Microsoft Project vs Project Central
September 10, 2020

The Best Alternatives to Microsoft Project for Office 365 Project Management

By Brian McHale

As a project manager, you need to stay on top of all the tasks contributing to your project’s success.

Unfortunately, a to-do list isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re using Office 365 and need a tool that works well with Office 365 for all your project management needs, Microsoft Project seems like an intuitive step forward.

However, Project may not be the best choice for your team.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the best alternatives to Microsoft Project that can help you organize your tasks, keep track of your milestones, and communicate with stakeholders:

  • Project Central
  • Airtable
  • Excel
  • ProjectManager
  • Clickup
  • Wrike
  • Asana.

Let’s take a look!

 

What Is Microsoft Project, and How Does It Help with Project Management?

Project is Microsoft’s response to project management tools.

Traditionally, project management tools tend to be overly complex.

This made project management an absolute nightmare for untrained project managers.

But since we’re all wearing the project manager shoes nowadays, Microsoft came up with Project.

In a nutshell, Microsoft Project has 5 key features that we’ll be looking for in our alternatives:

 

Project Portfolio Management

Unlike Microsoft Planner that focuses on task management, Microsoft Project focuses on project portfolio management:

  • High-level view to understand all of your projects at a glance
  • Use the per-project view to see tasks within every project.

This is extremely useful for tracking project performance, and ensuring that you complete the project by the due date.

MS Project

In certain iterations of Project, you’ll even get a visual roadmap of your projects.

Managing multiple projects at once can get confusing, but the visual overview makes it much easier to make sense of entire project portfolios.

Unfortunately, you can’t dig into the specifics of tasks without switching to other apps like Planner.

 

Smart Project Planning

One of the most important Microsoft Project features is certainly smart project planning.

Project Dates

Microsoft Project allows you to dynamically schedule tasks and projects based on aspects such as:

  • Workload
  • Effort needed
  • Project duration.

Again, this is really useful if you’re managing entire project portfolios and you need to understand which team members can take on more tasks, and which ones are taking on more than they can handle.

This approach makes it really easy to:

  • Create Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)
  • Gantt charts
  • Understand task dependencies
  • Ensure you’re properly managing changes and risks.

Similarly, you can plan resources and budget:

  • Keep track of work hours, resources, and costs
  • Chart your critical path
  • Make sure your project stays within budget and timeframe
  • Calculate the influence of risks and changes on your project progress.

For example, you may believe that you could run out of time if a certain task gets sidetracked.

With Project, you can check what will really happen, and make sure you mitigate risks.

If you need to revise your project timeline and schedule, it’s a matter of a few clicks.

Since everything is integrated within one tool, you’ll understand how changes can affect your progress.

And speaking of integration…

 

If You Use Office 365, You’ll Love Project’s Integration

From email to enterprise resource planning, Microsoft has definitely succeeded in making Office 365 the go-to solution for everything companies need.

Microsoft Project is no exception.

It integrates completely with the Office 365 suite, allowing you to access your files immediately.

This is also a popular reason why project managers choose Project.

 

Microsoft Project Streamlines Reporting (If You Have Power BI)

Since your project doesn’t exist in a bubble, you’ll likely need to report to someone.

At the very least, you’ll have top management that wants to know how things are going.

MS Project Reporting

If your company also uses Microsoft’s Power BI (Business Intelligence), you’ll be able to create beautiful, visual reports of your progress.

Otherwise, you can use Project’s native reporting features:

  • Choose from different visual presentations like graphs
  • Customize your data points for maximum relevancy and transparency.

This is not ideal.

Some of the alternatives we’ll mention offer much better reporting features without additional upgrades.

 

Team Collaboration

Finally, any tool that offers great team collaboration features is a tool we’re dying to use.

Unfortunately, Microsoft Project doesn’t have team collaboration features per se.

If you want to collaborate with your team, you’ll have to use other apps in the Office 365 suite such as Microsoft Teams.

Otherwise, your team members can update their tasks in real-time.

This allows you to understand if you’re adhering to the schedule, and intervene if necessary.

However, since Project is a high-level project management tool, you won’t be able to dive into the specifics of tasks without switching to Planner or other task management tools.

 

Microsoft Project Feature Breakdown

All in all, Microsoft Project is a great fit for project managers who need to manage multiple projects.

You’ll also be able to use it if you’ve got a super accountable team so you don’t have to dig into the specifics of task management.

However, Microsoft Project can cause data silos to form.

It doesn’t have in-built knowledge sharing features (e.g. you can’t attach relevant files to tasks).

If you’re using other apps to manage task management and knowledge sharing, you’ll make do.

In general, Microsoft Project may seem like the intuitive choice for project managers whose companies use Office 365 to manage everything from team collaboration to projects, but there are much better alternatives.

Some of them, like Project Central, even integrate with O365 and don’t require you to switch to different Microsoft products to get all the functionalities you need.

 

Project Central: The Best Alternative to Microsoft Project

Project Central turbocharges Office 365 project management.

It’s a simple and powerful project and task management tool.

When you’re using Project Central, you’ll be able to review entire project portfolios, as well as dive into the specifics of every task.

Microsoft normally requires you to use both Project and Planner if you want to manage projects and tasks.

But both of these functionalities are already in Project Central, making it the only dashboard you need to use to understand your projects immediately.

Project Central simplifies your work and saves time with powerful features such as:

 

Seamless Office 365 integration Using Microsoft Login

We’ve already talked a bit about the pain that’s switching between different software.

Chances are, you don’t have the patience to transfer files from one app to another, so you just stick with native Office 365 solutions.

You sign up to Project Central with your Microsoft Work Account Email.

Project Central integrates perfectly with Office 365, making it the best Microsoft Project alternative:

  • Sign in to Project Central using Microsoft work account email
  • Type in the names of your team members to invite them
  • Done!

There’s no need to remember new passwords to use Project Central.

And since it’s tightly integrated with Office 365, Project Central offers Microsoft level of security.

Your data will be protected, so you can rest easy and focus on getting your projects done.

 

Beautiful User Experience – Simple to Use, Visual & Intuitive

One of the main advantages of Project Central is its beautiful, simple interface.

Projects Pane

Every aspect of Project Central follows the principles of visual project management:

  • Project dashboards allow you to understand all the projects in your portfolio
  • Task management dashboards highlight priorities.

Ultimately, Project Central shows you the most important things first.

It’s easy to use.

Project Central will guide you through the process of adding your projects:

  • Set up the project
  • Add tasks and due dates
  • Assign tasks to team members
  • Set priorities
  • Open, close, and review tasks.

Everything you need to know about your project will be added to your dashboard.

Project Central is a complete project and task management solution.

Unlike MS Project, Project Central allows you to provide complete context:

  • Add task details
  • Get and give feedback on progress
  • Team members can add comments and status updates
  • Keep everyone in the loop and facilitate knowledge sharing.

This approach really reinforces team collaboration.

Data silos? Not a problem. Everyone will know exactly what they need to do, and what everyone else is doing.

So if you need to report to your higher-ups, you don’t have to worry.

It’s simple to keep them in the loop with Project Central.

Comment Mentions

Finally, Project Central is intuitive:

  • Switch between 4 tabs that show you everything you need to know: Project Dashboard, Tasks, Files, and Activity
  • Add your projects, tasks, responsibilities, and due dates with just a few clicks
  • Drag & drop tasks to organize them, and set priorities
  • Stay in the loop and see who’s doing what in the Activity Feed.

 

Access Your Office 365 Files Inside Project Central

Since Project Central integrates perfectly with O365, you don’t have to worry about manually importing your files.

After logging in and connecting your library, you’ll be able to access your Office 365 files inside Project Central.

So even if you’ve been using Office 365 for project management so far, you don’t have to worry about user adoption or migration.

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

Upload Files To Task

From there, you can share and collaborate on your files with your team members.

You don’t even have to switch apps to do it – just navigate to the “Files” section of the main Project Central menu, and you’ll be ready to go!

 

Clear View Across All Projects in Your Account

Finally, even though Project Central works perfectly for project teams working on one project at a time, it helps you manage entire project portfolios, as well.

Project Central features - visual project cards

After adding your projects to Project Central with the set-up wizard, you’ll be able to see:

  • Project Status
  • Completion Percentage
  • Health of the project
  • Project Team
  • Tags.

When you decide to review the progress of your projects, you won’t have to do it manually.

Instead, you’ll be able to see Completion Percentage based on tasks:

  • Not started
  • In progress
  • Completed.

Team members can update the status of their tasks, which will automatically count towards completion percentage and alert you to potential delays.

Similarly, Project Health status will show you if your project is:

  • On track
  • At risk
  • In danger.

You’ll see Health and Completion stats as soon as you log into your Project Central dashboard.

You can even opt for cumulative view to see how many projects are at risk, and how many are on track.

This is great for first-time project managers who need to manage multiple projects.

It can be easy to drop the ball at work if you’re managing multiple projects. However, Project Central helps you focus on the things that matter.

Project Central highlights Projects Overdue and Upcoming Deadlines.

Stay on track without ever losing focus.

Similarly, you can reward your top performers or shift the workload based on your Top Project Contributors section.

Finally, you can keep track of project and task updates in your Activity Feed.

Activity Feeds streamline coordination and control for project managers by allowing you to understand who’s doing what across:

  • Tasks
  • Teams
  • Projects.

Team members and project managers can update Project and Task Status. Project Central logs their activity to display it all in your Activity Feed.

From there, you can:

  • Review progress
  • Help team members overcome obstacles
  • Rest assured that your project is staying on track.

 

Project Central Features Breakdown

In general, Project Central is really the best alternative to Microsoft Project and other project management apps in the Office 365 suite.

And since it integrates perfectly with MS products, you don’t have to worry about migration or user adoption.

Project Central helps you collaborate with everyone on your team, as well as external stakeholders.

It’s a winning choice for first-time and experienced project managers alike!

 

Other Microsoft Project Alternatives

Other Microsoft Project alternatives include:

Airtable

When you need a simple way to manage a project or two, Airtable will work great. However, it doesn’t integrate completely with O365.

Airtable Grid

Notable Airtable features for project management include:

  • Visual task management
  • Add tasks and set priorities
  • Attach files and comments to tasks
  • Add additional filters and columns
  • Grid, calendar, gallery, and Kanban view.

 

Excel

It doesn’t get simpler than Excel.

However, if you’re looking to collaborate with your team and attach files intuitively, you might want to consider a different alternative.

Excel Gantt Chart

Notable Excel features for project management include:

  • It’s technically possible to manage projects and tasks with Excel, but it’s not intuitive or collaborative
  • Create Gantt and other charts
  • Export workbooks/spreadsheets.

 

ProjectManager.com

ProjectManager.com is a solid alternative to Microsoft Project.

However, it can get complicated, and it’s not tightly integrated with O365.

Project Manager

Notable ProjectManager features for project management include:

  • Different views: Lists, Calendars, Kanban boards, etc.
  • Planning and scheduling
  • Time tracking
  • Reporting.

 

ClickUp

ClickUp is a solid project management tool. However, integrating it with Office 365 isn’t as simple as it is with Project Central.

You have to separately connect it to different Office 365 apps, from Teams to Outlook.

Notable ClickUp features for project management include:

  • Task management
  • Time management
  • Team collaboration
  • Customization
  • Reporting.

 

Wrike

Wrike is one of the most complicated project management tools.

And as a Microsoft Project alternative, it has a steep learning curve and complex Office 365 integration processes.

Notable Wrike features for project management include:

  • Gantt charts
  • Kanban boards
  • Customization
  • Reporting
  • Contextual collaboration.

 

Asana

Asana is a popular project management tool.

As such, it may not be the best fit for occasional or first-time project managers that have gotten used to Office 365.

Asana Boards

Notable Asana features for project management include:

  • Different views: List, Calendar, Gantt Chart, etc.
  • Kanban boards
  • Automation.

 

What Is the Best Alternative to Microsoft Project for Project Management?

Our final verdict is: Project Central.

If you’re already using Office 365 in your company, switching to Project Central is the best option. It even comes with a free trial!

It has all the features you need to intuitively manage projects and tasks, without bogging you down with unimportant details.

Finally, Project Central barely has a learning curve.

You can easily onboard your team members, top management, and even external clients.

All it takes is a click to make your next project a resounding success!

Get Started With Project Central

Sign up for Project Central’s FREE 14-day trial & try out project management for teams using Office 365.

Get Started With Project Central

Sign up for Project Central’s FREE 14-day trial & try out project management for teams using Office 365.

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