It’s that time again. The time of year when agencies resolve to “get organized” and do things differently in the coming year.

The quest for organization is by no means limited to creative service firms. Many people are on the very same quest in their personal lives as well. About.com, includes “10. Get Organized” on it’s list of “Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions.” There’s even an organization (no pun intended) dedicated to the very concept — The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO).

A critical step when organizing your agency is implementing a project management system. It should be user-friendly and accessible to everyone on your team, including clients and vendors, albeit in a limited capacity.

There are several important things to consider when choosing the right system:

1. “What are my ‘sources of pain’?”

Take a step back and carefully look at your agency. Determining where its inefficiencies lie will better enable you to narrow your search. The most common “sources” I hear about revolve around haphazard time sheet entry, no one knowing where the job is and consistently going over budget.

2. “Can I afford a full-time IT person or will a system with IT support be enough?”

A full-time IT person is certainly a consideration when attempting to build your own project management system. Caveat: While it may sound good to “just build what you want,” it can become a very long, costly and arduous process. I recommend researching available systems before re-inventing the wheel.

Once you find the right system, consider the costs associated with both in-house (if an option) and remote hosting. Would it make more sense, financially and long-term, to have someone else securely host your data?

3. “Do I have to worry about upgrades or paying an annual maintenance fee?”

Ideally, the system you choose will include upgrades and maintenance at no additional cost. There’s nothing worse than spending thousands of dollars for a program and then finding out, next year, it’s been overhauled and you have to pay even more to upgrade. Upgrades and maintenance, in my opinion, should be seamless… and included.

4. “What are the customer service and training costs?”

This can be a huge factor in choosing the right project management system. Many vendors offer a set number of initial training hours with your subscription. That’s great, if you can learn the entire system, inside and out, within a window of “x” hours. Let’s be realistic, that’s not always feasible, especially if the system isn’t as user-friendly as initially believed.

Consider how your employees will be trained and how many hours they’ll each require. Some will learn more quickly than others, some will be more receptive, and so on. If you feel you’ll need 20+ hours, ten isn’t going to work. What’s the fee associated with additional training? Who will train new hires over the coming months?

Once your employees are on board, how will they receive customer support? Ideally, your vendor will offer unlimited phone and e-mail options, with a response time of no more than 24 hours. Beware of vendors that charge by the phone call, after you’ve reached your “x” limit.

5. “What’s my budget? What can I really afford?”

The ROI associated with a system is difficult to determine. A good benchmark is billable hours. If I spend an hour running around trying to track down materials and figure out what’s going on, that’s an hour I could have potentially billed. If the system saves me even half an hour by making information easily accessible, I’ve recovered valuable time. Weigh its dollar value against the per user/monthly fee, for example.

Regardless of which system you feel best meets your needs (and budget), you must have a solid understanding of your agency’s situation. Do your homework and while you’re at it, be sure to organize your notes!