Project management software isn't exactly new. Depending on how you count them, the earliest project management structures date back to the Harmonograms of 1896. So today, with dozens of big-name, cloud-based project management software competitors, you might think that we've reached the pinnacle of project management.

Yet innovation continues unabated. In fact, project management software is undergoing a significant evolution--and in multiple areas at once--thanks to new technology and new demands from the customers using it.

Here are six factors driving this evolution:

1. New Applications

Project management software is no longer just about project management. The data and insights garnered from the traditional project management approach can also be used for a variety of other applications.

For example, Taskworld has introduced an integrated feature to make performance reviews easier. Most supervisors use platforms like these to assign, describe, monitor, and close out tasks for individual workers, so it makes sense that the data here could be used to evaluate an employee's overall performance.

For example, you could evaluate how many tasks each employee has completed, the time it's taken to close those tasks, and how the employee has responded to in-task prompts. The addition of supervisor commentary and notes makes this even more appealing.

Companies are also starting to use project management software in line with enterprise planning software, relying on statistics from active project management to illustrate the profitability and efficiency of each type of project.

2. New Variables and Controls

Big data is always getting bigger, with more variables to track and controls in place to keep those variables relevant and accurate. Rather than simply allowing the functionality to create a project description, milestones, tasks, and sub-tasks within that project, platforms are starting to allow more specific forms of categorization and are keeping tabs on a wider range of metrics.

Avaza, for example, has integrated time tracking into its tasks, helping managers visualize the scope of a project more easily while drawing their attention to items that are taking an abnormally long time to complete.

3. Data Visualization and Analytics

Data visualization is another technological breakthrough that is starting to change our expectations of project management software. It's estimated that somewhere between 60 to 85 percent of major companies' big data projects fail, with one of the most common reasons for failure being the inability to properly draw conclusions from the big data that's been gathered. Most companies have the resources necessary to get their hands on lots of data, but don't have the experience or analytic strength necessary to turn those data into actionable insights.

Data visualization is one possible solution here, intelligently organizing data so it's easier to intuitively grasp what they're telling you. More project management software platforms are adopting these visualization modules so managers can, at a glance, understand how their projects are going and what needs to improve. Workfront, for example, specializes in projecting data visuals on project data, including task progress and resource allocation metrics.

4. Digital Assistants and Machine Learning

AI and machine learning are permeating almost every area of technology, and project management platforms are no exception. Platforms like ClickUp and Forecast, for example, use advanced AI-driven assistants to automate certain tasks, such as adding task items (like meetings) to your calendar or turning tasks into to-do lists for individuals.

In the near future, these digital assistants may become sophisticated enough to make recommendations for resource allocation or task assignment; they'll crunch the numbers on previous, similar projects and may be able to suggest the most efficient path forward for any given scenario.

Project management jobs may not be threatened by this, but they could be made much easier.

5. Individual Accessibility

If you want a project management platform to be effective, you need to get the whole team using it. For organizations with a BYOD (bring your own device) policy (74 percent of them), this can be a headache; the platform may offer different features for different devices and operating systems, or may not work effectively on certain devices.

Accordingly, developers are working to make their apps as compatible as possible with the largest number of possible access points.

6. Customization and Targeting

Some project management apps are trying to differentiate themselves by serving a specific industry, rather than "businesses" in general. Others are striving to make their products better-catered to specific businesses by allowing for more customization.

Either way, platforms are starting to become more customizable, and better targeted to individual audiences, in part due to the increasing number of competing platforms and the rising need for brand differentiation.

The Push Factors

It's also important to note the factors motivating the faster development of project management apps:

  • Project complexity. In general, projects are becoming more complex and harder to manage. There are more data points to track and more technologies to consider, so apps need to respond by offering better, more flexible features.
  • Project management software profitability. The SaaS model for project management apps is a potentially lucrative one, with unlimited scalability, a relatively low-cost basis, and constant, predictable incoming revenue. This drives innovation in the industry.
  • Competition. Competition is a motivator both for buyers and developers. Developers have to worry about similar platforms beating them to market with an exciting new feature, so they're incentivized to innovate defensively. Buyers want to have access to all the tech and assets their competitors have, so they're always on the lookout for new upgrades.
  • Cost savings. Project management tools are, ultimately, platforms designed to make businesses more efficient. Any upgrade or evolution to that system is a new way for businesses to save money, so there's no stopping point or final summit for innovation here.

When was the last time you evaluated how your project management software stacks up to the competition? With the onset of machine learning and tighter competition than ever before, we're already seeing project management platforms advancing faster than ever.