The Trouble With Microsoft Project
Having conquered the desktop platform with its Microsoft Office Suite well over a decade ago, Microsoft has done very little to improve its project management software, Microsoft Project. But new alternatives to the de facto project management software for MS Windows PC’s means a better solution may be in your future.
Microsoft Project can be traced all the way back to a DOS version that appeared in 1984. Through its twists and turns in well over two decades marketing the product, Microsoft has released a number of Windows versions and a Macintosh version. Microsoft killed off the Macintosh version back in 1994. And Microsoft Project 2007 (Windows only) is the current release, with a 2010 version for Windows expected some time next year.
By marketing Microsoft Project with its ubiquitous Office Suite, Microsoft has made MS Project the most popular software for project management. It is the most popular, but not the best in terms of efficiency, functionality, or compliance to project management best practices. Microsoft won the .extension war for common applications: .doc for word-processing, .xls for spreadsheets, and .mpp for project documents.
As a result of owning the file format, they are able to dictate what the documents (therefore applications) can and cannot do. Owning the standard also means competitors feel compelled to maintain legacy compatibility with Microsoft Office Suite documents. This has a serious impact on the whole paradigm of competitive applications. Innovation is kept in check. It’s no wonder why, virtually all products that compete with MS Project start up with a screen ready for the user to begin entering a laundry list of tasks and milestones in a Gantt chart view. Although best practice for project planning is to begin with a work break-down structure (WBS), then some kind of Network diagram, and then a Gantt chart, Microsoft Project continues its nonsense. The Network diagram view in MS Project is down right embarrassing (figure below). The boxes are rigid, low-end graphics that reminds you of the mid-80’s. It isn’t surprising that so many full-time Controllers, Marketing Managers, Engineers, HR Directors, and the like who are not formally trained in project management are so ineffective wearing the ‘PM’ hat – not to mention frustrated.
In recent years, advancements in cloud computing, web standards, and more powerful lower cost computers has ushered in a number of excellent new alternative project management tools. For example, software as a service (SaaS) firms likeLiquid Planner and ProjectPlace have leveraged cloud computing and open web standards to offer very powerful cost effective PM tools. These tools work on any modern computing platform: Linux, UNIX, Mac OS X, and Windows. So it doesn’t matter if the project management office in London is using Mac OS X, the JAVA developers in Mumbai are using Linux, and the Procurement department in Chicago is using Windows. All project team members and key stakeholders have easy access to the same version of the truth, and can get their job done.
These new project management tools emphasize collaboration and communication. Let’s face it; most projects don’t fail because of not having enough Gantt charts. No, they usually fail because of poor communication and bad stakeholder management. It is encouraging to see a new breed of developers who get it. Likewise, there are now many very good desktop alternatives for smaller firms who do not manage huge projects and are using Linux, Mac OS X, or Windows platforms:Project X for Mac OS X comes to mind.
No one wants to spend more time managing their software than their project. If you are in this common predicament, consider jumping off the Microsoft Project ship and onto a more standards based, open, accessible solution.