PPM vs. Microsoft Project? A question coming up more and more for project managers as they daydream of a better tool. Laziness breeds ingenuity – and thus PPM tools were born. It probably looked something like this:
Project Manager slams hands against desk in frustration “Microsoft Project is such a pain! By the time all the updates are complete, our data is already out of date. We need a way for our team to collaborate and supply real-time project updates. There must be a better solution!”
Once upon a time, MS Project was a great solution, way back in 1984 when Microsoft first released the software, or even 1990 with Version 1 for Windows. MS Project has had a good long life, serving its purpose, and helping Project Managers plan and schedule their projects during those pesky pre-connectivity years of the digital age.
But let’s face it, even as the software has continued to evolve with technology, it’s never quite made the jump into the 21st century as so many other platforms have. In the age of the cloud, MS Project is still a client-based application (that’s so last century!). Although modern PPM tools vary in sophistication and complexity, they only exist because Project stakeholders need something more.
In the contemporary digital age, real-time collaboration and instantaneous project updates are imperative tools in any Project Manager’s toolbelt. Customers are saying so long to client-based applications and hello to cloud-based platforms with enhanced functionality that supply increased visibility into not just projects, but also programs and portfolios too.
It’s 2021 and like so many other providers, Microsoft offers five editions including Project for the web, Project Online, Project Online desktop client, Project Professional, and Project Standard. Project for the web is like Project Lite. The software exists, it’s available via the web, and it works with Microsoft O365 software (for an additional fee of course), and it requires minimal system resources but that’s it.
To obtain the functionality that Microsoft Project is famous for, customers still need to buy a desktop client for resource planning and management, demand management, and all those higher functions. Furthermore, the “collaboration and communication” methods touted by the Microsoft website are all via Teams. That means there is no true in-context collaboration, and that users would need to pay additional licensing fees to access that functionality.
So, knowing that (technically) Microsoft Project is only years behind in technology instead of decades, I will discuss the (top) 11 reasons that cloud-based PPM tools are better than that insipid Microsoft Project.
MICROSOFT PROJECT IS A CLIENT-BASED APPLICATION
MSPJ is going to be more responsive than any online system, if the system has sufficient resources at least!
As mentioned above, Microsoft does offer a version of Project for the web, but the functionality is extremely limited. Cloud-based PPM tool users can typically access via a website and often even log in using Single Sign On, honestly it doesn’t get easier than that. Full functionality still requires (gasp) users to install a client-based application. These days it’s probably a relatively quick download and web installation, rather than 42 floppy discs, right? I certainly hope so at least. Running the software requires at least a 2-core 1.6 GHz or faster CPU, and 4GB each of hard drive space and RAM. So, if your resources are sufficient, installing and running Microsoft Project will result in a highly responsive application. Until your hard drive crashes and you lose your project file of course. Since most PPM tools are cloud–based, they won’t always be quite as responsive, but you also won’t lose all your data if a hard drive crashes or laptop gets stolen either.
THE BENEFIT OF AN ONLINE SYSTEM IS THAT PLANS ARE ACCESSIBLE IN REAL TIME.
The plan is not just for the PM – but for the whole team, so get it off the desktop and into a live environment.
Does your scheduler spend more than half of their time updating the project schedule with updates from your partners or from resources updates? Are your schedule updates stale before they’ve even been revised in the system? When your resources have access to the project plan, as soon as they charge their time or update the percent complete on a task, those updates are already live. No reason to update a scheduler, who then updates the project plan. Enable partners to make real time updates without giving them access to proprietary or confidential information too.
Reporting on portfolios, programs, and projects so PMs and PMO leaders don’t have to answer 100 emails from resources, bosses, executives, or stakeholders asking what the status is.
Honestly, this is probably the #1 reason that project managers and executives alike, absolutely love cloud-based PPM tools. Real-time reporting is an absolute must in today’s day and age. Real-time reports enable leaders to make the important decisions with current data, rather than stale and outdated information. If your team is still calculating percent complete and cost at complete off a data date, well, you’re certainly not alone but why not work with current data instead? As soon as resources perform updates in the system, those changes are reflected in reports and dashboards that can be tailored to a variety of use cases. Stakeholders can use reports as tools to ensure that resources are performing updates in a timely fashion. Executives will be confident they are making decisions with the most accurate information available.
IF PROJECT PLANS ARE OFFLINE, IT HINDERS THE TEAM FROM WORKING COLLABORATIVELY
Not only can resources perform updates, but they can also collaborate in real time using in-context discussion posts. Project resources and collaborators can start or continue discussions all within an individual project. Furthermore, online PPMs tools now support @tagging to ensure that the proper team members are engaged in the conversation. Collaborative in-context conversations keep the Project Manager and Team engaged and on-track.
AN ONLINE PPM TOOL WILL BE A BIT LESS RESPONSIVE
That’s OK because it’s doing data checks and running validation rules and distributing notifications.
You might be saying, “hey we’ve talked about responsiveness already”. You’re right, we did. But that was in relation to actual system responsiveness (local vs cloud resource availability). Now, we’re talking about enhanced capabilities that cloud PPM tools offer that a client application like Microsoft Project doesn’t. Transitioning from a client-based scheduling application to a cloud-based PPM tool is a natural progression – like the transition from scheduling in a spreadsheet to scheduling software in the first place. PPM software allows administrators to write validation rules, and workflows, and customize behind the scenes actions that enhance and ease the user experience. It might reduce response time, but that’s because of all the complex back-end processing those users never even know is happening!
IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INTO A PPM TOOL ISN’T EFFICIENT OR EFFECTIVE
So, your Project Managers are used to working in MS Project, and they don’t want to make the change? That’s not a valid reason to maintain the status quo when it comes to managing your projects and portfolios and/or projects in MS Project (or any other client-based application for that matter). Yes, you can update MS Project and then import those changes into a PPM platform, but really, that’s twice the work and nobody has time for that these days. Most cloud-based PPM tools provide significantly more functionality when working in the native environment than is allowed via imports. If you’re not sure how to influence your Project Managers to make the switch, there’s probably sales material or blogs out there detailing the benefits for your particular industry or market.
“I NEED TO OFFLINE EDIT WHEN I’M NOT ONLINE” IS NOT A GOOD EXCUSE IN THE YEAR 2021
Nearly everywhere that you will actually work is online.
Sure, there are a few exceptions, but honestly internet connectivity is readily available and dependable almost anywhere these days. Trains, planes, and automobiles all offer Wi-Fi capabilities. Some cities even provide free Wi-Fi connectivity for their residents. If someone absolutely must work offline, most tools do allow exporting to a spreadsheet format that users can manipulate via Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and reimport. Of course, there’s inherent risks with this method since resources could be updating the project plan while a user is working offline, and the changes could conflict. Even if your team spends part of their time in a faraday cage, or a secure facility where absolutely no external network access is allowed, an online PPM tool is still going to be your best bet.
SCHEDULING A RESOURCE TO A TASK INSTANTLY UPDATES BUDGETS AND WORKLOAD TOO
Online PPM tools often offer integrated financial and resource management within the system, honestly, it’s pretty much a requirement these days. Since Project Managers need a single source of truth when it comes to their projects, PPM tools offer a degree of financial management in their systems. Not all tools are created equal, so it is imperative that you decide what your organization needs before transitioning to a new platform. Some platforms offer highly sophisticated financial management while others only offer basic financials like user rates and durations. Typically, though, any mainstream PPM will have both financial and resource management modules and provide real time updates to budgets and resource loads. Sure, MS Project offers similar capabilities, but if that information exists only on the Project Manager’s system and doesn’t get communicated to Project Stakeholders and/or Executives there’s not much value. Your organization already has financial systems and controls in place? Well, the good news is, “there’s an app for that”.
STANDARD AND CUSTOM INTEGRATIONS ENSURE CONSISTENCY OF DATA BETWEEN SYSTEMS
Integrations might not quite be “apps” but, they do provide a means of communicating important data between systems. Most online PPM platforms offer, at a minimum, standard integrations with external systems. Since the Project Management Organization is often a division of an organization, there are existing financial, time tracking, data lakes, and human/enterprise resource management systems in use within organizations. The developers of these online PPM tools understand the need for data integrity and provide the necessary tools to ensure secure transmission of data between these systems. Where standard integrations may not exist, at the minimum the platform will typically support integrations via Application Programming Interfaces or APIs. Standard and custom integrations ensure that systems can transmit data between platforms and maintain the integrity of the data simultaneously.
REAL-TIME COLLABORATION WITH INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL RESOURCES IS ESSENTIAL
Virtual teams are the new normal – I know I didn’t want to go there either, but it is an honest fact. As so many have painfully discovered in the last year or so, virtual teams must be able to communicate effectively while still preserving the project record. Cloud-based PPM tools offer simple, yet real time methods of communication, even when projects involve external resources and stakeholders. Some platforms allow external users to consume data but not contribute without a license, others supply the capability to flag external users and limit the data they have visibility too. Furthermore, publishing widgets allow explicit view only access to a subset of project data, allowing a specific audience access to information that would otherwise remain siloed.
AUTOMATION, AUTOMATION, AUTOMATION
We’ve touched on these subjects before, but honestly, in today’s instant gratification society, automation is where it’s at. MS Project just can’t compete with modern cloud-based software platforms with amazing configuration capabilities. Between integrations and configurations, formulas and validation rules; the automation capabilities of modern PPM tools far outweigh any possible arguments for maintaining your project plan in Microsoft Project. Oh, and honestly your Project Managers will thank you when they don’t have to log in to five different applications to produce their status reports.
Is your organization still tracking projects in spreadsheets and considering an alternative? Are you using Project and it doesn’t fit your needs? Have you lost your project files because of a system crash? Tired of importing and exporting data that’s stale before you’ve even entered it in the system? Do you need to work and communicate in real time with both internal and external stakeholders? Do you want to request that resources perform real-time updates? Do you have programs or portfolios of projects to manage? Did I mention the free trials?
Go forth and explore the wide world of cloud-based PPM platforms and find a solution that supports your organization, rather than structuring your PMO to support archaic project plans in software that never quite met all of your organization’s needs to begin with. At Kolme Group, we have worked hard to find the best PPM tools on the market. Check out our preferred PPM tools, here.