Project Management Software: Recommended Choices
Project management software packages come in all shapes and sizes. The features you'll need from the project management software you buy will depend on the size and complexity of the tasks you are managing. However, on this page we've distilled the bewildering variety down to a few key choices.
What Makes a Good Program?
The 'acid test' for a decent project management software package is usually whether it contains Gantt charts and Pert Networks.
Gantt charts are a basic requirement. Gantt charts contain horizontal bars above a timeline to show when tasks begin and end. This provides both a quick overview of your plan and a way of monitoring detailed progress.
Pert Networks show a much higher level of sophistication. The package can usually draw Gantt charts, but also draw sophisticated dependencies between tasks to identify critical parts of your work breakdown structure and present it in the form of a network diagram. For example, to build a wall, you must first order the bricks, and then the bricks must be delivered. These three tasks (order, deliver, build) must proceed in the correct sequence. A good Pert network allows you to identify these dependencies for complex activities, and then identify the 'critical path'. This defines the minimum time in which the overall program can be completed or highlight where slippages could result in a delay.
The main packages to consider for a Windows PC are:
This is typically between $400 and $500. For a professional it is an essential tool, but it may be the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a walnut for many.
This is typically around $50, but includes a lot of facilities, including Gantt and Pert. You can import and export data as well, so you can transfer information to Microsoft Project if need be. It may not match the latter for sohpistication or the level of integration with other Microsoft Office programs, but at a tenth of the price it provides great value for money.
If you already have it, you may be able to do a lot with it. It doesn't have Pert or Gantt capabilities, but you can create a spreadsheet with a list of tasks and associated information to help monitor progress. If you don't want, or aren't able, to set up a spreadsheet yourself you may be able to find excel templates that provide what you need.
Some options to consider if you want to use a PDA, such as a Palm or Pocket PC, are:
Approximately $30, this package will synchronise your Palm with information from Microsoft Project, enabling you to update tasks and synchronise them back onto your Windows PC. Project@Hand can also be used as standalone system.
Approximately $30, like Project@Hand this software also enables you to synchronise/update your Microsoft Project files, and can be used as a standalone system, but is for the Pocket PC.
What ever you decide you need, it is worth attending a good project management software training course to get the most out of the package.