Shoestring project planning

Not everyone wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a project management software package produced by a well-known vendor like Primavera or Microsoft. You do have options. In fact, price isn’t even the only reason you might decide to go with a product that’s lesser known. Here are four more:

  • Too bloated: A small company like yours may not need all the features typically found in a major project management package. For example, in Microsoft Project, there are “all sorts of tie-ins, automatic resource levelling,” and other features you might never use, says Ed Guy, principal of Guy Software, the Vancouver-based vendor of PlanBee, a project management tool for small workgroups. “I used Project when I was a government IT manager, and when I retired I started doing some work for non-profits. They certainly weren’t going to pay the $800 Canadian for Project at the time, and probably 90 per cent of your needs are taken care of by 10 per cent of the functions anyway,” says Guy.
  • Easy does it: A lot of project managers at smaller companies are more familiar with Microsoft Excel than anything else. A cheaper software alternative may offer a similar interface to Excel but a lot more functionality. People don’t necessarily want to learn a new interface and a lot of new functionality if they are constantly running small projects with the same customers.
  • More of the same: Sometimes the template you use is the most critical piece of data you have. A project manager at a small contractor who builds custom homes, for example, may have a template with all his tasks in it that he uses every time. He just takes the template, adds a new customer’s name and the start date, adjusts any durations (and anything else that’s not going to match the template on the particular job) and he can print out his bar chart and schedule and get going quickly.
  • Small fish, bigger pond: SMBs are not the only ones who sometimes prefer a software package that’s built for speed, rather than bulked up for functionality. “I have sales where the buyer is a big company and I suspect that what’s happening is that it’s somebody in a small department of a big company,” says Guy. And while PlanBee Pro may not give the company access to things like automatic email alerts for project members, for example, it does allow the creation of a Web page so that anyone who needs access to the project plan can get it. And there are other ways to export and share the data, adds Guy. Some people who need to send project details around to other people use a PDF print driver, so they can print up PDF files or email them to the appropriate people.

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