Our top 5 free tools to boost your project management success…
Project Management requires a broad range of different tools, some of which can be quite expensive and completely unsuitable for smaller projects and small business requirements. We regularly work with large scale installations and setups of tools such as Primavera and Project Server. However, we’re well aware that for many smaller businesses these tools are inappropriate and that there are a number of useful options which are free, open source or included in widely used packages.
We therefore thought that it would be an interesting exercise to go through some of the best options available for smaller businesses who are looking to increase their project management capability and project management success.
1. Trello – quick and easy online collaboration and task management
This is perhaps one of the most widely used collaboration tools on the internet. Enabling quick and easy cooperation and collaboration between remote teams this system is incredibly use for tracking tasks and projects as they develop. The simple interface is easy to get to grips with and tools such as the deadline and labelling facilities enable basic schedules and tasks to be set up in a project schedule with coloured labels used to assign or mark up different types of tasks (for example financial or design work). One of our favourite features on Trello is the ability to enable users to make suggestions or respond to questions on certain tasks.
Trello is available as a phone app or can be accessed in a web browser.
2. Microsoft Planner – the Microsoft response to Trello?
Microsoft Planner is built on a very similar looking user interface as Trello but operates within the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem in a similar way as Trello. As Microsoft has developed the range of additional options within Office 365 it has increased the range of additional tools available to users outside of the usual Word, Excel, Powerpoint range and Planner is a useful addition to this. We should point out that MS Planner is strictly speaking not entirely free as you have to be using Office 365 to access it for free. That said, so many people use this package this day we thought we could include it here.
MS Planner has a couple of advantages over Trello that we quite like – the main dashboard being one (enabling users to track tasks across a range of projects and providing a simple graphical overview of progress). It also provides a quick way for users who are working across projects to setup multiple projects and then view tasks by due date – a really useful feature for small project based businesses to quickly monitor their immediate priorities across a range of projects.
3. Microsoft Teams – simple, clear collaboration around specific projects with a huge range of plugins increasing functionality and monitoring
We had the same dilemma with Teams as with Planner, in the sense that you do have to use Office 365 in order to use Teams but again, so many of our customers use the core Office 365 programmes that we thought we could get away with this one.
Teams is a hugely powerful and highly customisable communications platform enabling users to join a range of specific teams. These teams can then create tailored dashboards for their specific needs – for example the web development team can add a Planner tab (see MS Planner above) with the latest tasks included, they can also add a Google Analytics plugin report so that the page is updated daily (or at their preferred frequency) with website usage reports. Conversations or meetings can occur within teams using the Skype communications platform or social media type chat function (enabling multiple users to tag each other as required).
In short, its a brilliant tool for people to collaborate across a range of projects whilst simultaneously keeping track of all communications, tasks and all other relevant data.
4. OpenProject – the open source alternative to Microsoft Project
The tools included on pioneering project management software such as MS Project is now available in a range of open source options with OpenProject being one of the most important of these. Carry out task scheduling, assign costs and specific tasks to specific users and then baseline the schedule to begin running the project. The OpenProject interface does look somewhat similar to the MS Project version but the options for synchronising users and updates are not quite as flexible and powerful as they are with the paid versions. However, that said, for users who just require a simple scheduling and tracking tool, OpenProject is certainly a very useful option and one that we would suggest taking a look at.
5. ProjectLibre – an even more powerful version of OpenProject with free and cloud based versions
ProjectLibre is another alternative to Microsoft Project which is being widely used by a range of organisations with great success. There are both free and paid versions of this ProjectLibre but the open source version is the focus of this discussion. This powerful tool includes all the typical features you would expect including scheduling, Gantt charts, WBS/RBS options, as well as resource histograms.