Top five planning software – 2020 review

If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Trite yes but also very much true.  All projects even Agile projects need to plan.  Of course you don’t have to use software to plan your project but the productivity gains are definitely worth it. Over the last decade the project management software market has grown significantly.  There are now hundreds, thousands even of tools which promise to make projects easy.  Many of them try to make it easy by ignoring things like planning, dumbing  down.  Other tools try to do everything and become either expensive or complex or both.  In this post we are going to look at the top five planning software tools you should consider using.

Our review is going to look at just tools with a primary focus on planning and which can be used standalone.  Here is the summary grid and each planning software tool is then discussed in more detail below.

Top five Planning software; planning tools; project management software; planning tool comparison

Top five planning software tools – 1 – Microsoft Project

Lets start with Ms Project certainly the most well known desktop planning application on the market.  MS Project led the way with planning support and has been constantly updated ever since.  It is the most comprehensive desktop tool on the market in pure planning terms, highly featured and well supported.

Unfortunately it doesn’t have a good actual cost collection capability.  MS Project has two main drawbacks however, cost and complexity.  It is by far the most expensive application at £600+ to purchase individually however many organisations have discounted and bulk buying options which will bring that down.  I like MS Project I have been an active user for over twenty years but even I don’t know all its ins and outs.  You will need formal training to be proficient and to get the most out of it.  Of course sharing your plans isn’t that easy as it’s exporting/printing isn’t that great and you might need to tool your teams up with one of the free tools so they can view the plans you want to share

To summarise it is the desktop planning software you should use if you have the budget and the time to learn it all.

Visit the Microsoft site for Project Professional here.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 2 – Gantt Project

Gantt Project is a free alternative to MS Project.  It is the first of two similar freeware planning tools on the list.  Again it is provided as standalone software and is capable of running on Windows, OSX and Linux. Unfortunately Gantt Project is now looking quite dated.  This tool is also limited in terms of higher level capabilities for example cost and budget management.  Although it does offer both Critical Path and Baseline functionality.  Data interchange with older versions of MS Project and CSV formats is also good.

However it has no Earned Value capability and there is no step up capability for linking it into a more multi user experience so it is perhaps a little bit of a dead end.  Having said that it is free and has a large user base among smaller organisations.  It is robust and well proven and for freeware quite well supported.

Visit the Gantt Project site here to download it for free.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 3 – Project Libre

Project Libre is the second freeware planning tool we will look at. Although the interface is a little nicer than Gantt Project it is pretty similar and is also supported on Windows, Linux and OSX .  Likewise it also reads from older MS Project files but not newer ones nor does it exchange with CSV easily.

Project Libre provides Earned Value and baseline capabilities but lacks Critical path.  It also has minimal customisation, no actual cost collection, analysis or risk and issue management.  Project Libre does support budget cost build up and they say a server version is coming soon so this wouldn’t be a dead end.  I like it more than Gantt Project, but only just.

You can learn about Project Libre and download it for free here.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 4 – Team Gantt

Team Gantt is something a bit different from the other tools here as it is a SaaS subscription service.  They do offer a free very limited version but the paid (£25/month) version is more comparable to the other tools.  As it is browser based you can in theory use it anywhere with an internet connection, but don’t lose your connection!  It covers all the core capabilities as expected although again not actual cost collection.  Team Gantt also supports Baselines but not Earned Value or Critical Path.

It is the only tool on the list which doesn’t support interaction with MS Project and isn’t multi-lingual.  Customisation is also very limited.  On the plus side it has better Filtering and anlaysis then the freeware products and is inherently multi user and multi project.  However it doesn’t really support the full project management capability set.

Top Five Planning software tools – 5 – PROJECT in a box Planner

Our Planner tool is designed to feed nicely into our multi-user platform as a source of all project controls data.  It therefore goes further than the other tools in covering actual cost collection and also risk and issue management.

Planner does not support baseline directly and has a simple Earned Value measure called Progress Cost.  A Critical Path capability is coming soon too.  You can do full import/export with MS Project and CSV.  Planner is also the only product beside MS Project to offer Timeline and Calendar displays.

Planner is also totally free though developed and supported by a commercial organisation so not freeware. It also boasts strong analysis capability and onward extensibility into the main PROJECT in a box application.  Planner however is only available as a Windows application, although commercial users of the PROJECT in a box application have access to a browser version of it.

So if you want a great all round modern project controls tool Planner is a great choice and totally free.  Find out more here, or sign up to download it here.

Plan start date – move it easily with Planner

Just one of life’s million annoying little things, but it happens to us all. You spend all that time carefully crafting a schedule for your upcoming project. And then the start date changes… Perhaps priorities pull it forwards or delays push it back. But when that plan start date changes you inevitably have to move your tasks around to refit.

plan start date

Plan start date moves made easy

Of course if your plan has made good use of dependencies there may only be a few tasks to move.  But if you have a large plan working through to be sure can take a while.  And you might miss those outlying milestones or tasks without a dependency.  So we have introduced a great new feature into Planner to help you with plan start date moves.

This simply moves all tasks which don’t have an incoming dependency by a set number of days.  You can move the first task in the project to start today if you want.  And the function will move the others to suit.  Alternatively you can also just bump forwards or back a set number of days.

Plan start date in templates

We had a particular reason for adding this feature.  The way our project management tools work is to establish a new project with a preconfigured set of templates.  Of course this is very popular and gets the project off and running on the right foot.  Usually one of the key templates will be a project plan/schedule.  Often the plan template will contain a predefined set of tasks and also resources.  You will helped our greatly by this when setting up your project.  But it means you will always needs to move the plan start date  on first edit.

We have added a new video to our popular Planner Masterclass series on exactly this topic.  Planner templates is the eleventh masterclass and you can see it here.  It explores 7 aspects of Planner templates you can take advantage of.

To jump straight to the section on changing plan start date use this link.

You can download the Planner installer with this upgrade for free from here.

Software demo updated to 5.3

Many of you have found our software demo capability very helpful when thinking about buying PROJECT in a box.  So we have great news for you.  When you use the live software demo you will now be seeing the current version 5.3.

All you have to do is follow the link to the page and log in.  You will then be able to browse and interact with a populated example site.  We have limited the capabilities in some areas so for example you can view files but not edit them.  But you will get a really good feel for how simple and easy the system is to use.

free pm software; software demo

Software Demo – Live Edition version 5.3

You will be able to browse a whole range of different project types and see the new dynamic navigation display in action.  This included PRINCE2, Praxis framework and Scrum projects as well as projects developed with our n-step methods.

Of course you can also explore the impressive reporting interface and choose to run any of the report types you might like to see.  You can also explore reporting at programme and portfolio levels too.  We have also set it up so you can try out the new edit and customisation of .piabx files.

To make it very easy to follow we have also provided a tutorial guide video showing you how to log on.  This also points out some of the interesting projects and capabilities to explore.

We intend this to be a helpful step in the buying process.  You can look through the system and try it out without having to register or leave card details.  That means nobody will be giving you the hard sell.  Of course if you like it do contact us and we can arrange for a fully interactive evaluation as the next step.

Working from home – a survival guide

So as the scale of Corona virus impacts increase it looks like many of us will soon be working from home.  For many people this will be an unusual experience.  Here at PROJECT in a box many of us have been regular or occasional home workers.  So we thought we would put those fifteen years of experience to good use.  The result is our Survival guide to working from home.

working from home; self isolation

We have prepared the guide as videos on You tube and split them into three easy to follow parts.

Working from home – part 1 – tools

In this first session we get you to think about preparing to work from home.  So what are you going to need in terms of tools and connectivity?  Of course with internet being so good in many homes this should be easy.  But if yours isn’t we give some tips.

You will also want to think about supporting comms with phone or tools like skype.  To enable you to keep your projects running smoothly of course you will need some shared access to something like Live Edition too.

Working from home – part 2 – working environment

You will face plenty of practical issues with your new working environment.  These will apply whether you are a regular remote worker or are just self isolating for a week or two.  In this session we advise you about how and where to set up your work space.

It is likely you won’t have an ideal space available, most people don’t.  So we give some helpful advice about which factors to consider when weighing up your choices.

Working from home – part 3 – keeping focus

You will find positives and negatives of working from home.  In this third part we cover how to keep motivated and productive in your new surroundings.  We also talk about the advantages of working from home and how maximizing these will keep you focused.

The meat of this guide is in the videos.  So use the links above to see them one at a time or here for the full playlist.

The perfect project plan presentation

We all know how having a good project plan is critical to success.  However just having the plan is not enough.  You also need to share it and the understanding it contains.  With many planning tools this is a problem.  Sometimes due to deliberate choices but also by poor design.  For example licensing limits or lack of features for formatting outputs.  Planner doesn’t suffer from either of these issues.  So with Planner you can achieve excellent project plan presentation.

Project plan presentation on-screen

Planner gives you  a rethought planning interface.  So many other planning tools provide project data in-line with the Gantt chart rows, Planner goes beyond this. We do this by providing the Gantt chart above the the data rows below.  That way you get to see much more of both and clicking in one puts you into the right place in the other.

We have talked often about how the views capability in Planner gives you total control on what you see.  Not just which data columns you see but also which set of tasks.  So if you just want Milestones or you just want overdue tasks, or your tasks, you can filter that.  That means you won’t have irrelevant tasks cluttering your project plan presentation.  You can find out more about views here.

project plan presentation; gantt chart; free planning tools

Some of you will no doubt have large hi-res monitors, perhaps even a pair of them.  We have noticed that as this trend has increased users have struggled to see the details of their plans.  So with that in mind we have a new Planner version out which allows you to choose the font and Gantt size arrangements for your plan.  This makes it much easier to read the plans on high res monitors.

Project plan presentation outputs shared

So having your plan and being able to work on it is very important.  But it is also essential you can share access to it with other parties.  These other parties might be your members, contractors, partners, customers or even regulators.  With some of them you will want to provide the plan so they can update it or interact fully with it.  Of course because Planner is totally free they can download it and do exactly that.  With other parties you want to provide snap shots or reports which blend other information in your project plan presentation.

Again Planner comes to the rescue and this time offers you a number of ways of sharing content.  Planner has a reporting facility which provides PDF output for your current data.  Because this takes note of the view you are using it can report on a subset of your project plan if needed.  We have significantly enhanced this feature in the new latest Planner version by allowing you to choose scale and quality.  By scale we mean you can choose font sizes and the sizing of Gantt elements.  By quality we mean you can choose the resolution of the Gantt image.   So you can see you are really in control of this reporting.

project plan presentation; free gantt chart; free planning tools

Sometimes you will want to mix your project plan presentation in with other outputs for a more formal report.  Perhaps running multiple views to identify say overspending tasks and upcoming milestones in the same report.  Using Planner you can do this too.  Just right click on the data or image you want and you can copy to clipboard and paste into another file or email.

Do you have a lot of tasks in your project plan presentation?

But what if your task list is too long for a single image on a report page?   Don’t worry Planner has your back again.  You use advanced copy Gantt chart as image in the import/export menu.  This allows you to decide how many tasks per image and then creates the multiple images for you.

Project plan presentation mastered and it is free

These are the sort of features you don’t even get on top end commercial planning applications.  And of course we provide you this and it is free.  You can get your free forever Planner by signing up here.

If you want to see this live we have  covered it in our Planner masterclass 10 – perfect presentation.  And of course the full set of Planner Masterclasses are here.

Project Management Blogs for 2020

Project management is an area which is relatively young in the academic tradition.  Also many of us didn’t formally study project management except maybe a PRINCE2 course sometime.  So is always lots more to learn. Much of the pure research that academics do is available directly in journals.  But for most of us Journals are hard work to follow.  So are you missing out on these new ideas?  Not necessarily, because many bloggers revise and simplify this material.  Project managers who blog also often talk about their own experiences.  Such info on real world problems and solutions, even failures, can be a great help.  When you are a newby PM that is especially the case.  So with that in mind we have put together a list of Project Management Blogs you should be following in 2020.

Bloggers also provide tool reviews which can be really helpful. However often these tool reviews are paid for to fund the blogs.  So a pinch of salt is always advised.

We haven’t ordered these and they all have varying things to offer.  So lets take a look.

project management blogs for 2020

1 www.projectmanagement.com

Technically not one blog but a collection of great blogs from a range of bloggers and all found on the same page.  This set of Project management blogs is curated by the PMI and they take a hard line view of anything overtly commercial.  So that means no tool reviews and book plugging just good quality material from good authors.

Quite a lot of Agile content here, but also project financial issues, stories and experiences of PMs like yourself.  This is a great place to start.

https://www.projectmanagement.com/blogs/

 

2 Praxis Framework Blog

Again more like a collection of blogs and articles which keeps it varied and the quality levels up.  All the contributors here are involved in supporting the Praxis framework (among their many varied other interests).  Topics here often go beyond pure project management and into more general management theory so if you don’t have a strong academic background then you will find lots here to help deepen your understanding.  Many of the contributors here run their own blogs (Ron Rosenhead, Robert Buttrick, Melanie Franklin, David Hillson) as well as Mr project management Adrian Dooley.

https://www.praxisframework.org/en/resource-pages/

 

3 The APM Blogs

The last of our ‘collection’ listings and no great surprise it is the other professional institution for project management.  As you would expect for a professional body there is a broad range of material here from a wide range of contributors (myself included occasionally).  Topics cover development, best practice, research/academic, team working and many more subjects.  Great if you need your daily fix as there is pretty much a post a day.

https://www.apm.org.uk/blog/

 

4 How to manage a Camel

A very active project management blog from the team at arrasPEOPLE.  This blog is more UK centered and has lots of career and training advice as well as a strong theme around PMO topics.  Highly recommended for those new to project management.  I think this was the first project management blog I regularly read and it is still going strong.

https://www.arraspeople.co.uk/camel-blog/

 

5 Girls Guide to PM

Don’t worry it is for the guys too.  I remember Elizabeth Harrin’s blog from when it first started and was reporting on the PM world from a female perspective.  But it didn’t take long to bloom into one of the best and most informative project management blogs from any perspective.  This blog is highly accessible and another one which is great for people at the newer end.

https://www.girlsguidetopm.com/blog/

 

6 Project Bliss

Leigh Espy’s blog is nice and accessible and covers a good range of project management topics.  Also a good mix of general management , career development and agile material too.  Leigh also provides free templates from time to time.

https://projectbliss.net/

 

7 Better Projects

Something from Australia next.  Better projects is a nice and high brow blog quite academic and with quite a focus on team working and organisational subjects.

https://www.betterprojects.net/

 

8 The Lazy Project Manager

This is Peter Taylor’s blog and named after his well known book.  A light hearted and often contrary view on the topics we can often be way too precious about.  You can rest assured there are no sacred cows for Peter and he will make you look at things in a different and more critical way.  In our opinion that is always a good thing.

https://thelazyprojectmanager.wordpress.com/

 

9 Brad Egeland

Brad is one of the most prolific writers in Project Management today.  As well as his own blog he regularly contributes to PMI blogs and others and there is always something new to be read.  This runs as a project management  blog and in other technology areas too.

https://www.bradegeland.com/blog

 

10 PROJECT in a box blog

There are no surprises for guessing we were going to make the list.  Our blog focuses mainly on methodology topics and best practice for working with our software.  Both the commercial stuff and the free stuff.  Written by Malcolm West a 20+ year member of the APM and previous winner of the APM’s Sir Monty Finniston Award it will keep you nicely up to date with what is going on with the best free project management software in the world.

Project Management Blog

Other Project Management blogs are available…

Lets face it there are loads, but they come and go many start busy and fade away as life gets busy or the shit hits the fan in the day job.  We chose these not because we were paid or because we arranged some return favours but because these are the project management blogs that we actually read ourselves.  And because they have a pedigree, continue to be active into 2020 and promise much more for years to come.

Great reviews for PROJECT in a box

We know you like to make up your own minds about how good we are.  That is why most of you are users of our free tools like Community Edition and Planner.  But you might also sometimes find it is good to hear about the experiences of others too. So we have pulled this post together to showcase the great reviews we have been getting.

Great reviews on Capterra and G2Cloud

Both of these sites are now showing us as 4.5 out of 5 as scored by existing customers.

great reviews from users at Capterra for our project management software

Our customers also left comments like this:

“Highly recommend PROJECT in a box”

“PROJECT in a box, extreme value for money”

“It has improved the way we work as a team”

It is great to hear such positive feedback and that they would be highly likely to recommend us to others.  In fact we have often picked up new customers via recommendation like that over the years.

more great reviews for our Project and programme management software at G2 Crowd

Users at G2 Crowd were equally positive about their experiences with PROJECT in a box, saying:

“Great platform to manage and optimize the development of your ideas”

“Exactly what it says on the box”

These users gave us a remarkable 10 out of 10 on support and 9.2 on ease of use.

But don’t take out word for it, you can read these independent reviews here:

PROJECT in a box at Capterra

PROJECT in a box at G2Crowd

We have also had great reviews in the trade press

You might also like the more in depth independent reviews from the trade press.  We have grouped these together here.

In particular the reviews of Enterprise/Live Edition and Planner in Project Manager Today.  Both of these were highly positive about the real project management capability being delivered and the price at which it was available.  “Worldclass with a global community of users” summed it up nicely.

Risk responses and Issues too

If you want to manage your risks you firstly have to identify them.  We agree and have written many posts on that subject but that is not enough.  Unless you only identify very low level risks you will certainly need to do something about them.  When project managers still use excel risk registers it is common to see a column with the risk notes or actions.  That is definitely better than nothing but it isn’t great.  Mainly because it lacks granularity.  You have heard “there are many ways to skin a cat“, well the same applies to addressing your risk. In the real world there will likely be many possible ways of handling each risk and one excel field makes this a challenge to document.  Luckily Planner has the ability to store multiple risk responses for each risk.

Risk responses make the risk

So for each risk you can document multiple responses.  As you can see below you don’t just list the response but who will deliver it.  Also you show when the risk should be delivered by, the status and notes on the progress.

risk responses

Of course this doesn’t actually address the risks for you but it lets you keep better focus on which responses there are and how they are progressing.  In particular identifying the owner and actionee is very helpful. In Planner you can filter and analyse your risks and responses across even very large registers.  However when you load your Planner register back into the main application this is even better.

This information becomes invaluable once the data is in the main system and links made to owner/actinee.  Now the risk and relevant responses will appear on peoples individual action lists.  You might also get notification reminders.

When risk responses become Issue responses

Unfortunately sometimes risks become issues.  When you move a risk to an issue in Planner it moves the responses with it.  So you can see how the risk was managed when you are addressing the issue, what worked and what didn’t.  You can add new responses to the issue too if needed. Of course when issues come out of the blue you can set up responses on these as well.  You manage your issue responses the same way as risk responses keeping it simple and easy to follow.

Finding out more about issue and risk responses

This is topic 9 in our Planner masterclass series on You tube see the video here.

Of course if you are a regular user of Planner the other videos in the series will be equally helpful, watch the full set here.

If you are new to Planner then what are you waiting for?  You can download it for free from here and use it forever.

Reviews – leave yours and you might get a reward!

You are of course a valued customer and user of PROJECT in a box.  So we would like to thank you for being part of our worldwide community of over 500,000 individuals and organisations.  Of course delivering better project outcomes everyday is already a great gift.  But we have something even better in mind. In return for your reviews we are offering you the chance to win a gift.

Reviews with Capterra

This holiday season we are teaming up with Capterra (a Gartner Company) to learn more about your experience with PROJECT in a box. Capterra is kindly offering each user a $20 Amazon or Visa gift card for a quick 2-3-minute review of our product.

With the holidays quickly approaching, you can use this gift card for travel expenses or gifts for loved ones! To participate, please write a review here:

reviews

Because this offer is limited to the first 100 valid entries we suggest you don’t leave it too long.

Reviews in the press

If you want to catch up with other reviews of PROJECT in a box have a look here.

 

If you haven’t already done so you might also like to contribute to our 2019 project management survey.

Free software for your projects

So many software providers say ‘free’ but really mean trial.  But not with PROJECT in a box, when we say free we mean free.  When we first started our business over 15 years ago, it was with the launch of Community Edition.  The first and proudly still the only free PRINCE2 software.  Of course over the years we have improved and extended CE and also added further free software to the stable.  So now our free software bundle is unrivaled providing three tools and covering many methodologies. And now in the closing days of the decade we have refreshed it all again.

Read on for more details or watch the video on YouTube here.

Free software – Community Edition, your methodology partner

Community Edition is your free methodology and process tool.  You simply choose the type of project you want to have from the pick list.  When you give it a name it all the process and templates are set up.  Then you simply follow the steps laid out to structure and control your project documentation.  The discipline and methodology structure this gives the project is outstanding.  You can version templates and collect any supporting documentation you need for the project.

When you are selecting your project, choose from twelve different methods including PRINCE2, Scrum and our ever popular nStep family of methods for pre-scaled projects.  So you now get the proven reliability and ease of use of CE and also all the latest content.

See more about Community Edition and the methodologies it supports.

Free software – Planner, project controls perfected

You know that good project controls are essential for a successful project but so many tools play this only lip service.  Planner is the project controls tool of choice for many organisations and project professionals and it is totally free.  Planner has three themes:

  • Plan – Gantt chart planning, dependencies, tasks, resources, milestones, costs (Budget, Actual and Progress).  You can even import and also export from MS Project and other data formats.
  • Risks – creating, assessing and responding to risks in your project.  Inherent and residual weightings, multiple responses, charts and analysis to put you in control.
  • Issues – create direct from your risks or new for those surprise issues. Score and rate them, manage responses and also collect change information.  Of course analysis and charts as well.

You can use Planner standalone or with the template plans and registers provided in Community Edition.  As Planner is free software you can share planner files with anyone you need to.

Find out more about Planner here.

Free Software – .piabx Viewer, improved project templates

We all use templates for our projects, great to help with consistency.  Most people, including us, will generally use Word as it is easy and quick.  However using Word for templates has all sorts of problems.  We cover that here if you don’t already know what we mean. We developed .piabx templates to fix these issues giving you templates for the 21st Century.  And now with the upgraded .piabx Viewer you can edit the templates too (if the template owner gives you permission).  We also extended the model so you can have images and web links collected.

Again of course because .piabx viewer is free software you can share your templates with anyone you want.  Find out more about the .piabx Viewer here.

Getting your free software Bundle

This really couldn’t be easier.  Simply register on our page here and we give your the link to download and a reminder email in case you need to install later.  The link runs the installer which adds/upgrades all three free software tools for you at the same time.

free software; free project management software

Remember this is free software, not a trial.  You could join the community of 500,000 users who use our free software tools to deliver their software better.