How to find the best project management program

If you're looking for a project management app, you're spoilt for choice

If your project is less than huge, there’s a wide range of project management programs that may suit your needs.

With the latest iteration of Office 365, Microsoft quietly released a new project management app called Planner.

It joins Microsoft Project in the Office stable – but whereas Project is a high-end application for managing complex projects such as large-scale software development or building construction, Planner is designed for smaller projects and teams in a typical office or small business environment.

However, Planner is entering a very crowded market with no shortage of options, including some that are free. 

Why are there so many? Most likely, it’s due to demand – after all, we all work in different ways and our projects and teams have different needs, too.

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Despite the many options available, many people persist with using email and applications that aren’t suitable for the purpose, such as Excel. Instead, with a bit of effort, you could find an app that closely matches your project management needs and helps you and your team complete projects more effectively and efficiently. 

Even using Microsoft Outlook’s often-overlooked “Tasks” function could be a step in the right direction. It allows you to add priorities and attachments to tasks, plus start and end dates, and to forward tasks to team members.

You can also use its task categories as “projects”, although that’s a fairly manual process and not as simple or collaborative as Planner.

Here’s a range of alternatives for you to consider – and most come with either a trial or free version for you to try.

Basic project management

Traditional project managers take a highly structured approach that requires a steep learning curve. But if you only manage small projects and teams, there are many simpler and more flexible options available. 

TrelloTrello is a popular app that uses the Japanese kanban approach to project management, with “boards” for projects and “cards” for tasks. It is highly visual, easy to use and has enough options for most small projects – each card can have due dates, attachments, checklists and labels.

You can use Trello as a personal project manager or assign cards to team members. It can be accessed via cloud, iOS and Android apps and offers a free plan or paid plans (from US$119.88 per user per year) with extra features such as “Power-Ups” for integrating multiple third-party apps like Dropbox and Evernote.

Office 365 Planner also uses the kanban approach. It’s only available to (and free for) those with Office 365 business plans, including Business Essentials and Business Premium.

If that’s you, then Planner is certainly worth checking out, as it integrates with other Office apps, offering the ability to attach files from OneDrive to tasks and connect boards to OneNote Online notebooks, for example. At the time of writing, Planner was currently only available as a cloud app.

Asana is another popular app, but it takes a more conventional approach, offering the ability to set up projects, tasks and sub-tasks, assign tasks, keep track of them, and lots more. Asana works well for those who don’t need the complexity of a fully-fledged project manager but do need a more powerful tool than the likes of Trello.

It’s available for free (for up to 15 users) or as a paid plan (for US$99.96 per user per year) that offers task dependencies and other additional features. Asana can be accessed via cloud, iOS and Android apps.

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Advanced project management

If you manage large or highly structured projects, then you’ll probably need a conventional project management application.

Microsoft ProjectMicrosoft Project continues to dominate this market, particularly at the enterprise level, and offers a range of options. It’s still available as a Windows desktop application, with Project Standard priced at US$1049 and Professional at US$1789. But it’s now also available as a subscription, starting from US$9.80 per user per month for the Standard cloud-only version.

The price jumps to US$42 for a Professional subscription, although that also includes a five-PC licence for the desktop application and advanced features, such as project costing, resource management, reporting and business intelligence.

LiquidPlanner is an increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft Project, offering much of the latter’s features – including powerful scheduling and resource management – in a modern, cloud-based application, with iOS and Android apps, too. It’s available for US$9.99 per user per month for up to five users, or US$39 for larger teams and advanced features, such as analytics.

14 more project management program options

The many other project managers available range from simple workflow managers to enterprise-grade project managers, including:

Free desktop apps for project management

Cloud apps now dominate this slice of the business software market, but some free desktop applications remain available – from Portable Kanban for personal projects to the powerful GanttProject.

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