Is There Life Beyond MS Project?


Henry Laurence Gantt (1861 - 1919)
Henry Laurence Gantt (1861 - 1919) Image via Wikipedia


Is there a medical device company anywhere that doesn’t use Microsoft Project to manage product development projects?  After all, it’s a time-tested, incredibly powerful Gantt-charting tool, and it plays nicely with Microsoft Office.   What’s not to like?

Okay, maybe I have a few pet peeves:

  1. Project management is much more than just a Gantt chart.   I want tools to help manage shared files, calendars, bug/issue-tracking, and assignable tasks.
  2. Distributed teams need to be able to access and update the project plan in real time from anywhere.  Sharing mpp files via email is a recipe for version conflict.  And who wants to shell out for a copy of MS Project for everyone on the team?
  3. Too many times I’ve seen MS projects enter the land of tangled task links, where timelines in project plans no longer make any sense.  Too many times, project planning meetings screech to a halt so distraught project managers can run off and burn several hours untangling links and rearranging tasks.

I could go on.  So I’ve been looking for a better solution for years, and I’m starting to see signs of life beyond MS project.

In the world beyond medical devices, most projects don’t require Gantt charting.  In fact, web 2.0 and software startups have totally rejected the Gantt chart approach to projects in favor of Agile Progam Management.  So, it’s no surprise that the leading project management software tools for web 2.0 startups, BaseCamp and PivotalTracker, don’t have task dependance or Gantt charting as part of the package.  Huddle and look like they may be useful as document management systems, but have no task management.  So, while these tools have great collaborative features, they don’t offer a complete solution for medical device project management.

There are several open source project tools available, including OpenProjdotProject, GanttProject, and many more.  Besides the usual concerns about reliability and support for these tools, they don’t really seem to address my issues.  They just give me the functionality and challenges of MS Project for free.

Recently I discovered Gantter, a clever add-in for Google Docs.  Gantter has made an MS-Project-like tool for Google Docs that enables collaborative viewing/editing or project plans.  Manymoon is another Google Apps add-in, enabling you to “share tasks, documents, events, status and projects with co-workers, customers and partners.” For medical device companies already using Google Apps (email/calendar/docs), these could be really useful.  But I wonder how many medical device companies are committed to Google Apps?

Zoho goes a few steps further, offering a full suite of online apps including word processing, spreadsheets, project management and many more.  There is some integration with Google Apps, but it seems to make the most sense if you go all in for Zoho.  It’s actually a pretty impressive suite, but it’s a major change in the way most of us work.

Web-based software-as-a-service (SAAS) tools appeal to me, for their inherent browser-based accessibility and for simplicity in maintenance.  (This blog is a good example.)  The plethora of offerings is bewildering: EasyProjectsLiquidPlanner, 5PM, @task, CopperProject, and many more.  This reminds me of the early days of email, when dozens of free email account providers vied to host my mailbox.  How do I know which one to choose?

For managing big company, corporate IT projects, the technology analyst firm Gartner describes several choices in their Project Management Magic Quadrant report.  At least one of them, Planisware, even has a specific vertical industry focus on life sciences.  If your company runs SAP or Oracle ERP, perhaps one of these systems is for you.  For most of us, these packages look like overkill.

So, where does this leave us?  There are signs of life beyond MS Project, but not yet an obvious first choice project management solution.   Leave me a comment and let me know what tool(s) your company uses.  Even better, email this post to your friends, and ask them to chime in too.


4 thoughts on “Is There Life Beyond MS Project?

  1. Jay, for a long while I’ve struggled with this same issue, as well. I’ve used MS Project and even tried to hack MS Outlook to offer some of the missing features (for me, I want to pack up all communication related to projects). That led to Basecamp but my one major peeve there is that I find the interface to be somewhat nonintuitive for finding items and noting project progress quickly. LiquidPlanner was okay. I now sometimes use OpenProj because I’m a Mac user.

    So, I feel your pain. I’ve often wished there was a flexible project management platform that allowed users to easily create modules they needed. All too often, we’re forced into awkward work-arounds because let’s face it…when it comes to project management, we’re all kind of unique in our needs. Probably not a realistic expectation, but who knows…maybe someone’s working on just such an application right now.

    Cheers, Chris

  2. Nice article. I had looked into several online project management tools to manage multiple research projects at Candela and finally ended up using Aceproject ( It worked well for me, but then my needs were very simple too. I just wanted real time updating of task status by all members of my team.

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