Historically, many companies have relied on Microsoft Project as a resource for project planning on a tight or nonexistent budget. However, this Microsoft tool does not offer a lot of the most advanced project management features that many users have come to expect from their business software. How can smaller companies balance budgetary realities with software requirements?
The project management software field has grown astronomically, even for users that want free and open source options. Whether you’re an individual, a small business or a larger organization that needs a better system for managing project workflows and tasks, these Microsoft Project alternatives are great options for a range of budgets and needs.
SEE: Hiring kit: Project manager (TechRepublic Premium)
8 best alternatives to Microsoft Project
monday work management
monday work management is a web-based suite that supports milestone tracking, analytics and workflow automation, which gives it the edge over smaller project management open source apps. A desktop version is also available. monday work management runs on Windows and macOS and supports iOS and Android mobile devices. It also works with Microsoft Teams, Google, Slack, Dropbox, Zoom and Outlook.
monday work management supports many users and projects. As you might expect, it supports Gantt charts as well as kanban and dashboarding. Analytics tools provide real-time data for reporting budgets and costs. Collaboration and communication are easy with team-level support.
The browser-based interface is colorful and fun, as you can see in Figure A. It provides access to everything you need, like customer support, which includes great user documentation and videos.
monday work management offers five main pricing plans: Free, Basic, Standard, Pro and Enterprise with a 14-day free trial. The full package may be overkill for the average small company, but the project management component of monday is free.
ClickUp is another web-based project management all-in-one package that can run on Windows, macOS, Android or iOS. It integrates with Slack and Zoom, and it can sync your cloud storage, calendars and messaging apps.
Its project management features work as expected, but ClickUp also supports team collaboration, documentation management, whiteboarding and kanban.
The fun interface, shown in Figure B, offers quick access to project management and other components.
ClickUp offers a basic free plan that’s adequate for users that require simple project management functionality. If you need more, ClickUp provides Unlimited, Business, Business Plus and Enterprise plans, beginning at $5 per month per user. ClickUp supplies 24/7 around-the-clock support.
Asana is a web-based project management offering that runs on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. It’s easy to learn and use, which is its best advantage. Its simple interface, shown in Figure C, makes it simple for users of all skill levels to move from task to task. Their online documentation and active user community are added bonuses for ease of use.
Asana’s project management features easily integrate with collaboration, charting and reporting. For a small business that needs only project management, this software may be too much, which is why Asana offers a free plan dedicated only to project management.
Its free plan is one of the most robust of the many free project management software options available. Paid plans start at $10.00 per month per user, with specialized pricing options for nonprofits. Its paid plans are best suited to small to medium-sized organizations.
ProjectLibre is an open source desktop project management solution that bills itself as the best replacement for MS Project, and with over six million downloads in 193 countries and translations into 29 languages, they may be right.
This software runs on several operating systems, including Windows, Solaris, Linux, BSD and macOS, and it is also compatible with Microsoft Project. A cloud version of ProjectLibre is currently in beta testing.
From the user’s perspective, the product is easy to use and does most of the work for you. The interface hasn’t changed much over the years, as you can see in Figure D. Perhaps most importantly, ProjectLibre has a huge community for user support.
This program is free and lives up to its marketing hype. Its online user documentation and busy user community are outstanding. Certainly, this software has stayed its course over the years, and it’s that longevity and community support that puts this software over the top.
GanttProject is open source desktop project management software with an ultimate claim to fame of simplicity. The user interface, shown in Figure E, resembles ProjectLibre and other traditional Gantt-type, grid programs.
GanttProject runs on Windows, macOS and Linux. After downloading, you can be up and running with no additional setup, and the tool also now includes project cost support.
Installation is a bit rudimentary, but it’s stable. GanttProject doesn’t offer a lot of bells and whistles, but it’s great at what it does — project management. It’s also free and offers a large online support community with open source customizability.
Microsoft Planner is a web-based project planning app. It’s a great little tool and easy to use for simple tracking and collaboration, as you can see in Figure F.
The tool is also free with a Microsoft 365 business subscription and integrates well with other 365 tools. If you already have 365, start your search here. You may find everything you need.
SEE: Checklist: Microsoft 365 app and services deployments on Macs (TechRepublic Premium)
Microsoft Planner lacks charting capabilities, which is a huge disadvantage, but an extension can help. To learn more, you can read How to create a Gantt chart when your project data is in Microsoft Planner.
Please note that this extension is part of an enterprise-level set of paid extensions. If you’re going to buy the extension suite just for charting, you might want to compare the costs of other packages that include charting first, especially the free ones.
Smartsheet is a flexible cloud-based project management system that runs on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. You’ll begin with a simple grid for entering tasks and milestones that render easily into three different views: Gantt, calendar and card. Users will be up and running within minutes, with the use of the guiding interface shown in Figure G.
Beyond project management, Smartsheet offers collaborative, workflow and content management components that support dashboards, reports and forms for data input. Smartsheet integrates with Microsoft Teams, Google and more.
The Pro plan offers basic tools that will satisfy most project management needs. The Business level expands offerings with no limits on the number of users. The big package, Enterprise, will suit large organizations with a lot of users and needs that go beyond project management.
The Smartsheet free trial lasts 30 days. Unlike most of the tiered packages, Smartsheet doesn’t offer a free version that’s able to create new projects and tasks. Pricing information isn’t publicly listed; prospective buyers will need to reach out to the Smartsheet team directly.
Trello is a full-package cloud-based project management solution that runs on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. It integrates with Slack and many other business applications.
It’s possible that Trello will become your favorite task tracker, thanks to its big leaps toward customization. Users can manipulate their tasks within a kanban interface that makes it easy to use, even for beginners.
At the simplest level, Trello is a task tracker. You create the card, you add a checklist, invite others and you’re off. Everything is in one place, and you can see with a quick glance what remains and what’s been completed.
As a project’s status changes, the card changes and moves through a variety of customized lists: To-Do, New, In Progress, Waiting, Done and more. For many, this visual process is much easier to follow than the more traditional charts, such as Gantt charts. Trello charts are not better than Gantt charts; they’re simply different, as you can see in Figure H.
Trello offers four main plans: Free, Standard, Business and Enterprise. The least expensive metered plan starts at $3 per month per user, but Trello will bill for the full year upfront. Trello offers a 30-day free trial for their Premium plan.
Is Microsoft Project outdated?
Microsoft Project maintains a large share of the project management market, so it isn’t really accurate to say it’s outdated. On the contrary, Project has evolved into the simple main project management window you see in Figure I. It no longer resembles the typical grid you’ll see in most project management software. It looks more like a typical Microsoft web-based product, which is a good thing if you’re a devoted Microsoft user.
Project supports a desktop and online version, runs on Windows and integrates well with other Microsoft products. If you’re already familiar with Microsoft products, especially Microsoft 365, Project might be your best choice. It has every basic feature you need to manage your projects.
SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis (TechRepublic Premium)
On the other hand, the new user will need a bit of time to learn Project, and it’s missing some bells and whistles that the others support, such as chatting within the software.
Microsoft Project offers a 30-day free trial for up to 25 users. Thanks to Microsoft’s subscription and licensing model, setup is a bit tedious but not difficult. Pricing begins at $10 per month per user.
Why search for a Microsoft Project alternative?
Although Microsoft Project offers a number of helpful basic PM features to users, it’s certainly not the right fit for every company and tech stack. Here are three possible reasons why a company should look for alternatives to Project:
Lack of familiarity with Microsoft products
If you’re not running a lot of Microsoft products already, you’ll likely find a product that’s easier for your new users to learn and master. It’s also important that your chosen solution integrates well with your existing tech stack.
Interest in free and open source options
There are many free, open source project management products that add layers of developer flexibility and customization. Users who are interested in open source options need to have the right developer skills to manage these tools effectively.
Interest in free features of larger software suites
Several of the larger project management suites offer some version of their software — usually the most simple project management features — for free. This is an especially advantageous option for companies that want to test out the free features before committing to a more advanced PM suite.
Alternative project management solutions for larger enterprises
It’s hard to talk about project management apps without mentioning two major products: Oracle NetSuite and Basecamp. Both go beyond the suites that other PM solutions offer. They are full-fledged platforms that do everything an enterprise-level business could possibly need, including project management.
Basecamp doesn’t have a free version, but it is currently offering a full free year. Prices begin at $11 per user, per month. NetSuite is one of the top cloud-based business software platforms, and it dominates the tech market. Project management is one of dozens of apps that the platform offers; however, pricing information isn’t publicly available.
How to choose the best Microsoft Project alternative for your business
Choosing the best project management software is no different than choosing any other software. The best decisions come from weighing the pros and cons after spending a bit of time with each product you’re considering.
Can your organization afford the software? None of the bells and whistles matter if you can’t afford them. Start your decision-making process by determining the costs that will come with licensing all of your relevant users; these costs can add up quickly.
If all you need is project management support, look for the following features and assess their ease of use on each solution:
- Managing tasks and scheduling: Users should be able to see with a quick glance whether they’re on pace with their daily and bigger goals.
- Collaboration features: In-app chatting is a popular option that is usually available in a higher-tier package.
- Document management and storage: These features are also primarily available in higher-tier packages.
- Customer support: For the best overall user experience, look for good user documentation, support communities and technical support services.
- Security: Most of these products are very secure, but especially if you work in an industry that processes a lot of sensitive information, it’s important to get specific about what you need.
Investing in the right project management software will save you money in the long run. You want a package that meets your company’s current needs but also allows for growth without breaking the bank. This list of Microsoft Project alternatives is a helpful starting point if you’re unsure about what will work for your business needs.
Read next: The 10 best project management software and tools (TechRepublic)