A lot of things have changed in project management in the last 10 years. One of the biggest is the adoption of Agile and Scrum methodologies by organizations outside of the software industry. Companies that used to plan months, or years in advance, have reduced their forecasting to weeks using collaborative teams. The results have been varied, but overall Agile success is claimed to be around 64% versus 49% with waterfall project management.
Another big change, spurred on by Agile's growth in popularity, cost cuts since the GFC, and the spike in Silicon Valley startups looking to be the next big unicorn, is the death of software packages with a large one-time purchase fee. The trend towards subscription-based platforms, often below $50 per month, has given smaller organizations and entrepreneurs access to managing a project with the detail once only accomplished with tools like MS Project.
The old option went something like this: purchase software at $1500 or more, install on your desktop, update annually until it becomes obsolete and only get to use it when you're on the PC it was loaded on. Now, software companies are releasing comparable web-based products at a fraction of the cost, letting you access them on multiple devices, anywhere, and constantly evolving the product through feedback and usage analytics. Many have free trial options so you can give it a test-drive before financially committing, which is what I did for this post.
Microsoft has been slow getting to the table with a web-based version of MS Project, as they were with Office 365 when Google Docs came along, but they now have Project Pro and Lite versions available. We'll take those for a drive in another post, but for now, here are a few of the top web-based project management platforms that are gaining traction:
1. Basecamp With 4 clicks I was up-and-running on Basecamp. I signed-in with my Google account, set-up my custom company page, and was hooked pretty much right away. The new version 3 Basecamp has a nice dashboard design that lets you see everything in one place: message boards, to-do lists, schedules, docs & files, who's online, and a live-chat function. I like how a collaborative workspace has been reproduced online, making it easy for anyone in the office to feel as connected with someone working from home or overseas. It's a great tool for sharing docs and tasks on an event, but I was expecting the schedule function to be a bit more project style, allowing me follow progress on items. Maybe I'm a bit old-school, but I like to have a sense of completion and burn-down rates on a project. I think this would be great for something like planning a party or trade show, or for a marketing team to plan out campaigns and share the workload. As far as a larger project with multiple phases or iterations, I couldn't really get my head around how to make that work. A mobile app lets you work seamlessly on the go. This video gives a great overview of the latest version, check it out for yourself:
2. SmartSheet This is one of the most versatile products out there for the money. It has traditional Gantt style project management sheets, but also simple to-do lists and loads of great templates for everything from designing a new website to launching a product. I created an account and used the 30 day trial and kept on using it... 3 months later, I'm still hooked. SmartSheet lets you create tabs and flip between projects, add people and assign tasks, leave comments, and upload files or links. You can toggle in or out of a Gantt-style spreadsheet if you want, and there are nice options for tracking completion by percentage or with visuals. The sharing options are there, and work quite well, although they aren't the main feature as is the case with Basecamp. If you're used to working in MS Project, this might be a good transition platform for you to try. The mobile app works well too, I often take it into meetings or have it open while I'm working on my laptop.
3. ZOHO I've seen the logo around, and had heard about it, but this was my first time trialling ZOHO. I have to say, if I wasn't already vested in using something else, I would seriously consider ZOHO for my projects. While SmartSheet has a fairly serious range of templates, and Basecamp has a nice collaborative toolkit, ZOHO seems to combine those two nicely with a powerful selection of classic task lists as well as a Kanban board for Agile teams. If you're used to traditional forms of project management, you'll like this one, it has milestone lists, time sheets, Gantt charts, and a handy Bugs tab. Starting conversations with collaborators, sharing files, and keeping track of everything on one page is quite easy with ZOHO, and there is a sales CRM model available as well. Apps for iPhone and Android are readily available and instant sign-up options make getting started easy.
4. Atlassian/JIRA Surely you've heard of this years tech darling, and one of the few start-ups to go public and actually skyrocket out of the gates since the shine came off Silicon Valley. Jira was developed for software development, and their claim to fame is that it is the #1 software tool used by agile teams. It's gaining popularity and usage in all fields of project management, and options for Agile, Scrum and Kanban boards are available. It definitely has a more professional and technical feel to it, and features a much more comprehensive amount of fields and options for story-boarding, creating epics, and real-time reporting. Having used this for several years to manage support and development work, I can say that it is a fantastic tool for the price. Here's a video of the JIRA Software platform if you want a detailed tour:
5. asana Fresh off of raising another $50 million in financing, Asana is a pretty cool way to link people and projects, and has a ton of apps and integrations - I can see what all the fuss is about! The basics of asana are quite similar to Basecamp with the usual calendars, task lists, sharing and chat... but a real-time burn-down chart is a welcome addition. Plugins for calendars, file sharing, and some fun stuff make this a bit more versatile. There is even a unicorn that celebrates milestones with you, if you're paying close attention. Check out the asana blog for some great tips and tricks to project and personal management.
As always, please drop a line and share your thoughts on the project tools discussed, and let us know if there's one you like to use so we can check it out.