this is a conundrum of which we need to be mindful is the first step in the pursuit of that balance. I can, however, give some guidance on the matter.

    As I look back at my successes and failures as a global project manager, I can say with considerable ease that erring on the side of relativism has always been in my favor. That is not to say that it is always the route most popular amongst those I report to (who might think like imperialists), but it is usually always at least justifiable, and earning trust is still a vital part of your job of stakeholder management.

  • Assume Best Intent

    We are all eager to do our jobs well. However, the way we go about doing that can change based on our cultural attitudes towards what it means to work. In the previous section I spoke about one of my experiences as a PM in Europe where my entire team was about to go on vacation for the whole month just before the project’s deadline. That was a tough pill for my boss to swallow – and not a very enjoyable conversation to have with him – but the interesting point about it was what he thought about the members on my team. Did he assume they all just threw their hands up in unison to abandon the deadline of such an important project because they did not care?

    In most of Europe there is a greater level cultural (and even legal) protection of one’s personal life and its balance with work. The part about vacation is but one example of this nuance and how it is baked into attitudes and mindsets surrounding work. Unaware of this nuance an American PM might become frustrated. Effectively Managing Global ProjectsLet’s say the American shows up to work early and is always the last to leave; the European makes sure their work week does not exceed 40 hours.

    The American therefore might start to make some negative assumptions about the European (I have, in fact witnessed this personally). This perception comes from a lifetime of American social conditioning mixed with ignorance of the societal and cultural (and legal) norms in Europe.

    Alternatively, the European might start to perceive the American as an overly exigent taskmaster. Consequently, the trust between these two starts to break down. This is both needless and unfortunate because both individuals want to excel at their job and deliver the best results, but they can only do so in the manner which fundamentally aligns with their concept of work.

    This slight difference in mindset does not pose a threat to the success of the project nearly as much as the unconscious breakdown of trust between the two colleagues does once negative interpretations begin.

    While this is but one hypothetical example pertaining to two [somewhat] specific demographics there exist many other nuances amongst a myriad of different cultural backgrounds, an endless permutation of circumstance and perception; there is no way one person could know them all. Luckily, no one needs to. So long as the underlying assumption we all make of our colleagues and team members is that they are genuinely interested in doing their jobs well and are as vested as you are in the success of the project (and the team) it will be easier perceive a differing behavior without making false judgments that result in the deterioration of trust.

“Borders Frequented by Trade Seldom Need Soldiers.” -Dr. William Schurz

After millennia of practice the global economy of today is testament to that which we can achieve when we learn to think outside the box and operate outside our comfort zones. Now, working with multinational and multicultural teams is an unavoidable part of modern business; almost all of us – despite our background and level of global EQ – are participating in it daily. As a result, there are often some growing pains that come with operating in a realm with which we generally have very little experience.

That said, with just a little mindfulness overcoming many of these obstacles is quite easy. People have a natural tendency to distrust what they do not understand. While deep knowledge of other places and other cultures can be a big black box for most people, the key element of stakeholder management is still earning trust. Therefore, as we continue to globalize and interact with new people, let us remain conscious of the very basic tools we need to cultivate the healthy interpersonal relationships with our global teammates we need to achieve our common goals.

Also, let us not forget to seize these opportunities to learn more about others. There is often no more enriching an experience, nor a better education about one’s own culture than to learn and see it from the perspective of another.

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 15-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool needs and best steps forward

1The use of the word ‘football’ in this article refers to the sport recognized around the world as “football”. This is a disambiguation with American football, which is called “football” only in the United States

How Much Does A PPM Tool Cost?

How Much Does A PPM Tool Cost?

If you are a Project Management Leader, you have probably got a mess to clean up. Maybe things keep going off track, maybe you have no easy way to measure what’s going on, or maybe you are just tired of struggling through portfolio reports at midnight when you yell, “There has to be a better way!” The good news is, there is a wide variety of Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions that can help you more effectively manage your project delivery. Better yet, these PPM solutions have become very accessible, are easy to use, and powerful. But of course, as soon as we start considering tools, the first question that comes up is: What is this PPM tool going to cost me?

Your ultimate bill for a PPM can be surprisingly low – or surprisingly high. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a clear bottom-line answer for the total cost of a solution – and even then, the costs you are probably thinking of are only part of the picture.

So, how much will a PPM cost me?

At Kolme Group, our team has built, run and helped to improve project management organizations around the world. In doing so, we have facilitated the selection and implementation of various PPM tools, we are well acquainted with the process of getting to the costs involved.

Like you, we have faced the challenge of trying to understand the true costs of implementing a PPM solution. That is why in this article, we are giving a straight and simple answer as best we can on this complex topic.

Keep in mind, there are many components that will impact your costs. So, we will walk you through the most impactful factors and a few examples. We will also share tips for managing your implementation costs and getting the most value from your PPM investment.

Please Note! These examples are by necessity general in nature, and will likely differ from your unique use case.

Furthermore, the cost estimates we will share in this article are very conservative – you will likely find that you can negotiate better pricing.

The simple (and incomplete) answer

PPM software and basic onboarding costs are a starting point but not the entire picture. Below, we’ve chosen two starting point examples, for each of the three tiers, but read on to discover the “true costs” you’ll be looking at.

An Enterprise Class PPM Solution

Clarizen, Clarity, Workfront, ServiceNow PPM, etc

Full-featured tools like these will likely cost $60-$100 per full-function user, per month for licensing. In addition, you should plan for a one-time services cost for basic configuration and onboarding assistance. This could range from $30,000 – $100,000 or more, depending on your organization’s complexity.

  • # of Licenses
  • 50
  • 150
  • Annual Licences
  • $42,000
  • $100k-150,000
  • One-Time Fee
  • $30,000
  • $100,000
  • First-Year Costs
  • $72,000
  • $200K – $250,000


Simple Task Management Tools

Asana, Trello, Monday.com

Tool such as these are used mostly to organize task activities with no integrations or customized reports. They will cost $16 – $25 per user, per month for licensing. These typically do not involve or even have options for external services for configuration or implementation. You should, however, factor in your own time to learn the tool and the resource time needed to train your team on how to use it.

  • # of Licenses
  • 50
  • 150
  • Annual Licences
  • $12,600
  • $37,800
  • One-Time Fee
  • $0
  • $0
  • First-Year Costs
  • $12,600
  • $37,800


Mid-Tier Systems

SmartSheets, MS Project O365

These fit somewhere in between the two types previously mentioned. These systems will run you around $25 per user, per month, though implementation costs can be highly variable in this tier. If you have the time and the experience, you can decide to implement it yourself, or engage an implementation partner and pay $10,000 – $50,000 for professional onboarding support.

  • # of Licenses
  • 50
  • 150
  • Annual Licences
  • $15,000
  • $45,000
  • One-Time Fee
  • $20,000
  • $50,000
  • First-Year Costs
  • $35,000
  • $95,000

Software cost estimates, above, reflect typical “list prices” which can often be negotiated down especially if you have larger volumes, have a pre-existing relationship with that particular software vendor, or commit to a longer contract (1-3 years).

Pro Tip

PPM license costs can be highly negotiable in certain circumstances. If you are able to negotiate lower costs, be sure those discounts apply to any additional licenses in case you need to grow.

The Basic Onboarding costs we have described so far are for relatively straightforward deployment of the solution and getting the team onboard. Costs in these ranges would not typically yield a fully customized solution for your organization (integrations, configurations for your specific business processes, etc.).

Basic Onboarding typically includes:

  • Initial setup and configuration of the system
  • User account import and permissions setup
  • Basic project lifecycle configuration
  • Basic financial configuration
  • Minimal report development
  • User training, onboarding and go-live support

Please Note! You can spend 10% or 10x this amount depending on your needs. As you will see below, there are a few key areas that can really increase or decrease inflate your costs.

But… I can get “free” or cheap bundled licenses!

Yes licensing costs, especially for the more full-featured PPM tools, can be highly negotiable depending on volume. This can be an important factor for tool selection and consideration, but be cautious! Unless you are a small shop using a freemium service, ‘on the house’ licenses are never really going to be “free”.

Many product companies use a bundling tactic to expand their software footprint. Software companies often bundle PPM software with other products or services to give you the impression you’re getting it for free, or at least at a steep discount. In these cases, a sweetheart license price structure can seem like a great deal…at first. In the long run, though, you may find you are better off paying more for a system that actually meets your needs rather than struggling with the wrong tool just because you got a “good” deal.

A previous client had gone through the pain of implementing not just one, nor two – but three different resource management tools before they found a good fit. The first tool was selected because it was an add-on to their ERP, and you guessed it!… licenses were offered at a steep discount. The second tool was “free” as part of a bundled enterprise software suite and they fell for the bundle tactic.

Unfortunately by the third tool, the time (both in duration and level of effort) coupled with the erosion of their credibility with their stakeholders, ended up costing them many times over the license discount they received. Not to mention, the lost opportunity costs during the 4-year journey to ultimately find the right tool.

The lesson here, is that while license cost is an important consideration, there are other costs to consider, both hard and soft. More importantly, if the tool does not meet your needs, you’ll never gain the value from it to justify those discounted licenses.

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 15-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool needs and best steps forward

What really impacts your PPM Tool costs?

There are a few key areas that have the greatest impact on your overall PPM tool costs. Understanding these areas can help you identify which items on your PPM wish-list are going to cost you the most so you can start to understand your must-haves versus your nice-to haves from a cost perspective.

Key cost areas:

  • Licensing Types
  • Integrations
  • Customization & Automation
  • Unique Use Cases
  • Support and Enablement Approaches
  • User Training, Onboarding and Go-Live Support


The license tier or license type you choose can impact your licensing costs by -50 to +100%. Take the time to figure out which license level you really need, rather than leaving it up to the supplier.

PPM licenses are typically broken out into different types/tiers depending on the user role in the system. These types will vary by PPM, but typically include:

License typeDescription
Requestor / ReportLimited access license allowing a user to request work, perform basic interaction or access reporting. This license type is usually the lowest price point.
Team Member / Time EntryAllows for project team members to access and update assigned work and log time.
Planner / FullFor project and portfolio managers, allows a user to edit, assign, and report on modules within the system.

Pricing can be dramatically different between the license types and this can have a huge impact on your costs. For example, Requestor or Team Member licenses can cost a fraction compared to those of the Planner tiers.

Pro Tip

When drafting out your PPM scope, take the time to identify each “persona” in your organization and what they need to do in the system.

Understanding each persona needed in your organization will help guide the conversation with prospective PPM suppliers and ensure the right license level for each of your personas. You will want to avoid moving through the sales cycle only to find out that you purchased the wrong license types.

We have had some customers who ended up having to push through a last-minute PO to increase their license counts right before go-live since they incorrectly assumed the permissions given available to the roles in the system. The sponsor was not pleased to learn a day before go-live their annual revenue was going to increase by double.

In the reverse scenario, we worked with a different customer that had surveyed stakeholders within the organization and largely inflated the number of licenses needed. It ended up taking 5 years of increased user-adoption throughout the organization to match the number of users in the system to that of the license counts in the contract purchased.

Below is a simplified version of a how you might map out a persona matrix to help quantify your license needs:

Figure 1 – Sample Persona Matrix to help quantify license requirements



Integrations can add $10,000-$50,000 to your implementation costs, per integration. Very sophisticated custom integrations can be $100,000 or more

Integrations with external systems is another possible large impact to your PPM cost. Projects don’t live in isolation inside your organization and consequently neither does your project data. You can increase value when adding automation and centralized reporting by integrating your PPM with other systems, but it can get really expensive.

Typical integration points include:

  • Directory services for identity + access management automation
  • ERP for budgeting, actual costs, and revenue forecasts
  • File repository for document collaboration
  • Agile tools
  • Ticketing or IT System Management tools for project intake or reporting
  • HR systems for user data and time off
  • Data warehouse or reporting services

Integrations also vary highly in costs depending on the method used to build the connection. The right method for you depends on your budget but you’ll also want to assess the volume, frequency and uniqueness of your integration requirements.

Typical integration methods, from least to most costly, are:

  • File-based

    Are triggered manually for infrequent updates, or for frequent updates, use automated scripts, emails or basic automation. These are a good option for an inexpensive start and provides an opportunity for using the tool before investing time + cost for a complex integration.

  • Commercial Middleware

    These integration platforms are nice if you have simple requirements. Often, PPM providers will have favored platforms or may have their own middleware platform. Common platforms like Workato, Jitterbit, SnapLogic or Zappier can give you a reasonably quick start to getting your integration up and running. Keep in mind, you may still have some custom development + another platform added to your cost outline.

  • Custom API

    Typically require the most development resources, but they’ll grant the you powerful control over the integration. If you can build one without commercial middleware, that’s one less ongoing cost to worry about.

Pro Tip

Discover if your organization has the capability to develop in-house integrations. This will save you a significant investment in professional services, and also give you the ability to adjust/expand on that integration in the future.

Regardless of your approach, be sure you have a clear understanding of what you want from each integration, including what data flows, which direction, and how often. This will help ensure you get what you need and helps your provider give the most accurate cost based on those requirements.

Customization & Automation

Customizations and automation can add a little (~10%) or a lot (~2x or 3x) to your general onboarding costs

Full-featured PPM tools offer amazing levels of customization and automation to increase your organizations efficiency. In fact, the more important question is not can the tool automate this process, but should it automate this process.

Our advice: Start with the minimum amount of customization and automation – focus on critical simple processes and fundamental adoption of the tool. As your users become more comfortable with the system, you can add additional functionality and automation. This makes onboarding easier and increases your short + long-term adoption.

A common example of this “minimum lovable product” approach is seen during new project requests. Often, a PPM tool is implemented to support the consolidated project intake and review process across previously siloed departments. While providing enormous value to an organization, some get excited and roll-out too much, too early on.

Typically, clients add sophisticated workflow automations before the organization has adopted the simple concept of the aforementioned, this consolidated project intake process..

Pro Tip

It’s best to start simple and then add more after adoption is successful.

When considering your PPM needs, be aware – the more customization and automation you add, the higher the implementation cost.

You may also want to research how easy the tool is to learn from a configuration standpoint. This way, you can understand the administrative overhead required to enhance those configurations later on, whether it be the supplier, partner or even your own team.

Unique Use Cases

If each use case (additional department) you add is completely unique, estimate another +50% to +100% for each additional department you onboard.

Another possible significant impact on implementation costs are the number of unique use cases, or unique team processes, that are joining the tool.

For example, the configuration and onboarding effort may not be appreciably different if you have one common way of working for 100 people or 1,000 people. But, if you have five departments that each have their own unique project lifecycle, financial or resource management processes, that can be 5x more work to implement because it acts as if you’re really onboarding five different organizations.

This is why, implementing a PPM tool is a great excuse to apply some standardization across the organization. Even streamlining simple things like common project KPI tracking, status reporting templates or reporting can not only reduce the cost of your implementation but also provide value to the organization through standardization.

Pro Tip

If it’s not possible to standardize, then you can improve your implementation success by onboarding one business unit at a time. This gives you a chance to learn lessons from each successive department’s onboarding.

Support approach and involvement

Ongoing support and enhancements can be a likely impact to your implementation cost as you decide how involved you want your team to be. Most PPM tools provide various training mediums for project team members to learn system administration and configuration. This will allow you to successfully own the system and configuration after implementation. Some providers will even encourage an “enablement” approach during onboarding, allowing your team members to be hands-on during implementation, potentially reducing some of costs by taking on the less technical aspects of onboarding. This includes UI clean-up and user permissions.

Of course, the more resources you dedicate to system implementation plus ongoing support, the lower your supplier implementation cost. However, this can impact your timeline. Keeping the pros and cons in mind, understand that it will be a better long-term investment but you have to have the resources available on your team to focus on learning these skills and be ready to invest in them.

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 15-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool needs and best steps forward

The hidden PPM tool costs that will get you

Although the costs described above can have the biggest impact on your overall PPM implementation budget, there are areas that can take a surprising amount of effort by your supplier or your team and cost you more than planned.

Data Migration

Migrating mass amounts of data for historical or in-flight work can be surprisingly challenging and time consuming. Even if the data is quality (which usually isn’t the case) you’ll need to transform and import it, in order to make that legacy data coexist with new data. That’s a lot of work!

If possible, use your transition to a new PPM tool as an opportunity to start clean with new project templates, fresh budgets and data.

For example, if your organization uses Microsoft Project Pro to track project plans and your PPM tool allows you to import those plans, this does not mean you should. Your old plans are likely not consistent across all your projects or they have issues with the resource data lining up with your new, clean, PPM resource pool. Besides,  most PPM systems have richer metadata on their projects that your old MS Project plan will not. So, although it may be attractive to import all your current plans, you will likely find that it is not worth the effort and best to start off fresh.

Process Development

Attempt to document your processes (project lifecycle, budgeting, etc.) in advance. If you need help developing or improving your processes, your PPM implementation partner should be able to provide assistance on best practices. Keep in mind, this type of consulting can add up quickly and deduct from your planned implementation budget. Be prepared with your processes, documented and ready to go, or with the expectation that you will need to invest in expert assistance improving your ways of working at the same time you implement your toolset.

Operational Costs

Likely, you will need to dedicate an amount of resources to administration, training, and maintenance of your new system. We typically advise to invest some amount of resource time to learn the configuration side. This way you can make configuration changes, develop reports, etc., rather than always relying on an outside partner. This is promising, but you will need to allocate ongoing resource time for these activities.

RoleKey Responsibilities Commitment (% of Time)
Executive SponsorProvide Overall PPM Implementation Goals and Objectives. Provides support for escalations.5%
Implementation & Product OwnerDay to day functional owner. Identify implementation team members. Provide clarity on user stories. Handles day to day analysis, questions and issue resolution. Ensures successful roll-out and user adoption. 25-50%
Implementation Project Manager Manage Implementation Team Members. Schedules and assists with discovery, requirements gathering, UAT, and training sessions.25-50%
Administrators Configure user interface (view, profiles). Configure reports and dashboards. Manage users and permissions. Assist with data loading of historical data. Configure and modifies business process rules. Provide technical assistance and support for integrations. Provides Tier 2 Support Participates in End-User Training25-50%

Support Costs

Be aware – different PPM providers approach and price support in different ways. Key areas to watch for are:

  • What are the support plans available, what SLA do they provide, and which one matches the criticality of this system in my environment?
  • Is administrative / configuration training free or cost money? Are vouchers available for signing up to different support levels?
  • Do I pay more for staging or development environments? Any required workflow or configuration tools? Or are those included?

Training Costs

Another cost that can be surprising is end-user training cost –  both in the time needed to train and producing the supporting documents. Because PPM tools are often configured to support your specific project delivery processes, you will need to develop end-user training specific to each persona in your organization.

Your PPM supplier may have a standard deck to get you started but you will also want to highlight areas the tool has been configured beyond out-of-the-box and tailored for that persona’s specific business processes.

This cost may or may not be included in the PPM implementation costs and when it is, it can be significant. To save cost, you can:

    • Go with a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach, where the suppler trains your power users or trainers, who then go on to train all your end-users.
    • Develop the training in-house. This can save a lot but requires you have involved team members in the implementation – enough so they can develop the material.
    • Lastly , you can record the trainings and making it part of the onboarding for new hires or for those that desire an On Demand option.

How do I keep PPM tool costs down and maximize return?

Kolme has implemented PPM tools for many clients and based on our experience, we wanted to share the following tips with you, as you prepare get to start, or re-engage, your PPM journey:

  • Moderate your expectations, simplify your needs

    Yes, it is exciting, but our main advice is to be pragmatic and temper your expectations. PPM tools can adapt to your organization, but they are only tools and won’t solve all your problems. If anything, they will help identify the problems in your organization.

  • Own It!

    Get involved, learn the tool and be active during the implementation. Start by documenting your own processes and invest in training your own people so they can be part of the solution, if possible.

  • Use An Agile Approach

    Start with a “Minimum Lovable Product.” If you try to implement too many features at one time you will fail. For example, if you roll out 50 features to users, they will be overwhelmed and will probably adopt none. Better to start simple and implement 5 high-value features until adopted, then gradually add layers of features after that.

  • Invest in Organizational Change Management (OCM)

    Use OCM strategies for long-term success. Even the best tool in the world is not going to succeed if nobody uses it, so look into tools and techniques like Prosci© ADKAR model for managing change and helping users adopt the new system and the processes attached.

Is a PPM worth it?

A PPM tool can undeniably be a worthy investment. Even with costs involved, and some not insignificant, we still advise on having one.

As a former PMO lead for a professional services organization, I implemented a PPM tool and that Organization’s billable utilization improved by more than 20%! The next time I implemented a PPM tool for an organization, we identified and corrected erroneous CAPEX allocation of labor cost which was amounted to 30-40% of all project labor. With another client, we found that 75% of their projects did not align to their strategic objectives. And with another, we managed to save nearly a million dollars’ worth of resource effort through automation and streamlining of processes.

So, based on our personal experience implementing these tools for ourselves – and for our clients – it is definitely worth it.


What’s next?

If you are ready to go shopping for PPM tools, or revisit your existing implementation, here are a few next steps:

  • Build Your Stakeholder Coalition

  • Justify the Return on a PPM Investment

  • Identify Your Requirements

  • Document a Proposal for Development and Evaluation

At Kolme Group we care and want to help you get the best out of your PPM Tool. Join Kim Essendrup for a Free, 15-minute consultancy to discuss your
PPM Tool needs and best steps forward