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Author: Linh Tran | Last updated: Wednesday, December 15, 2021 | Reading time: 10 min.
At a certain level of complexity, projects can no longer be managed manually. If your company uses Microsoft and its Office Suite, most people turn to Microsoft Project. However, you too may have quickly realized the following:
But since going back to the wall-mounted planning board with paper cards or applications like Microsoft Excel is unthinkable, many go in search of a Microsoft Project alternative that is comfortable to use and that the entire project team can work with. What should you consider when selecting an alternative? Here is an overview of the most important criteria.
If you are considering Microsoft Project as your project management software, consider the following:
Microsoft Project has another very big shortcoming: updates do not happen in real time. This means that changes to project status, tasks, delivery dates, etc., which may jeopardize meeting deadlines, can be "life-threatening" for the project. This is because you will only notice this with a delay. Real-time updating and visualization are only possible via the Microsoft Power BI application. This application is available for free for desktop, but it means that you need another application, which would not be necessary if MS Project could show real-time updates.
Microsoft has been consistently moving to the cloud for several years. Microsoft Project Online, available since 2013 as part of Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), however, only has all the features available in its Project Online Premium version. Here, too, the standard version does not offer everything that the entire project team, i.e. project managers, planners and employees, need. Apart from that, not all companies want or are able to host extremely sensitive data, such as project data, in the cloud and need an on-premise project management solution.
Think about what you want your project planning software to do. Use the following questions as a guide:
These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself in advance. It makes sense and saves time in the end to create a catalog of requirements or scope statement in advance. However, keep in mind: you will not find a jack of all trades solution - prioritize your requirements, because no single software can do everything.
For Microsoft Project users, there are some features that an alternative solution must have. These are of course planning features like milestones, dependencies, critical path or the possibility to restrict access to the planning via permissions.
However, you also want your colleagues to work together as a team. For this, other features are important. These include organization via tasks, or a structured document filing system with task and project links. Of course, collaboration also has to do with communication. You certainly don't want to have to send status updates by email again, but want the software to do it automatically. For project managers, evaluation and reporting features must be included so that they don't have to laboriously gather key figures for management or the board.
When choosing your Microsoft Project alternative, you should also make sure that it offers features for both simple management of personal workload and complex projects. Every employee has not only project tasks, but also routine work that needs to be done in an equally organized and structured manner. This does not require planning, but task management supports everyone in their personal time management. In addition, it is easier for people to get into project management if they can familiarize themselves with the organization of their own daily work.
An important criteria for your selection of an alternative to MS Project should be the vendor of the project management software. Broadly speaking, most project management software solutions offer the same standard features. However, the wheat is separated from the chaff when it comes to support services. Is there support available in multiple languages free of charge? Are there help articles or video tutorials? Do you have a dedicated contact person who can advise you and whom you can contact if you have questions? Can you exchange ideas with other users of this software? The more times you can say "yes" to the answer here, the better, because then you're not just buying a piece of software, but you have a reliable partner on your side. You should also make sure that you can test the project management software free of charge for at least a month. This is the only way you can simulate its use in practice and evaluate whether the Project alternative really suits you and your team.
Although almost all industries are now project-centric, not every employee has the same level of project management knowledge. Therefore, it is important to select a software that is both intuitive to use and provides features for easy entry into software-based project planning.
Microsoft Project requires a very high level of project management maturity and requires some expertise in planning projects. Users of MS Project must be able to "read" a project plan, for example, to know how individual planning phases are connected to each other. Not everyone in the project team needs to be able to do this in order to complete their project work on schedule. For the majority of project team members, organization via project tasks is easier. The reference to project planning only serves as an orientation as to whether the schedule is on track.
To assess your project management maturity, it is worth taking a look at your internal structures and processes. Are certain workflows already established or even standardized? How are projects currently set up, executed and evaluated? Are there standardized project workflows? For example, do you have to submit projects as applications first and can only start after approval? Then you need software that can depict such processes.
Or are you still at the very beginning here? Then it is worthwhile to equip the team with basic project management knowledge and to work out together how to work - with software support - in the future.
Particularly when it comes to offering cloud-based services in the EU, the scrutiny of the General Data Protection Regulation, which has been in effect since May 2018, has made users look closely at where their data is hosted. If you come across a wide variety of vendors when looking for an alternative to Microsoft Project, take a look at their customer list. If you find companies from the healthcare industry or public administration there, you can be sure that the project management software has very high data and privacy protection standards and is GDPR compliant. These industries, as well as the pharmaceutical or food industry, have very strict requirements. Companies from the industrial engineering or IT sector are also good references, as they want to protect their innovations, which would be identifiable through project data, from data theft.
With German and EU software vendors you are in good hands, with non-EU vendors you should check carefully how your data is handled. If you are not sure because the vendor's website does not provide any or insufficient information on privacy protection or GDPR compliance, contact the vendor and ask.
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The InLoox project management software helps individual users, as well as teams, including distributed teams, to efficiently manage their daily project and work routine. InLoox supports you not only in project planning, but also in documenting, time tracking and budgeting your tasks and projects. InLoox serves as a central point of contact for all project information and activities, thus minimizing coordination efforts many times over.
InLoox is the tool for everyone in the team, not only for project managers. The InLoox software solutions are suitable for all departments, for teams of all sizes and for companies from all industries. It offers benefits for management, project managers and project team members:
Email in Outlook, tasks in Planner, spreadsheets in Excel, notes in OneNote, documents in SharePoint, project plan in MS Project - this is roughly how project work looks like with MS Project. MS Project is a strong program to create project plans, but if you want to do more, you can't avoid using other programs. So you have to constantly switch back and forth between different programs.
Projects are complex enough, so project management software should be simple and users should be able to do everything on one platform. Not only can you create project plans in InLoox, but you can also plan and manage tasks and resources, store documents directly in the project, plan budgets, and create cross-project dashboards and reports.
InLoox is available in three versions:
You can use the three products alone or in combination - your data is synchronized across devices, so you can access your project data anytime, anywhere.
Image 1: Kanban board in InLoox Web App
With InLoox, you don't have to choose a project management method. Depending on your requirements, you can plan projects traditionally using a Gantt chart with activities, tasks and milestones, including constraints and critical path, or manage projects using only tasks with the agile Kanban board. You can also mix both methods and take a hybrid approach: Plan activities in the Gantt chart and do task management with Kanban.
Image 2: Gantt chart in InLoox for Outlook
The InLoox resource allocation feature not only shows you the workload of your resources across all projects, but also integrates Microsoft Exchange calendar appointments (booked/free system) so that you have a comprehensive overview of your resource availability. You can identify bottlenecks at a glance and distribute tasks efficiently to avoid workload under- or overload.
In addition, you can add the skills of your team members in InLoox, such as expertise, certifications or language skills. So you can always assign the right team members with the required skills to specific tasks or projects and save time in resource planning.
Image 3: Resource allocation in InLoox for Outlook
If you can't or don't want to start planning a project right away, but first want to organize your ideas and thoughts visually, a mind map can be helpful. Instead of starting armed with pen and paper, many alternative project management software solutions such as InLoox for Outlook offer an integrated mind map whose nodes you can copy directly into the planning, where they are displayed as activities. So if you want to do everything from idea creation to planning to evaluation in one tool, look for a Project alternative that lets you do that.
Image 4: Mind mapping in InLoox for Outlook
Do you want your project planning software to exchange data with other Microsoft programs? If your project management software is a lonely island, you may lose efficiency unnecessarily:
To avoid this, you should make sure that your Microsoft Project alternative is compatible with your other systems and ideally provides integrations and interfaces for data transfer (API).
For example, do you use SharePoint, SharePoint Online or OneDrive for Business for your documents? InLoox has an interface to these systems. This allows you to link your project planning data and your project documents and avoid duplicates in two different systems.
If you use Microsoft Outlook as your primary communication platform with your colleagues or external partners, it makes sense to look for a project planning software that is integrated with Outlook. The Outlook-integrated version of InLoox offers you several advantages:
Image 5: Integrated task list in InLoox for Outlook
In many companies that use Outlook, Microsoft Exchange is also used for vacation planning. InLoox allows you to use the Exchange calendar with your team's vacation days as a basis for resource planning in your projects.
If you value data hosting on your own servers in your company, ask the IT department whether Microsoft SQL Server is used. You can always set up the InLoox project planning solution on these servers. This way, your IT department does not have to set up a second server infrastructure.
If you or your company have already moved the majority of the application to the cloud, you may already be using Microsoft Power BI to analyze your data. Project data is usually also important for business strategy and should be available for analysis and displayed with data from other systems in Power BI. You can also link InLoox with Power BI. This allows you to visualize and create meaningful individual reports that enable you to make the right strategic decisions.
Have you also been communicating more via Microsoft Teams since the Corona pandemic and do you also have meetings in Teams? With the InLoox for Teams app, you can add project sections directly as tabs to channels and chats. You can also update project information in real time and leave feedback and comments in the chat.
Image 6: Kanban board in Microsoft Teams with the InLoox for Teams app
Microsoft Power Automate lets you create automated workflows between InLoox and other programs - no programming skills required. You can quickly automate recurring project workflows and processes, such as submitting a project request when a specific email is received or automatically creating a task with a note when an email is flagged.
Switching from MS Project to InLoox is also very easy, simply import MS Project planning files into InLoox and get started right away. You can continue your project work immediately: Add resources, link documents, track times, manage tasks and budgets, create dashboards and much more.
Familiarization, even with an intuitive project management software, is easier and, above all, faster when there is guidance. InLoox offers tutorial videos, on-site training at your premises and online training. The InLoox Online Academy provides you with all the resources you need to expand your InLoox know-how and lay the foundations for project management.
Additionally, you can also consider a training course in project management basics. The goal does not have to be a certification. However, it is recommended to provide all employees with a basic knowledge of e.g. standard terms and methods in project management.
You can also start with templates. In addition to the template for the introduction of project management software, InLoox offers many task and planning templates for different use cases (e.g. remote work, OKR, HR management, etc.) and industries (e.g. manufacturing & engineering projects, architecture & construction projects, pharmaceutical industry projects, eGovernment projects or logistics & transportation projects and many more).
InLoox is the simple and convenient alternative to MS Project: