Keeping all the components of a project — whether it’s a marketing campaign, a store opening, or a new product introduction — organized and on time can be daunting. It’s a time-consuming process that requires focus, patience, and flexibility.
Many desktop software applications, such as Microsoft Project, are available to help small-business owners or team leaders juggle resources and deadlines and to alleviate some of the manual scheduling associated with staying on track. But cloud services can do this, too — and be easily shared or accessed by members of your team (if you choose to grant them access).
Here are nine cloud services worth exploring for project management:
- Basecamp (starts at $20 per month; pictured) — The first thing you’ll notice about this service is that its interface is markedly different from most project-management software: It looks less like a spreadsheet and more like a web page. Information is presented as tabs that allow you to see at a glance the status of a project, team discussions, task updates, and related documents.
- Clarizen ($24.95 per user per month) — This service marries traditional project-software features for managing schedules and tasks with communications tools, such as chat, that allow teams to collaborate toward meeting deadlines. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS.
- LiquidPlanner ($29 per user per month for up to 20 users; $24 per user per month for those who prepay) — An intriguing feature of this service is a data analytics engine that helps you see how changing one part of a project will affect other pieces of the puzzle. That’s useful if you have limited personnel and are trying to figure out where to dedicate their time first. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS.
- Mavenlink (starts at $29 per month for two administrators and unlimited users) — Tightly integrated with Google Apps, this project manager enables coordination and document collaboration. It also integrates with Intuit QuickBooks, letting you launch a new project from within a QuickBooks estimate. Mavenlink supports ad hoc collaboration, and it has a connector with PayPal that gets you a specially negotiated transaction rate for online payments.
- Rule ($49 per month, up to 15 users and 35 projects) — The first thing you should know about this service is that it was designed by a small business that couldn’t find anything better to meet its own needs. Its average customer has 25 users, and the focus is on keeping things simple. All project milestones, assigned tasks, time tracking, shared documents, and project calendars (which can feed into iCal calendars) are linked together. Timelines can be reordered through a drag-and-drop interface.
- Smartsheet (starts at $15.95 per month for one administrator and unlimited collaborators) — This service turns projects into “sheets” that can be shared among team members, but you can also closely control the information they see. Smartsheet boasts close integration with Google Apps and there is an HTML5 mobile version of the software, so that you can access it from a smartphone or tablet computer.
- TeamLab (free for basic services; $49 per month for 50GB of storage and advanced document management) — TeamLab offers myriad features, including task assignments, milestone alerts, time tracking, and access rights management (which means you can set up private areas for certain teams). It also comes with the ability to produce general or detailed reports that might help with refining business processes that aren’t — or are — working. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS.
- Wrike (starts at $49 per month for up to five users and unlimited projects) — The mantra of this service is simplicity. It lets you manage all your projects from a single dashboard and uses a microblogging alert system to help monitor progress in real time. There is also support for Gantt charts that allow for quick rescheduling.
- Zoho Projects ($20 per month for up to 20 projects) — The dashboard of the Zoho projects service includes what it describes as “Twitter-like” updates, which helps keep teams up to date on changes. It includes analysis features, including Gantt charts that illustrate progress. There’s also an import feature for collecting and uploading information from within Microsoft Project.