As a small business trying to find suitable project management software can be a bit of a nightmare. Often, appealing project management software that looks to be perfect is far too pricey for a small business or start-up to be able to foot the bill. Most online offerings now come with a freemium pricing structure. In this case even for a small business the free versions mostly doesn’t have the features you require and the premium offerings run at around $40.00 a month on average.
For this reason I have been looking into Access, Podio and Filemaker Advanced as ways of getting some of the benefits. So far have spent a lot of time working on/with both Access and Podio and it seems neither is perfect. I’ll try and outline the pro’s and con’s of both below. I apologise in advance to those lovers of Filemaker out there. My review is based soley on trying it for a weekend and realising the limitations presented to a ‘noob’. I imagine were you to spend development time on it that it would be a very useful tool.
Desktop based solutions
Access (Desktop Database) - Most people know what MS Access is so I won’t go into detail except to outline the key feature which is the ability to do complex relational reports queries it really the better solution apart from 2 major hurdles.
1 is development time. It just isn’t as straight forward as taking a template and tweaking it. You really need to invest some development time in making it do what you want rather than making do with what the templates can manage.
2 Lack of ability to use online. This would mean no mobile access.
Microsoft have tried to address these issues by adding the ability to crteate ‘Web Apps’ which are essentially Web databases but because of the nature of a web database the key features of a relational database and complex reporting are lost without using a desktop back end which is incidentally the only place you can view these reports. So essentially it is possible to create a web-based (but dumbed down) version of an Access Desktop database.
Potentially Filemaker Advanced could address the the 2nd disadvantage of Access (see above) of being able to be used on line but their are 2 major disadvantages with Filemaker. 1stly the cost, at £200 approx per user license plus a lot more for a server license and set-up with web hosting for web access you are looking at £1000+. The second major disadvantage is the development time. Filemaker comes with some pre-configured databases, much in the same as Access comes with templates, however none of these are specific enough to reduce the development time to a minimum to make the DB do what we would want in terms of tracking costings etc. Ultimately I think you would need to employ a developer at quite a cost to set up what you want. I wouldn’t expect this to be any less than about £1500 as I would imagine it would be about a weeks work at £300-£400 per day.
Both of the above options lack a feature that all modern Online platforms seem to contain, that of Dashboards. These are essentially reports in Graphical form to easily display data and to show other content such as comments and activity. I actually think that in the main Dashboards are completely unnecessary and in-fact some of the prettiest are the least useful, however it is worth noting that this functionality could be built into an Access DB in the form of a split page with limited report data from queries and this could be useful to show for instance open projects assigned by user who has logged in or open tasks etc. Realistically there is about 6-10 hours work in doing this so it needs to be necessary.
Online PM software.
When it comes to online project management software there is an overwhelming amount out there. These are often reviewed on sites that are run by the PM software companies themselves or by companies that receive a royalty or pay-to-click so be wary. When it comes to what these solutions can offer, most of the free options provide little more than social collaboration platforms, allowing you to create an intranet with social integration where you can invite people to project workspaces and create and assign tasks. Almost without exception there little or no time tracking or budgeting except with paid plans. - See Freedcamp and Igloo as examples. (paid plugins enhance the experience in the case of Freedcamp)
In case you were wondering because the reviews are often so biased towards a particular product I felt I needed to check them out for myself. I tried Mavenlink who wanted me to pay before I even tried. Freedcamp which is a social and collaboration platform which has limited functionality unless you pay for apps and even then still pretty limited I think. All the other well known ones I tried demo’s and the only possibility in this regard would be Wrike - but the full options are $49 a month for up to 5 users.
Worth a mention is Smartsheets which is basically an online Spreadsheet system which has lots of project planning templates and fancy reporting systems such as Gantt charts and such. It probably would be a) to complicated to use and b) it costs $14.99 per month per user. It could be easy to get lost in the features and the table based aspect of this tool at the expense of efficiency, but don’t take my word for it there is a free 30 day trial.
A notable exception to the offerings online is Podio. It is free for upto 5 users and is highly customisable, quite easily. There is an app market with pre-configured apps and app-packs and the market insists all apps are free. I am currently using it for the I.T Issues and Asset Tracking as I find the online capabilities particularly useful however after lots of head scratching I am just not sure how would integrate this for maintenance project tracking? I see Podio working best to manage a few large projects such as a Website start-up or Mobile App development or such. Just can’t see how you could streamline it effectively to be able to use it to plan projects form maintenance and not get lost in the detail or in having lots of workspaces. I will continue to think on it when I am using it but for now I think it would prove to unwieldy.
Finally in terms of the review is a little known online service I stumbled upon during my searching. It is most likely a small scale business and the support is absolutely outstanding. There is built in support live-chat. It is a Project Management solution that in the paid version Allows you to create Clients, Users, Projects (Broken down into milestones) and Tasks, (categorised using Task Lists) It is quite simple to use, includes the ability to attach files take notes, comment on projects and tasks and the paid version also has Time tracking and expenses and recuring expenses. It will create reports, haven’t checked how complex and has a time tracker in the web-app that allows you to select the task, and record the time you have spent on it. It also has a desktop app that syncs with the online app and a mobile app that allows you to do some of the simpler things like add projects, tasks and has a time tracker as well. Paymo costs $6.00 per user per month inc Vat but you can check it out with full-features for free with a 3 project limit.
I suggest taking a look at Paymo as it isn’t hugely expensive and they are developing the product. Particularly because of the desktop app sync which would allow working even without internet.
It would also be worth sitting down and getting together a specification for what you actually want to be able to do/see/achieve with your Project Management system. That way you can look at your requirements, prioritise them and see which Product best fits the bill.
In practise both Podio and Paymo have the element the other does missing. Paymo is essentially a glorified projects to do list without the ability to tag or priorities tasks and projects but with good time tracking. Podio is customisable project management that gets huge and hard to oversee. It also has no proper time tracking although you can add duration fields or create timesheets to do this. Works on a task level so unless you set tasks you can’t easily see what to work on.