Project Management System resources Center

Module 2: Characteristics and Attributes of Project Management Systems

This module describes the various characteristics and attributes common to project management systems (PMSs), which may serve as a means for assessing a PMS’ suitability for use in a specific project management environment. The PMS factors addressed are its scope of project management functionality, its scalability and complexity, the modality of platforms available for its use, degree of training required, and other factors associated with the support requirements of a PMS.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Categorize PMS software deployment models.
  2. Categorize functional attributes of a PMS.
  3. Describe PMS support requirements.

For Your Success & Readings

This module will help you to compare software deployment models that pertain to project management systems, to recognize attributes of this type of software, and to identify the support requirements for such systems. Take the time to review the videos, interactives, and organizational websites for the software suites that have been identified.


  • Part 1: Chapter 1 (section 1.2.3) in A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th ed.)

1. PMS Scope and Scale

Project management environments are as unique and varied as the organizations in which they exist. The organization’s culture and values, leadership style, informal and formal structures, cross-enterprise teamwork and collaboration, and stakeholder engagement and commitment, policies and procedures, and project-related knowledge and intellectual capital compose the project management environment factors that inform the requirements for the organization’s project management system (PMS). Given this contextual basis, the PMS is described by two key dimensions, namely, functional scope and scale of use. 

The PMS’ functional scope is described in terms of the project management tools, which include the techniques, technologies, and instruments that enable the effective, efficient, and reliable performance of project-related work activities throughout a project’s life-cycle phases. Although project-related functions can be performed using manual techniques, PMS project management tools are based on software and information technology, which compose the PMS functional scope. The PMS functional scope is commonly categorized by types project management tools applied, which is described in Table 1.

Table 1

Project Management System Functional Scope Categories and Descriptions

Functional Scope Category Description
Project Lifecycle Management Facilitates the achievement of project management activities supporting project initiation, organization, execution, and closure.
Project Planning and Oversight Supports the planning (creating WBS, estimating, scheduling, and resourcing), monitoring, and controlling of project-related activities, including earned value management (EVM).
Project Collaboration Delivers a shared facility for project teams and other stakeholders to communicate and exchange project-related information.
Document Management Provides a central repository for project artifacts and other project-related documents.
Business Alignment Enables project stakeholders integrated use to optimize mission alignment, business value, and compliance aspects of project management, as well as integration of the PMS with the organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or in the context of professional services automation (PSA).
Project Environment Support Enables the integrated assessment of project management capability, capacity, and availability of project resources.
Adapted from The Complete Project Management Office Handbook (Hill, 2013, pp. 51-52

The PMS scale identifies the degree to which the PMS scope permeates the project management environment. In response to organizational factors within the project management environment, the project management activities may be performed as a stand-alone project by an individual or a project team or in the broader context of program management, a portfolio project management (PPM), a project management office (PMO) context, or some combination of these frameworks. The PMBOK® Guide (PMI, 2017, p. 11) described program management as the concentration of projects and other activities to meet the program objectives (of obtaining the synergistic benefits of managing projects individually) while describing PPM as the centralized management of projects, programs, or sub-portfolios to achieve strategic enterprise objectives. Additionally, the PMO is a management framework functioning as an integrating force that serves as a central clearing house for project-related policies, standards, methods, and best practices (Hill, 2013; Kerzner, 2017). Program management, PPM, and PMO permeate the project management to an increasingly greater degree; thus, translating to a greater PMS scale requirement.

2. PMS Deployment Modalities

light jumping from computer to computer in a row of five laptops

An automated PMS operates on a computing platform using software and other information technologies (IT). The PMS deployment modality describes the type of computing platform in which the PMS is implemented for use.  The PMS deployment platforms include single-user computers, shared-user networks (local and wide area networks), and cloud-computing environments as a software-as-a-solution (SaaS) application. Additionally, some PMSs provide mobile app technology enabling distributed access to the PMS’ functionality, as well as some PMSs provide application program interfaces (APIs) or other techniques to integrate project management software with other software applications such as email applications, virtual collaboration systems, and other application productivity tools.

The PMS deployment modality is often a factor in determining the PMS’ operational-use costs. Like other software applications, a PMS is either self- or custom-developed, purchased as commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software on fixed-cost license basis, rented on a pay-for-user basis (SaaS), or provisioned via a publicly available forum (often at no or limited cost).  Although many software applications are promoted as Open Source, that does not equate to being freely available for use with no restrictions. However, many software applications, PMS included, are offered on a limited-use basis at no cost, while a few PMS applications have no fixed or periodic purchase cost. 

The degree of project management collaboration and information sharing, the geographic locations of project teams and engaged stakeholders, and availability of IT infrastructure are factors in determining which PMS deployment modality is best suited for the organization’s project management environment. Additionally, other factors such as cybersecurity, proprietary use requirements, training, support, and operational use costs also inform the PMS deployment decision-making process.  

3. PMS Training and Support

Three-ring binder labeled ‘training’ on a table with reading glasses, pen, and calculator.

Beyond the acquisition costs of the PMS, other PMS operations cost factors require consideration. PMS deployment on an individual computer or proprietary network entails local installation requiring an adequate IT infrastructure and IT expertise, while the SaaS PMS deployment requires no installation beyond simple set-up configuration option settings and a reoccurring payment mechanism. Two additional PMS considerations include training and support.

Although many applications may be intuitive, adequate training on the PMS’ functions and features is an important consideration to maximize its use in the project management environment.  Consider the PMS provider’s training capabilities or the availability of independent market-driven training services.  It is commonly accepted that there is no such thing as defect-free software, regardless of how well tested and used. Thus, support for PMS defects, ongoing feature and function enhancements, and specific deployment use issues require consideration as well. Implementation, training, and support are additional factors that frame the characteristics and attributes of the project management system.

4. Introducing PMS Software Applications

The marketplace of project management software contains numerous products and options to choose from in response to the growing diversity of organizations adopting project-based strategies. Understanding the organization’s project management environment is paramount for determining the ideal characteristics and attributes of the PMS, which, in turn, inform the process of defining the types of project management software solutions that are most appropriate.

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Project Management Software Options

Summary: This video tutorial explores several types of software available in the market to assist with project management functions.

Although there are dozens of PMS software applications, Table 2 introduces a few of the more commonly used project management software applications. Please link to these applications for additional information about the functions and features of each, and to discern the characteristics and attributes of a PMS that each may be best suited for.

Table 2
Sample of Common Project Management Software Applications and Descriptions

PMS Software Brief Description
Microsoft Project Project and Portfolio Management helps you get started quickly and execute projects with ease. Built-in templates, familiar scheduling tools, and access across devices help project managers and teams stay productive.
Primavera P6 It is used for high-performance professional project management, handles large-scale, highly sophisticated and multifaceted projects. Primavera focuses on solutions that go beyond facilitating on-time and within budget and scope projects, to support business outcomes that drive C-level strategic metrics and results.
ProjectLibre ProjectLibre is a free and open source project management software positioned as an alternative to Microsoft Project.  It has been downloaded over 3,000,000 times in over 200 countries and has won InfoWorld "Best of Open Source" award. 
Basecamp Organizes communications, projects, and client work so you have a central source of truth (all the company’s work under one roof); everyone knows what to do, everyone knows where things stand, and everyone can get what they need.
SmartSheet Designed for work agility and collaboration by providing a powerful platform for organizations to plan, track, automate, and report on work. SmartSheet empowers teams to execute with speed and accountability — and make better decisions, faster.
OpenProject OpenProject is a leading open-source project management software that supports project management process along the entire project life cycle: From project initiation to closure. Note: the downloadable version requires a Linux operation system.
Atlassian Jira Used by agile teams to manage software development projects, Jira software is built for every member of your software team to plan, track, and release great software
Slack Used as a productivity foundation for teamwork collaboration, Slack creates alignment and shared understanding across your team. Slack brings all your team's communication together and integrates with nearly every enterprise and productivity product available.

Check Your Understanding

As we reach the conclusion of this module, take a moment to check your understanding of the dimensions of project management systems with the drag-and-drop activity that follows.


Hill, G. M. (2013). The complete project management office handbook (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Kerzner, H. (2017). Project management: A systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling (12th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Project Management Institute (PMI). (2017). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (6th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: PMI Publications.