I’d like to talk about Project Management, something I have done whether I wanted to or not. I found that on several of my past team projects, I was selected by default to do the project management because I was the designated “computer geek”. I took a couple of courses on the subject and then dove right in. I wasn’t that interested in Project Management as a career, but I did find that it’s just another tool in an Instructional Designer’s toolbox. A little competency goes a long way here! Along the way, I’ve used Excel spreadsheets, MS Project, and some online solutions.
Spreadsheets are probably the most common project management tool that I’ve found in most organizations. Everyone has the software on their computers and some companies consider them the backbone of their data infrastructure. The tricky part is getting them to work with a group of users with varying degrees of spreadsheet expertise. The boss usually demands a pretty complex spreadsheet that includes nested projects, roll-up formulas, and color coding. The users tend to email various versions of the spreadsheet amongst the team and “break” formulas pretty regularly. It’s not the best solution, but it’s a good start.
Moving a spreadsheet into MS Project is pretty easy but that’s only the beginning. MS Project offers a complex interface with many variables available… so many ways to spiral a simple project out of control. I found that I was spending way too much time filling in the details that only I would appreciate and less time on the project itself. Plus, each team member needed to purchase an expensive license to use it. As the Internet began to offer more online solutions, I looked there for inspiration.
I found Smartsheet a couple of years ago and recommended it to my team at the time. We were a small team but we were spread across several states, so an online solution that we could all access made a lot of sense. It was a less expensive solution than MS Project, so we gave it a whirl. I found it simple enough for my less computer savvy teammates but complex enough to manage several projects at once. For a small team in a larger company, it was a great solution. But now that I’m on my own, I wanted to find something almost as good as Smartsheet, but within my price range… which is FREE!
I started with Rapidtask, an online free project management solution, but found it was a little clunky and did not give me a lot of options to manage each of my tasks. It’s more like a fancy To-Do list, which is pretty good, but not exactly what I was looking for. So it was back to the drawing board.
Right now, I’m using Gantter and so far it reminds me a lot of Smartsheet. The interface is very MS Project and allows me to get pretty complex if I want to, or just keep it pretty simple. Best part… it’s totally free and doesn’t pester me with expensive upgrades for full functionality. For me, it’s working out great and I began to use it for my Ugly PowerPoint project.
Whatever application you choose, don’t be afraid to try a number of project management solutions until you find what works for you. The best ones I found have excellent user help sites with how-to videos and documentation. User discussion boards are also very helpful (but can really lead you down a rabbit hole sometimes).