Microsoft Project has become the standard for project management software. This application has been around for many years, but has only recently split into a desktop and server version. Additionally, Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server was added to the suite of tools with the most recent release. The new portfolio software gives Microsoft Project the ability to manage and analyze multiple projects simultaneously (Woodward, 2007). Despite its dominance of in the project management software market, Microsoft Project is not the only option available to project managers.
Gido and Clements (2009) define twelve feature groups that project management software should strive to include. Budgeting and cost features should have flexible billing methods and the ability to track costs as they occur. Communications and collaboration features should help project teams share information in advanced ways. Additionally, these features should be extensible to customers and other stakeholders. Documentation management includes the ability to document all aspects of a project from beginning to end. Integration and customization features allow the software to be changed to suit the needs of the user. Additionally, the ability to integrate with other software packages such as email or web services gives the user the ability to use existing resources (Gido & Clements, 2009).
Project planning is one of the most important features of any project management software package. It focuses on defining the tasks that need to be accomplished and resources that are available to complete them. As previously mentioned, project portfolio management integrates several projects together and allows them to be managed in conjunction with each other. This goes beyond simple reporting to include the allocation of resources between projects. Project tracking and control focuses on comparing the progress of the project with the timeline and budget defined in the plan. Report generation works with project tracking to create reports about the progress of the project (Gido & Clements, 2009).
Resource management tracks available resources and ensures that they are utilized as efficiently as possible. Risk management works to document the project risks. Sales and business development is usually outside the focus of the project manager, but several project management software packages now available include sales and business development features such as client management and lead generation. Finally, security and access controls should allow the project manager to delegate specific portions of project management without surrendering full control of the project (Gido & Clements, 2009). Although these twelve feature groups are not required for project management software, they exist in some form in most software packages currently available.
Project management software comes in three main varieties: workstation-based, server-based, and web-based. Workstation-based software runs on a single user’s computer. Generally these applications can only be used by one individual at a time and are best suited to small organizations that do not need the more inclusive features of server-based software. Server-based software is designed to allow multiple users to remotely access and manage the project. These applications require a user to have software installed on their desktop, but the software operates with a server to ensure that all information is available to each user. This is different from web-based software, which keeps all information on a server and allows users to interact with it using a web browser. The main benefit of these applications is that special software is not necessary on each user system. This saves on the cost of deployment and guarantees that all users can work, even if they are not using their usual system (Shaw, 2007).
Workstation and server-based project management software is produced by many software companies that household names. Database powerhouse Oracle includes Oracle Projects in its Oracle E-Business Suite of applications. Oracle Projects offers many of the features required of project management software including planning, progress tracking, documentation, and issue resolution. Similarly Clarity from Computer Associates expands on the single project notion of older versions of Microsoft Project to include Project Portfolio Management. Additionally, Clarity includes powerful modeling tools that allow project managers to run resource allocation scenarios to determine the optimal allocation (Woodward, 2007).
Two of the most popular web-based project management solutions are Basecamp and Clarizen. Both of these software packages are Software as a Service (SaaS). The software is completely on the vendor’s site and users access the site remotely via a web browser. Basecamp strives to limit the number of features available and focus on providing the best possible interface for the features it does have. Basecamp focuses all project communication so that users are not inundated with email that may or may not be relevant to the project. Additionally, users that may have been inadvertently left off an email distribution have access to communication within Basecamp so that they are part of the collaborative process. Other collaboration within Basecamp is accomplished via file sharing. Basecamp allows files to be shared internally or externally giving the project manager the ability to keep stakeholders involved (Shaw, 2008).
Like Basecamp, Clarizen is web-based software that stores all information on servers run by the vendor. Clarizen focuses on being intuitive and allowing users to integrate external applications with the software. The most recent version of Clarizen includes an API that allows software developers to hook into the project management applications data. Additionally, Clarizen allows reports to be generated in Microsoft Excel. This feature makes reports available to a wider audience than other systems. In 2008, Clarizen was certain that its product was more appealing than Microsoft Project, it was willing to discount a year’s worth of service by $300 to cover the cost of users getting rid of the Microsoft product (Brynko, 2008).
All project management tools offer some subset of the twelve features outlined by Gido and Clements (2009). Deciding which project management tool to use is mainly an exercise in requirements and cost. For example, a small company with a small project team may find that a single copy of Microsoft Project for the project manager is all that’s necessary to manage their projects. The power and complexity of server-based tools such as Oracle Projects or Clarity are just too expensive for such an organization. A large organization with many ongoing projects would find the cost Clarity or Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server to be acceptable for them. Finally, web-based project management software focuses on providing a smaller feature set better. This software includes a monthly cost, but the smaller feature set might be preferable for some teams. Additionally, the ability to run the software from a web browser make this option highly attractive for organizations that do not use standard Windows-based desktops.
Brynko, B. (2008). Clarizen: Building a Better Project Team. Information Today, 25(8), 41-41. Retrieved March 6, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier database.
Gido, J., & Clements, J. P. (2009). Successful project management (4th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western.
Shaw, R. (2007). Project Management Software. Faulkner Information Services. Retrieved March 6, 2009, Docid: 00018540.
Shaw, R. (2008). 37signals Basecamp Project Management. Faulkner Information Services. Retrieved March 6, 2009, Docid: 00011572.
Woodward, K. (2007). Project Management Software Trends. Faulkner Information Services. Retrieved March 6, 2009, Docid: 00018914.