Fail to Plan = Plan to Fail

People have long said, “Time is money.” Small businesses have made great changes in the last decade to truly maximize returns on their time investments by implementing flextime policies, using freelancers, outsourcing projects, and allowing employees to telecommute. All of these timesaving methods allow companies to pay people for time they truly spend working rather than doling out hourly wages for downtime and water cooler chats.

Still, finding ways to pay people only when they’re actually working is just the first step. Forward-thinking companies look not just at when employees work but how:

  • Are people utilizing their time as efficiently as possible?
  • Is there any task redundancy within departments or organizations?
  • Are team members communicating effectively?

Over the years, people came up with many ways to accomplish these goals, none of which were truly ideal. Whiteboards with flow charts and project schedules lined hallways, but these visual reminders were not visible from workstations and were unavailable to those working outside the office. Project materials were stored in central filing cabinets for easy access, but individual folders and reports inevitably ended up scattered throughout departments. Ultimately, these project management tools ended up costing companies money as employees searched for missing files, made paper copies of whiteboard flow charts, and produced duplicates of key documents for their own files.

Fortunately, project management has come a long way in the last decade. Today, there are several outstanding project management software options on the market, each with their own unique methodology and capabilities. By managing department-wide or company-wide projects through a centralized software system, personnel can easily access data, share schedule and resource adjustments, and quickly assess individual and collective work progress. This ultimately increases productivity while reducing time and resource costs.

Two of the hottest project management tools on the market are Omniplan from The Omni Group and Basecamp from 37Signals. Both companies have thorough online video tutorials and allow for free trials, allowing companies to have a couple of employees try the software, learn it, and then ultimately train their own team members in-house.

Omniplan is one of several products in The Omni Group’s arsenal of software designed specifically for use with Macs. Omniplan integrates simple scheduling, Gantt charts, resource allocations, task management, and data sharing with highly customizable fields and seamless integration with other Mac-specific programs and some Microsoft software (e.g.: iCal, MS Project). While Omniplan is great for Mac users, particularly because it will sync with apps for portable Apple devices, it does have its downsides. Costly single-license downloads and lack of PC compatibility are major limitations that other project management software suites do not have.

Our top pick is Basecamp. This online tool has low monthly rates (and even a free option for small projects) for an unlimited number of users per organization. Implemented by such diverse, high-profile companies as Kellogg’s, Warner Bros., and Adidas, Basecamp is an incredibly powerful, yet intuitive, option for PC and Mac users alike. In addition to all of the functionality of Omniplan, Basecamp has tremendous file sharing capabilities, allowing multiple users instant access to all project-relevant files. It boasts a virtual whiteboard, email and calendar integration across various platforms (e.g.: iCal, Google Calendar, Outlook, .Mac, and more), project chat rooms, and mobile device compatibility. Basecamp also creates and saves templates based on past projects, so initial setup of new projects becomes more streamlined the longer an organization uses Basecamp.

Ultimately, project management is not just about managing projects through scheduling. It’s about managing time and resources while creating opportunities to maximize efficiency and quality through active collaboration and innovation. It’s about planning to succeed. What’s your plan?