Comparing Product Management Tools: 5pm, GoPlan, Central Desktop, and Basecamp
Whether you are managing a personal or business project, the need for organization is ever-present. Fortunately there are a number of web 2.0 applications that can help with organizing and tracking your projects. Called project management applications, these online organizers come in a variety of complexities and styles. Over the week we’ve talked about some of these project management tools and judged them on their interface, what features they offered, and how effective they were. You’ll see them compared in the chart below, and following the chart, we’ll talk about them in greater detail.
|Project progress chart||yes||no||yes||no|
|Project keyword search||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Email participants, clients||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Direct link to project||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Profiles and contact information||yes||yes||no||no|
|Task creation through email||no||no||yes||no|
|Starting price (monthly)||$14||free||$34||free|
|Number of projects||80||unlimited||100||unlimited|
|Private and public workspaces||no||no||yes||no|
|Logo and branding||no||yes||yes||yes|
Of the project management applications we reviewed, there was little question about which was easiest to use. 5pm has a friendly interface with a project page that puts the majority of the management tools up front. Unlike some of the other project management tools, which use a dashboard as link to separate pages, 5pm makes its lead page a point of action, where you can control the project. Add projects, tasks, notes, files, see progress, and more all from the first page. 5pm has separate tabs for Timelines and Reports, which may have more to do with the screen space required for those functions than anything else. We were also impressed by how friendly the interface was, and how the quickly identifiable icons and the two panel project screen made navigation a pleasure. Every note and task has email notifications, and we found it easy to change the view from the whole Project to just what was on our plate.
5pm does have a few downsides, one of which is the storage space available. Limited to 80 projects and 1gb, users may want to take a close look at the size of their project or try the 14 day trial before committing to one of 5pm’s paid plans. Another downside is the lack of advanced features, which may or may not affect most users, but for heavy business users, online conferencing, chat, prioritizing tasks, and logo or brand customization may be on the must list.
GoPlan offers a basic project management application with an uncommon feature – developer API for integration. This allows developers to integrate the GoPlan management platform into an existing infrastructure, making it possible to have a project management tool within your company’s own site. On the project management side, GoPlan offers what you would want from a project management application; users can create tasks, tickets, notes, mark calendars, and upload files, each with email notification. Features common to all of the project management applications this week such as RSS feeds for updates and calendar export (iCal) are also present, and GoPlan has thrown in the ability to create subtasks and reordering tasks by drag and drop.
There is no arguing that GoPlan is laid out in a clean, easy to understand manner, but it is difficult to overlook that the similarity between pages and the lack of cross-linking makes navigation in GoPlan awkward. The ability to integrate the API does make it appealing from a development standpoint, though GoPlan’s limited feature set is likely to frustrate heavy users. For smaller projects, the free plan with 15mb of storage may be ideal, but ultimately, GoPlan is a solution for basic project management.
Among the applications reviewed this week Central Desktop was the most impressive, not so much for its interface, as it was for its lengthy feature list. Central Desktop breaks the project management interface up in the same way that all the applications did; by creating tabs that open pages with a specific focus. The difference is that when Central Desktop offers 25gb for storage they are also allowing you to create text and spreadsheet files inside their application, and when they offer communication for your team, they throw in web conferencing (add fees apply), chat, and email (including task creation from email). There are extended options for time tracking such as the ability to create special fields in the form, and there are unique urls available for tasks for quick access. The list goes on with additional features in each area (more information is available with the full review), but one of the most useful features is a search function that searches through the entire project, including content in the documents. For new users Central Desktop has placed how to videos on every category page, and has a chat feature that is linked in directly with their help desk.
The weak point of Central Desktop is its interface. Lacking friendliness is hardly a deal killer, but it should be acknowledged that effective design steers your attention, saving time. Searching for functions, rereading the page because you can’t see differences between items, and neutral colors all eat up time that could be spent keeping the project on the go. More could be done to improve the size of icons, change the colors (the medium priority color is flesh), as well as improve the dashboard so there are quick links to any area of organization. At this time there is also only one calendar view so project managers are not able to see details that might help them visualize their project. Contact and profile management is also lacking, yet Central Desktop remains a powerful tool.
BaseCamp, the project manager that inspired a bevy of look-alikes, takes a different approach to project management. While offering the features you would expect such as messages and tasks, Basecamp focuses on it’s milestone feature, making it the center of activity. In other project managers the milestones are reflected in a calendar (as they are in Basecamp), but unlike others, milestones in Basecamp replace deadlines, so when you create a group of tasks you attach it to a milestone rather than giving it an independent deadline. This allows Basecamp to offer quick shifting of deadlines across the calendar, a useful function for tracking goals. For example, if we were to make a task (they call them To-Dos) of writing an article, we could attach it to the milestone of publishing in an entrepreneurial magazine. If the milestone needed to change dates, we could change its date and move all future milestones the same number of days to reflect the change. Basecamp also allows users to configure the new milestones so that they do not fall on a weekend.
In addition to milestones, Basecamp has a tab for Writeboards, a simple wiki with the ability to save versions, export text, and a direct url. Permissions and search are also in Basecamp, allowing users to set the level of members, including workers outside the project. Chat, available through the companion service Campfire, gives managers the option to connect in real time. Above the $49 a month level there are new features such as SSL encryption and time tracking.
The interface of Basecamp is sparse and simple, with each tab containing only a few features. As with GoPlan there is room for improvement here, or at least some cross-linking to speed navigation. In the end, Basecamp is an option for goal oriented project managers and projects that require fluid scheduling.
Common to all of the applications was the ability to export or feed calendars to iCal or Outlook, and all but GoPlan had the ability to report on the time it took tasks to complete. All the applications had a free trial period, but only Basecamp and GoPlan offered a free plans. Entry pricing ranged from 5pm’s $14 a month to Central Desktop’s $34, and Central Desktop offered add-ons at additional cost such as a Security Pack, a Salesforce Pack, and Web Conferencing.
As with any project, determining which application is best for you depends on the needs of the project. You may find that simple efficiency is the best way to go, and be attracted to the well packaged 5pm, or you may find that the goal oriented milestone feature of Basecamp is ideal. You might have the ability to integrate GoPlan into an existing company structure, or you might need the strength of Central Desktop to tackle a heavy project load. Whatever the need, you can find these applications and others like them with the Listio search manage+projects.
Previously in this series: Central Desktop: Powerful, Centralized Project Management
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Goplan/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Basecamp-HQ/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/5pm/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Central-Desktop/
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