Have you ever been walking down the street, looked around, and realized there are a ton of burger shops? It seems on every corner there's a spot to buy a hamburger. Despite the sheer volume of hamburger shops, many of them manage to stay in business. Well, project management software is like a burger joint. They keep popping up, and you wonder why companies are still building project management software with so many other options out there.

If you do a quick Google search for "project management software" or "project management tools," you're going to find a ton of options. You'll see the major players like Basecamp, Asana, and Atlassian's Jira, but you'll also find many more lesser known companies like DaPulse, Blossom.io, and Jixee. There are so many, it makes your head spin.

Why on Earth are new startups popping up, all trying to solve problems that were seemingly solved years ago?

It's a Hard Problem to Solve

Everyone is unique. That translates into different needs in product features as well as different work processes. It's impossible to predict or build for everyone's preferences. Teams of different sizes function differently. Even small teams within large companies work differently. It's utterly impossible to create a tool that will satisfy the needs of every team. The killer feature of your project management software might be the deal-breaker for another company considering your software.

Due to everyone having different preferences, the genesis of many of these project management tools comes from developers who have been building products and working with different teams in their careers. They notice that their preferences might not fit with the products on the market. Therefore, they get the idea to build their own project management software.

Design Expectations Are Higher For Tech Products

Design is becoming a much more sought-after skill in tech. This is evident in the new Designer-In-Residence positions being created by venture firms. The reason for this increased demand is partly due to rising expectations from many entrepreneurs and the general public about what a polished product should look and function like. Web 2.0 holdovers like Yelp and Linkedin can get away with mediocre design, but new products are held to a higher standard. Evan Williams created Blogger and essentially reforged a similar product with Medium 15 years later. With so many blogging platforms out there, including WordPress, it was hard for many to imagine Medium having a chance. But, Medium is a beautifully designed product that is head and shoulders above the competition, which is why it's starting to gain more traction.

Startups have an opportunity to create new products that are built with superior design. Better designed products are usually easier to use than their outdated predecessors, but they also have another advantage. They elicit emotion.

If you take a look at some of the more successful products on the market right now, a common denominator is the emotional response users have to the product. Slack is a great example of this. At its core, it's another chat tool. But ask people why they like and use Slack, and many will be hard pressed to find a reason other than, "It makes me feel great when I use it."

Old Tools Cater More to Larger Companies

The most well established issue trackers and project management tools, like Atlassian's Jira, are more than ten years old. As they mature, their target market has scaled from SMBs to the enterprise. That can lead to problems because the needs of enterprise companies differ from those of small companies. Larger teams require more structure and features to satisfy their requirements. These added features can turn a product that was once lightweight and easy to use, into something more confusing and cumbersome.

"It can be frustrating when the tool you've been using evolves and no longer works for you. But that's a natural progression of both products and companies," says Jixee CEO, Rishi Mathur. "You can either adapt or react. Adapt to your current tool's changing product, or react and find or build a new solution."

As startups graduate into sustainable companies, it opens up opportunity for new competitors. This is a major reason why there are still opportunities for project management software companies to thrive in today's saturated market.

There Is No "Google" of Project Management

Perhaps the biggest reason why project management software companies continue to pop up, is the lack of a giant incumbent with a near monopoly on the market. Young entrepreneurs aren't likely to try and go after a giant like Google, because there are so many barriers in their way. In this space, there is no Google, so startup founders feel like they have a shot at creating one.

At the end of the day, you have to be at least somewhat comfortable with whatever project management software your team uses. Maybe that's an established brand, maybe it's a startup solution. Maybe it's just Gmail and Google Hangouts. Whatever it may be, there are enough differences among everyone's processes to allow for new project management software companies to pop up every year.

Published on: Feb 5, 2015