Basecamp vs. Microsoft Project

When companies debate whether they should use Microsoft Project, Basecamp, or any of the other hundreds of project management software on the market, they often miss the point. Blogger and certified project manager Kareem Shaker writes, “Project management software does not make you a project manager; it may help you schedule project activities but will not make you manage a project successfully.” We say this all the time; it’s not really the tools, per se, that are important. It is the people wielding them. When it comes to making a decision between Basecamp and Microsoft Project, the real question is which will help support a project manager – not which will be a project manager.

Most companies make the decision by default; they have Project. They want to use the software solutions they already have in-house and for which they are licensed. This can be a smart, cost-saving move. But sometimes it does not make as much sense as bringing in a solution like Basecamp. Here’s why: Microsoft is a mammoth. It is an entity onto itself, and it tends to create products for other entities. This is an ideal solution if you have a company that employs dozens or hundreds of workers.

What if you have four? This was the situation that creator 37 Signals ran into. President Jason Fried says, “We built Basecamp because we needed it…We looked at some of the other tools out there, but they all seemed to be built for bigger “small” companies. We’re four people – and passionate about usability and simplicity…”

Basecamp is designed to flex during projects, allowing for changes and updates without derailing the entire project. Again, according to Fried, “The problem is that real-world projects don’t run like an organized, Gantt-charted project plan. Real projects are chaotic.”

Basecamp is often referred to as a “lightweight” service and PC World’s Richard Morochove says that it is “more of a collaboration service than a true project manager,” which is, in fact, what Fried and his team had in mind. They envisioned a more democratized approach to project management that focused on simple two-way communication.

When “project management lite” won’t cut it, businesses have to increase their firepower, and this is where Microsoft Project comes into play. It has a richer range of features, and it is designed to handle more complex projects. Basecamp can lose steam when projects grow in complexity, as they are wont to do in larger companies. The challenge then becomes helping clients keep from getting lost in the detail and keeping team members in synch. One way to do this is to filter the plan. Say your project has 400 lines; don’t overwhelm yourself with this – focus on these 20. Break it down into manageable chunks.

Which is right for you? As usual, it depends. By listening to your business problems and needs, we can help you determine which project management software system will help your team achieve sustainable change.

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