Project Management

Check out two Microsoft Project alternatives: Basecamp and QuickBase

When managing an IT initiative, most technology professionals automatically turn to Microsoft Project. Erik Eckel describes two highly-capable alternatives to Microsoft Project: 37signals' Basecamp and Intuit's QuickBase.

For many IT pros and consultants, Microsoft Project has been the de facto standard for organizing work schedules, timelines, and budgets. Microsoft Project is still an incredibly capable and complex application; the program ties in to back-end servers to power large-scale collaboration and possesses astonishing levels of customization. But does your next IT project really demand that much firepower? Overkill is expensive, especially when you have to purchase, maintain, and administer the requisite back-end servers running everything.

As technology professionals, in particular, have become more comfortable working with Web-based applications, it's no surprise that viable new alternatives have arisen. Web 2.0's benefits are clear to most everyone working in a technical capacity. Microsoft even offers Project 2007 as a Microsoft Office Online component (and includes Web-based connectivity options within its Microsoft Office Project Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server products).

Two new options to check out are 37signals' Basecamp and Intuit's QuickBase. Both offer highly-capable Web-based solutions to common project management issues.

Basecamp

37signals first caught my attention a few years ago when I discovered the company's Ta-da List application. I was impressed with the task management software's simplicity, cross-platform compatibility, and approachability.

Many IT professionals will find all the project management, collaboration, and scheduling elements they need in Basecamp. Companies from Trek Bicycle to Continental Airlines and a host of others rely upon the online application to power their project management work.

Just how capable is Basecamp? 37signals advertises comments from Jim Dunnigan (former Product Manager for Microsoft Project) on its Web site in which he is quoted as saying, "Basecamp is the first product I have seen that is truly project management for everyone."

For just $49 a month, subscribers to the Plus plan receive 10 GB of storage, unlimited user accounts, time tracking, and capacity of 35 separate projects. Three other premium plans are available: Basic, Premium, and Max, The Max account (which is $149/month) provides unlimited projects and 50 GB of storage. A limited free plan is also available that enables the creation of a single project; file sharing features are not included with the free account.

Basecamp simplifies complex projects with the introduction of color-coded projects, easy-to-learn dashboards, integrated to-do lists, and milestone and time tracking. Users also receive file sharing features, reporting functionality, online collaboration tools, and message boards. Milestone information can be exported in iCalendar formats, and e-mail messages can be set for a variety of events.

While Basecamp offers many comprehensive features, its simplicity also makes it easy for less experienced software users to get up to speed quickly. And, the less time a team member spends learning the intricacies of the project management team's software (and the easier the project management software is to use), the more time he or she has to perform core functions.

QuickBase

Intuit, long known for its Quicken and QuickBooks products, offers a project management application called QuickBase. The Web-based project management tool is designed to provide staff with a streamlined program for data collection, project tracking, communication, and reporting. JetBlue Airways and Ventana Medical Systems are among the larger companies now relying upon QuickBase to empower its project teams. Indeed, Intuit touts the software as being used by almost half of Fortune 100 companies.

At $249 a month, QuickBase includes 10 user accounts. As with Basecamp, there are no contracts, and subscribers can cancel at any time. Additional users can be added for three dollars per user per month. More pricing information is available on Intuit's Web site.

QuickBase includes several templates to help teams get started managing projects in just a few hours. Since the application is Web-based, the software is also cross-platform compatible and requires only that users have stable Internet connections and a valid user account.

Staff can create their own applications and leverage predesigned templates for a variety of vertical markets (including generalized project management, professional services, sales and customer management, IT management, marketing, process excellence, legal, real estate, and human resources). Customizable reports make it easy to glean needed information quickly, while table views, graphic timelines, and charting features help communicate complicated information in an easily understood format. Reminders and e-mail notifications can be set within the software, and role-based permissions are easy to set up.

Microsoft Project: No longer the only game in town

For some organizations, Microsoft Project (and even back-end Project servers for empowering larger-scale collaboration) may be the most appropriate option. But many offices and small businesses will find all the project management features (minus the administrative headaches) they need in one of these two alternatives. Best of all, organizations can test drive both programs at no charge thanks to each vendor offering a free trial.

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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

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