Few project scheduling tools provide the robustness of Microsoft Project in a web-based environment. Most web-based project management tools feature team collaboration with a “pick a date” project management approach rather than supporting a dynamic schedule where task dependencies and task progress drive changes to the project schedule.

I’ve written previously about fee-based collaborative scheduling tools like LiquidPlanner and Brightwork that provide innovative approaches to project collaboration and project scheduling. Microsoft Project Server is a popular choice for organizations invested in a Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Project strategy.

However, project teams seeking the dynamic scheduling capability of Microsoft Project without a license fee will be pleasantly surprised with Gantter, a free project management collaboration tool that is described as a “web based Microsoft Project.” Gantter’s look and feel mimics the Microsoft Project Gantt View and supports the core scheduling features required to develop and manage a project schedule (Figure A).
Figure A

Gantter (Click the image to enlarge.)

Entering tasks is just as easy creating tasks in Microsoft Project on a desktop. The Gantt chart updates with each keystroke without having to refresh the browser to view the latest change. Each task supports similar task properties as Microsoft Project, including task types, effort-driven tasks, calendars, and constraints (Figure B). Notes, resources, and predecessors are also included in each task’s properties.
Figure B

Click the image to enlarge.

Gantter provides Resources and Calendar views to support task planning and resource assignment. The Resources view is similar to the Microsoft Project resource sheet where team members are defined and hourly costs are assigned. Holidays and non-working times are defined in the Calendar view, which provides an accurate end date calculation based on an organization’s holiday and vacation schedule. Once the tasks and resources are assigned, the schedule can be resource leveled and the dates will adjust based on resource assignments and availability.

Gantter also supports project deadlines and will display a warning indicator when a deadline is exceeded.  You can determine if a slipped task is on the critical path by selecting the View Critical path tasks feature (Figure C). Since Gantter is web-based, the entire project team can obtain a real-time view of project progress without having to wait for the next team status meeting.
Figure C

Deadlines and the critical path (Click the image to enlarge.)

If you developed a project schedule in Microsoft Project and want to share it with your team, Gantter will even import the Microsoft Project file. I was impressed with how well Gantter works with Microsoft Project and emulates Microsoft Project’s look and feel all within in a web browser.

Collaboration is supported via file-level editing with the native Gantter web repository or with Google Drive integration. Each project schedule has document permissions that can be set on a per user basis (Figure D). Project team members can also download project milestones by exporting them into an iCalendar format and importing them into popular calendar applications (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Google Calendar).
Figure D

Integration with Google Drive (Click the image to enlarge.)

Functionality gaps

Gantter is a web-based view of Microsoft Project data that supports collaboration and dynamic scheduling.  Even though it is a web-based tool, it lacks some of the key functionality and views in Microsoft Project. At this time, Gantter doesn’t support a project baseline, which makes variance analysis and detailed task tracking difficult to perform. Deadlines and milestones are supported, although it is helpful to have a baseline for all project tasks.

The core Gantt Chart view is the only task view; if you want to model resource changes with Resource Usage or Task Usage views, you still need to import the data into Microsoft Project. Adding resources to a task is dialog box driven instead of selecting a resource from a drop-down box. Gantter supports filtering by resource; however, adding custom filter support would be helpful when tracking late tasks by resource or filtering on a specific date.

Overall impression

I give Gantter a big thumbs up. Replicating the Microsoft Project experience in a pure web-based application without applets or browser-dependent plugins is an impressive design and coding accomplishment. Enabling teams to import an existing Microsoft Project schedule for a web-based viewing without requiring a SharePoint-specific solution is also appreciated. Although Gantter’s collaboration features are limited to file-level editing, project teams seeking an efficient and free Microsoft Project solution that is “in the cloud” will be pleased.

The project collaboration space will continue to evolve and improve as innovative companies find better ways to collaborate while supporting traditional project scheduling needs. I look forward to the release of Microsoft Project 2013 and the Microsoft Project Pro for Office365 offering. With other companies pursuing collaboration and scheduling in the cloud, it will be exciting to see what the pioneer for project scheduling will offer.