Project Management Tools on the Cheap

 Continuing along my theme this week of using more low-tech ways to get things done, today I want to talk about project management.  When I think about this subject, my thoughts go automatically to Microsoft Project, which is one of the best, most fully-featured software tools for project management.  But there are literally dozens of other project management tools out there, both stand-alone software or via a web service.  You can check out just a few of them on our Collaboration Tools Project Management page.

But maybe you don't have the cash to buy MS Project, or the online tools you find just don't get the job done for you.  You can certainly track projects using simpler, less expensive tools, and here I'm primarily thinking about Excel.  This article on 15 Useful Excel Templates for Project Management and Tracking offers some terrific suggestions on using templates from Microsoft or other companies to track your project.  One of the sites mentioned is Vertex42, a great provider of spreadsheet templates for Excel, OpenOffice, and Google Docs.  Many of the templates provided on that site are free, and some available for a modest fee.  Of course, the Microsoft templates are free - and also have some great project management tools.  Give them a look.

Using Collaboration Tools to "Face the New Reality"

We at Lawyer's Guide to Collaboration Tools love the writings of Michael Sampson, and a couple of weeks ago he posted a great piece titled:  How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#1 Reset Priorities to Face the New Reality".  In this new age of budget cutbacks, businesses are looking for new ways to help its employees work together, or work with others.  He mentions two specific items that resonate with me:

  • Expense Management for Meetings.  With the new fantastic video and web conferencing programs available, remote meetings are becoming a more attractive - and economical - option for businesses.  As Michael says:  "[r]emember, it's the cost of telepresence in comparison to the alternative that signals whether it's a prudent financial investment, not the out-of-pocket cost per se." 
  • Get Out of Managing Projects in Email.  As we state in our book, email is a necessary communications tool, but it's a lousy collaboration tool.  If you're managing your projects (or lawsuits, or transactions) through email, starting thinking about whether tools like Sharepoint, Basecamp, or Central Desktop might make more sense.

Mike's article is a great read -- give it a look.

A Collaboration Thingy for Your Own Website

Interested in a project management tool, but also want to take advantage of your own firm or company website?  Check out Project Thingy, an interesting tool that embeds itself on your own website.  Just enter your domain name, and you'll get the HTML that you can literally cut and paste on your website to manage your projects.  The data still resides on the Project Thingy servers, but it's an interesting twist to access the project management from your own site.   The service is free for one project, up to $139/month for unlimited projects.

Using Sharepoint to Collaborate Outside the Organization

Microsoft's Sharepoint is am amazingly powerful technology -- I don't even understand everything Sharepoint can do.  I'm familiar with using Sharepoint as a project management tool, both within an organization and outside the firewall with members of the ABA TECHSHOW board.  But did you know, for instance, that you can build a website using Sharepoint?  I didn't.  It's not a topic for today's post, but I mention this to demonstrate the incredible power of this software tool.

But companies that want to work better with their customers or clients can also use Sharepoint to enhance the business relationship.  For example, the insurance company Allied North America  created a "mySocrates portal" based on Sharepoint for its insurance customers.  Insureds can check on the status of interactions with the insurance company, review data about injuries that occur on the insureds' worksites, and hopefully improve their risk management as a result.

This is a great example not only of using technology to work smarter with your customers, but also a great way to offer extra value to your clients beyond the main services offered.