September 25th, 2019 • Project Management
You realize you need to get organized. You have a project (or multiple projects) to manage, and you know there’s a better way than relying on a hodgepodge of spreadsheets, sticky notes, and that white board in the conference room.
It’s time to get project management software. And of course you want to save money. So you start by searching “free project management software”. Unfortunately, you may be setting yourself up for failure before you even begin, because those “free” software options often turn out to be much more costly than you think.
Let’s take a look at the kinds of free project management software available and why you might want to consider other options.
Broadly speaking, ‘open source’ refers to any software for which the original source code has been made publicly available at no cost. The code can be modified and distributed with little or no concern about copyright or ownership.
Open source project management software is usually available for free or for a one-time cost. (Typically, companies that create/ distribute this software make money by offering other products or by charging for customer service.) The advantage of open-source software, besides being affordable, is that it offers a great deal of flexibility. If you or someone on your team has the technical know-how, you can customize open source project management software to do exactly what you want down to the most granular level.
That is a big IF, however. Once you’ve committed to the open source path, you may end up needing to pay the distributor for support or hire an outside programmer. Even when someone on the team has the required coding capabilities, programming the software may take more time than you expect, keeping your programmer from other projects and ultimately costing you money.
Examples of open source project management software are Odoo, Open Project, and Taiga.
Open source software is sometimes called ‘free software’, which is different from ‘freeware’, as we’ll see below.
Freeware is just what it sounds like: software that is available free of charge. Unlike open source software, you can’t dig into the code of freeware, and there may be restrictions on its use. You use the program as it is and find work-arounds for things that don’t fit your workflow.
Freeware is sometimes distributed to the public for educational purposes. Other freeware is offered at no monetary cost but comes with advertising embedded, so you’re paying with your attention rather than with dollars.
Some popular freeware platforms for project management are Express Project, GanttProject, Workep.
Many popular software platforms have freemium plans. A freemium plan is a version of a program available at no cost. When it comes to project management software, freemium options tend to have fewer features and/or allow only a very limited number of users on a team. Freemium plans often serve as an introduction to a company’s paid version of the same software, with many stronger functions are only available by paying for access. Some managers are able to find a freemium project management software that meets their needs. However, many teams find that once they’ve started using freemium project management software, they need features that are available only in the paid versions and are forced to upgrade.
Though it’s tempting to opt into a project management system that costs zero dollars, there are other costs to consider.
Free project management software often comes with security challenges. Robust security requires maintenance that doesn’t usually come with free software. In some instances, you’re agreeing (in that terms and conditions page that of course you read very carefully) to share your data with the software company in exchange for free use of the platform. If you’re organizing your grocery list or home renovation, no problem, but you probably don’t want to give away customer data.
When you’re starting small, a free project management software seems great. But what happens when you’re very successful and you need project management software that can scale with your business? Many of the free options can’t handle the increased demand, and you’re forced to upgrade to a paid plan and maybe even switch platforms entirely.
The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never more true than when it comes to customer service. Your team is going to have questions about how to use the software, whether and how it can perform certain functions, and what to do if they accidentally mess something up. Free plans don’t come with support. You’re either stuck trying to untangle messes on your own, or you have to pay for someone to help you.
You think you’re getting free project management software, but what you’re really getting is task management disguised as project management. Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and to-do lists are great, but there’s so much more to project management. Comprehensive project management requires a suite of modules that help you coordinate every aspect of the project– not just the tasks.
With free project management software, there’s not much in the way of customization. No matter what your organization does or what your project is about, the features and functions are the same. Free software just can’t give you the customization you need.
Have you ever looked at a program and though “what does this feature even DO”? Yeah, we thought so. Free project management software often comes with an impressive-looking list of features, but it turns out many of them aren’t all that helpful.
You know how your team works. You know who needs which kinds of communication and how things need to be organized so your organization can function at its best. Unfortunately, free project management software often can’t be modified to fit your methodology.
Your project management software should conform to you, not the other way around. Don’t waste time on “free” project management software. Invest in project management software that is customized to fit your needs from day one.
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