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Is Microsoft Project Too Robust for Your Team’s Needs?

Is Microsoft Project Too Robust for Your Team’s Needs?

By Steve Pogue

Microsoft Project was one of the first project management software solutions in the marketplace –- it’s been around since 1984! It was the first software to provide specific tools for project managers.

MS Project is a complex, robust software with all the bells and whistles. But, there is such a thing as too many bells and whistles. And Microsoft Project is no longer the only option in the market. 

As of May 2020, there are now over 400 different project management solutions available, according to Software Advice

So how, do you know if MS Project is just enough or too much for your team’s needs?  

Follow the four steps below to determine what your team really needs and whether Microsoft Project is the best solution for you. 

Identifying What Features You Actually Need in Project Management Tool

Step 1: Define your needs

The first step to understanding whether MS Project is too robust for your team is to clearly define what it is your team needs. You can do this by asking the following questions:

  1. What problems are you trying to solve? Do you have a current tool that isn’t working? What are you struggling with that you need software to support? 
  1. What does your team look like? The size and project experience of your team and company, the nature of your business, and the complexity of your projects will affect the type of project management software that you need.
  1. How does your team function? Every team has a different set of skills and work habits, which are best supported by different software features and tools.
  1. Is your team tech-savvy? Consider how your team tends to handle change and adopt new tools. Do they typically need a lot of personal support? Do you plan to have a subject matter expert (SME) on the team? If not, you’ll need a very user-friendly tool or a service provider that will offer this type of ongoing support.
  1. Do you have remote workers? The physical location of your team should impact your software decisions. If you have a lot of remote workers or teammates located in separate buildings, then you may need a cloud solution that has strong collaboration and communication functionality. 
  1. What tasks and processes need to be covered? Think about a typical workday and note down the various project management tasks you usually encounter. 
  1. What does the future look like? What is the projected growth of your company? What kind of project management needs do you anticipate in the next few years?
  1. What other tools are you using? What integrations do you need? Any software you choose needs to be able to integrate with your existing software and any apps you may be planning to purchase in the future.

Step 2: Understand what Microsoft Project offers (and what it doesn’t)

Now that you have a strong understanding of what your team needs, it’s time to compare it with what MS Project has to offer. 

If Microsoft Project doesn’t match your top requirements, then it isn’t enough to meet your needs. On the other hand, if you have only a few key features you really need, why pay for all the extra bells and whistles that come along with Project? 

Here’s an overview of what MS Project has to offer, as well as a look at it’s pricing and top pros and cons:

Features

Microsoft Project offers roughly 40 different project management features and functions. Some of the notable ones include: 

  1. Baselines: Set project baselines to monitor current performance against past performance.
  2. Critical path: Visually track the tasks that represent the longest path through the project.
  3. Dependencies: Set and visually track dependencies between tasks.
  4. Gantt view: Visually track and understand project dates, dependencies, and assignments in a hierarchical Gantt view.
  5. Master projects: Group smaller related projects under a single master project.
  6. Milestones: Establish and track important project and task milestones.
  7. Project costing and budgeting: Compare planned progress and budget to actual time and costs.
  8. Resource costing: Track and manage the resource costs of your project.
  9. Resource leveling: Resolve resource conflicts or over allocations by automatically leveling the assignments.
  10. Task scheduling: Use task start and end dates, effort, work, lead and lag times, and dependencies to get an accurate schedule of project dates
  11. Team planner: Track the allocation and capacity of all project team members, including non-project work and non-working time.
  12. Timelines: Visually track and understand project dates, dependencies, and assignments in a timeline view.

Pricing

The on-premise solutions (which is what MS Project is traditionally known for) start at $769, but this is a simplified version lacking a lot of important features. The mid-level solution is $1,719.

Cloud-based solutions start at $12.80/user/month, but that doesn’t include many of its features such as reporting, resource management, or timesheet tracking. The full-featured cloud-based offering is $70.40/user/month. 

The full-featured version, with your own on-site server, is not advertised on their website — you need to contact them and provide info about your company to receive a quote.  

Pros

  • MS Project is compatibility with the rest of the Microsoft suite, including common tools like Microsoft Excel and SharePoint
  • It’s a powerful tool loaded with lots of advanced features, including resource management and budgeting capabilities
  • You can choose an on-premise or cloud-based solution
  • Microsoft is a proven software provider with a ton of name recognition
  • MS Project comes with some out-of-the-box templates and reports to help you get started

Cons

  • MS Project is mostly used as a desktop application — it’s cloud version isn’t as intuitive or slick as many other cloud-based project software options. 
  • It’s expensive — Microsoft Project was designed for large, formal teams in large formal organizations. SMBs may not be able to comfortably handle the cost. 
  • It’s difficult to share info with non-users. Files are defaulted to save as MPPs, so they cannot be opened without someone having a license to the tool. The only other option is to rely on static reports or export data to excel (with a potential loss of formatting and links.)
  • MS Project is very process-centric, which is not great for Agile based projects that emphasize individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Many users complain that the software is difficult to learn and use. Many parts of the system feel dated, it has limited integration capability, and even basic functions such as setting up your project schedule can be overly complex and end up full of errors. 

Step 3: Balance features with usability and adoption

Microsoft Project is a tool designed for actual project management professionals (PMPs.) 

And the reality is that on today’s teams, many people aren’t professional project managers, even though they’re doing the work of one. They need uncomplicated, easy to use tools that help them track and manage successful projects without having to earn a certificate in PM theory. 

Unless you need an on-premise solution containing the advanced features of MS Project, you will likely be sacrificing usability for bells and whistles that your team won’t even be able to take full advantage of. 

There are a lot of alternatives on the market today that can likely meet your needs while being easier to use and less expensive. But, you don’t want to drift too far in the other direction and select a solution that is too light-weight to handle your team’s requirements. 

It’s best to select a software that meets the level of your team’s needs — balancing usability with functionality. 

The majority of software solutions can fit into one of four categories. Based on your teams’ requirements, you can assess which category is right for you and narrow down your search to solutions in that tier. 

Level 1: Basic Solutions

Basic project management software solutions often include tools not truly designed for project management but that have been made to do the job in a pinch. 

Two common examples are Excel Spreadsheets and Trello. While popular tools, they tend to fall short when you’re trying to view multiple tasks or projects and report on progress. 

Level 2: Task Management Solutions

Task management solutions are the next step up from the basic solutions. These options are generally pretty good for managing lots of separate tasks, but they lack many important project management features, such as the ability to link tasks and track dependencies. 

They also generally have limited functionality, limited reporting, and little to no support. Some popular examples include Asana, Basecamp, Monday.com, ProjectManager.com, TeamGantt, and Teamwork

Level 3: Project Management Solutions

Level 3 solutions are where most true project management solutions can be grouped. These tools usually offer key project features that are missing at the lower levels, such as dependency linking, resource tracking, and customizable project request forms. 

Many of these tools offer a balanced mix of usability and functionality. Popular options in this category are Workzone, LiquidPlanner, Robohead, Mavenlink, Podio, Smartsheet, Workamajig, and Wrike.

Level 4: Enterprise Solutions 

This level of solutions is where Microsoft Project belongs. It includes the most advanced solutions on the market — tools that come with all the bells and whistles and can be a good fit for large organizations with formal project management offices (PMOs). 

Steeper learning curves and longer implementation processes are the norm here. Often, a dedicated system administrator is a necessity. These tools may be project-focused or designed as all-in-one solutions. For example, Clarizen is a “work management” solution that includes a CRM (Customer relationship management) offering as well as project management features. Another popular enterprise solution is Workfront.

Step 4: Select the best option for your team  

If you don’t fit the mold of leading a large team, within a process-heavy organization, equipped with professional project managers, dedicated administrative staff, and an internal IT department, then MS Project is likely too robust for your team’s needs. 

Many newer project management solutions on the market offer all of the common project management features most teams need, at a more reasonable price, and with a much greater degree of usability. 

One of the primary reasons IT projects fail is that users don’t like or cannot use the product.   

The reality is that too many bells and whistles that most people don’t use end up getting in the way of the 20% of the features in the software that are actually essential.

At Workzone, we provide more than just a project management software solution. We believe it’s our job to help you beat these odds and implement sustainable processes that improve productivity for the long haul. 

And we recognize that unlimited training and support have proven to be 2.7x more effective at helping team adoption. That’s why, unlike Microsoft Project, we offer unlimited training and support for the duration of your contract. 

Steve Pogue is the Marketing Operations Manager at Workzone. He writes about project management tips and the buying process. When not at Workzone, you can find him playing vintage base ball or relaxing with his family at home.