You Don’t Need Microsoft Project (unless you do)

Unless you’re a fan of drawing out your Gantt charts by hand, you will likely find yourself needing some sort of Project Management Software during the course of your career.  And if you’re like most folks in the corporate world, the first piece of software that will come to mind will likely be Microsoft Project.

That’s understandable.  With a huge install base, thanks to it’s association with Microsoft Office (although not an actual part of the Office suite, Microsoft still brands it as such,) many companies already have some version of Microsoft Project installed.

But just as free or low-cost Office Suites like OpenOffice or Google Docs  have challenged the dominance of Microsoft Office recently, the same can be seen in the Project Management Software space. A whole field of competitors have emerged over the last several years.  Many of these products are free and, more importantly, many of them are good.

Products like BaseCamp and others are making steady headway in the Project Management Software space. BaseCamp, for instance, boasts clients like Kellogg’s, Adidas and Continental Airlines among others.  It also offers a free single-user version, perfect for small businesses.  In addition, many open-source alternatives have made their way into the market.  These solutions allow a company or group to install a robust Project Management solution and have complete access to the underlying code base to modify/enhance as needed.  Wikipedia lists well over 50 different products in the Project Management Software space.

So why would you still use Microsoft Project?  I think there are still a few good reasons:

  • It’s part of the Microsoft Office Suite: Because of this you have tight integration with other Office Products.  For instance, it’s likely that your list of resources in your project is a subset of the list of contacts in your Outlook Address Book.  You also have tight integration to other products in the Office Suite like Excel and Access – you can even import and export data into Visio to help you generate graphic indicators of your project progress.
  • Collaboration and Project Roll-Up: now some will argue that Microsoft Project doesn’t do these things well.  And without the addition of Project Server and SharePoint, those folks are right.  But by adding these two components, Microsoft Project becomes a full-fledged Project Collaboration and Enterprise Project Management tool.
  • The Next Version: I know – a likely story right.  Many a corporate purchasing department has been sucked into promises of what the next version of a software product/suite will provide.  But I would argue, if you are just now making the decision as to what software to buy, it may be a perfect time to wait (not too long hopefully) for the release of Microsoft Project 2010.  With enhanced views, a streamlined user interface and even tighter integration with products like SharePoint, some are touting this as the most significant release in a decade.  And right now, you can test-drive the beta for free.

So now it’s your turn. What Project Management software would you recommend to someone?  Like Microsoft Project or hate it? Have a favorite free product that you use? I want to hear about it.

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