As a small business grows, coordinating the work among employees becomes more important. Achieving a business objective, such as completing a client project on time, often requires the skills of more than one person. A business manager must allocate tasks to different team members and monitor results to ensure everyone stays on track.
Project management software aims to help organize teamwork. Microsoft Project is one of the best-known project management apps, but not every business requires its power. A new generation of simpler, Web-based services can do the job.
Web-based project management services are inexpensive and easy to set up. They are well-suited for coordinating a mobile or geographically dispersed team. Each team member just needs access to the Internet to participate in project planning.
These basic services may not be robust enough for every business, particularly those that handle complex, multi-year projects. You'll need to decide if they deliver enough horsepower for your business needs.
Basecamp: Simple Collaboration Service
Basecamp is more of a collaboration service than a true project manager. I find it refreshingly easy to use. It's also quite popular: Company founder and CEO Jason Fried says more than 1 million people in 70 countries have Basecamp log-ins.
Yet not everyone is a fan of this lightweight service. One gripe site criticizes Basecamp's lack of Gantt charts, a type of bar chart that graphically depicts project progress.
You can evaluate Basecamp by using its free version, which is limited to one active project.
Wrike: Beefier Project Management
Wrike offers a more full-featured Web-based project management service. The service moved out of beta test and into public release in June. The latest update features a TimeLine view, which displays Gantt charts.
You can display the TimeLine in days, weeks, months, quarters, or years, depending on what makes sense for your project. You can also display different TimeLines for each Wrike Group. A group is like a folder that organizes a related collection of tasks. Wrike comes with nine predefined groups, such as Customers, By Project, and Personal. You can delete any of the groups and add new ones.
Two-Way E-Mail Integration
Wrike's List view lets you create and modify tasks. Each task has a start date, duration, and due date. You can add a detailed description and attach related documents.
I love the easy way that you can assign each task to another person by simply entering an e-mail address in the "Also shared with" box. Wrike sends an e-mail inviting the person to sign up and log in to the project's site.
You can also decide how you want to be notified about tasks by e-mail. By default, the service notifies you of changes in tasks you have created and those assigned to you, but this can be changed for each group.
Wrike's e-mail integration works both ways. You can add a Wrike.com address to any e-mail message. The service will then create a task for you in your personal Wrike workspace. If you specify a due date in the subject of the e-mail, it will include the task in the TimeLine view.
Coordinates Teams From 5 to 50
Andrew Filev, founder and CEO of Wrike, says the service is designed to manage and coordinate the work of teams consisting of 5 to 50 people.
Wrike offers a great deal of flexibility. You can adapt it to many different business needs and even use it as a simple CRM tool to help resolve knotty customer issues.
Since Wrike is a new service, it does have a few limitations. For example, you must work with information online: There is no PC client to let you synchronize and work with data offline. Offline use is currently limited to reviewing printouts that you created while logged in to the service. (Filev says the company is working on a fix for this problem.)
You can evaluate Wrike using a free plan that handles up to 20 tasks and provides 10MB of storage. It's a single user account, though you can invite other team members to access it.
Filev says Wrike's 15-user account ($49 per month) is the most popular paid plan. It supports an unlimited number of tasks, provides up to 3GB of storage, and adds SSL encryption for data security. Larger plans for up to 100 users are also available. There is a 30-day free trial for all paid plans.