IT professionals often find themselves tasked with a project without the appropriate tool for the job. I worked on the Microsoft Project team for a couple of years managing their partner program. I spent much of my time in the field speaking to customers and partners. One piece of feedback I heard repeatedly was how unfriendly Project was for IT projects. It was simply far too complex for most projects. Because Microsoft created Project primarily for certified project managers, the advanced features and complexity remained.
Around this time, products like eProject (now Daptiv) arrived on the scene and promised to take project management to the cloud and make the entire process a lot simpler to manage. Many of those early cloud-based tools were unable to find an audience and disappeared. But in their wake, a number of tools have arrived that cater to IT related projects. Many have integrated team-based tools bringing access to project details to those who used to feel on the outside.
This week, I’d like to take a look at project management tools that promise to make the lives easier of those in IT. A number of these tools have migrated fully to the cloud while others follow a more traditional approach.
It almost feels like cheating by starting with Basecamp. It’s like going into the NBA season and picking the Golden State Warriors to win it all. But I recommend Basecamp first. I’ve found that many people overestimate the complexity of their project management needs, and select an enterprise-grade product that requires a lot of training. Having to train every person who is involved with your project can really slow down adoption, and all those unneeded features get in the way.
If Microsoft Project is overkill for your projects, give Basecamp a try. It’s a cloud-based product that includes all the basics: chat room, message board, to-do list, schedule and documents repository. In my experience it works well for companies that manage a lot of small to medium sized projects. Nearly anyone from IT, sales or marketing can create and manage a project unlike some tools that are built for those with PMP certifications. Its genius is in its ability to strip away the complexity yet still maintain core project management principles.
Automatic Check-ins lets you see what each person did that day
Another reason I really like Basecamp is the company culture. Basecamp was started by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. Both are prolific bloggers and authors of several books: Rework and Remote: Office Not Required. Jason and David are both compelling and controversial in how they run their company, which both write about regularly. I love Basecamp, but I also enjoy all the resources their company provides through training, videos and blogs.
If Basecamp seems a bit too simplistic, give Asana a try. It reminds me of a more advanced version of Basecamp with very strong mobile features. Asana has advanced collaboration features as well, but you give up some intuitiveness found in Basecamp. Both are worth an evaluation.
Price: $99/month for unlimited users after 30-day trial
Target: Teams that manage small to medium projects
I came across LiquidPlanner earlier this year when I was researching project management tools for a small company. PC Magazine recently awarded it with an Editor’s Choice, so I decided to take a closer look. From the start, I realized I was working with a tool built for professionals. LiquidPlanner reminds me of Basecamp on steroids with a clean and no-nonsense interface. LiquidPlanner calls itself “predictive project management” that relies heavily on an advanced scheduling engine. Enter in all your tasks and then prioritize them and LiquidPlanner tells you how long the project should last. Adjusting schedules is normally a labor intensive process, and LiquidPlanner promises to perform this function for you.
Where LiquidPlanner shines is in resource management. If you manage projects with dozens or even hundreds of resources, you’ll appreciate the advanced resource optimization tools. You’ll find core features such as Gantt charts, timers, and a customized dashboard that allows a top-down view of all projects. Chat has become such an essential part of project management that nearly every application includes a chat app, and LiquidPlanner is no exception. I’m still waiting for a project management tool to integrate Slack or HipChat, but until then, the built in chat apps will have to suffice.
Dashboards customized by project
Don’t expect to jump right into managing projects with LiquidPlanner without some training. Thankfully, there’s a lot of training material provided which includes helpful videos. The learning curve here can be steep, so plan on training your team before adding them to projects.
Price: $9.99 to $69/month depending on project complexity
Target: Teams with medium to large projects that utilize many resources
Wrike has been around for a decade, and many people are passionate about it. It can handle any type of project which sounds like a disaster. I normally appreciate products with a high level of focus and optimization for one or two types of projects. Wrike is able to tackle this challenge by offering a high degree of customization. You could use Wrike to plan a company party with four stakeholders or manage a large WiFi equipment upgrade across the enterprise. Wrike includes a ton of features, but it doesn’t force them on you unless you request them.
Wrike handles resource and task management with aplomb, but it also offers time and budget tracking as well. It is the best looking tool I tested. If Apple were to design a project management tool, I suspect it would look like Wrike. It’s just gorgeous yet powerful.
Graphical task completion chart found in Wrike
One of the least enjoyable parts of managing any project is reporting. I’ve spend many a Friday afternoon simply running reports for management. Wrike makes it easy to create reporting templates that anyone attached to the project can run. No more having to pester the project manager for a budget update. Wrike integrates with a number of third parties such as Google, Box, Adobe Creative Cloud and even GitHub.
Don’t be fooled by its good looks. Wrike is a powerful, full-featured project management tool that’s designed for how people work today.
Price: $9.80 to $24.80 per user, per month
Focus: Teams or individuals who value good design with advanced reporting features
Targetprocess kept showing up during my research for this article, so I decided to take a look. It is different from the other products in this article in that it’s focus is managing various organizational processes such as Scrum or Kanban.
Targetprocess gives each user a visual overview of the project based on their role. You can dive into the details from there, but it starts with a top-down approach which is why many upper-level managers like it. While it can be used to manage teams, it’s better suited for managing processes and tasks and resources. It’s more traditional in that it works best with a dedicated project lead at the helm. It remains an incredibly powerful tool with a learning curve.
The Team Gantt chart in Targetprocess
As you might expect, Targetprocess includes templates for creating complex graphical reports along with advanced metrics and business intelligence which helps track and monitor every aspect of the project. It can even track trends, bugs, and “time spent” correlations. It’s overkill for many groups, but a powerful solution for those who need it.
Price: Starts at $20 per user, per month. On-promise option starts at $485 per user, per year.
Focus: Teams and managers working on complex Scrum and Kanban projects
You have a lot more choices than Microsoft Project today. I could have included 40 products instead of four, but that wouldn’t have been very helpful. My recommendation is to start simple. You can always find a more complex solution so start with Basecamp and move up the chain if you find it doesn’t meet your needs. I’m not saying you need to adopt a “minimum viable product” approach, but I’d lean towards simplicity over sheer number of features.
You might find the perfect solution, but if only you can figure it out, it won’t be very helpful to the team.
What project management solution do you use?