In praise of project management (and a plug for ProjectLibre's Gantt charts)

Disclaimer: Even though I gave a talk this year to the ProjectManagement.com people, I'm not a real project manager! 

This post is dedicated to those of you who love a good Gantt chart -- or a not so good Gantt chart:

I know I like Gantts, and that's a danger. If you're not careful you can spend more time making pretty Gantt charts than running projects. Fortunately for me most of the projects I run these days I'm overseeing at a fairly high level, and with a team of just a few people. So no one needs to worry about me spending an hour tweaking resource colors.

But I still do use Gantt charting for overall project management. It's what keeps me on track. I find that in the beginning of a project I'm already thinking through all the project details for the proposal, so it's hardly any extra work to put those into a Gantt chart. And then as projects run their course, it's easy to flip back to the Gantt every few days to make sure you're actually doing the things you'd promised.

My hat's off to real project managers -- trips to Mars, nuclear fusion -- since as you can see my project management needs are quite basic.But I know I've run into clients in market research and UX work who share those basic Gantt needs, and the use case raises the question: is there a simple, free piece of software that would get the job done?

For these simple purposes, Microsoft Project is overkill, as are the various web-based team project management systems. You want Gantt charts for your personal use -- not full-on project management via software. But the Gantt functionality is important. Manipulating changing constraints and timelines in Excel is just too time consuming.

Eventually I stumbled onto ProjectLibre. They've got a cloud-based solution under development, but their open source desktop-based software is what I use. It's not polished, but it does the basics and the price is right -- free.

Don't expect artistry. ProjectLibre lacks some functionality you might consider obvious. For example there's no way to show labels on the chart bars, which would be nice for printing and putting on a wall.

Still, if you want a quick and dirty Gantt chart, you'll get that right out of the box. And if you want to explore further, its billing as a "Microsoft Project replacement" would suggest real project managers might make more use of its features as well.

Let me know if you've used ProjectLibre or have something that works as well.

Written by Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen, MBA, is the President of Phase 5 US. With almost 2 decades of experience in client-side marketing strategy, market research, and product management, Steve brings a client’s mindset and drive for actionable results to each project. He has extensive experience in capturing the view “from the outside” with a special focus on product and service innovation. Steve is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.