Change happens in every business. Whether it's a move to a new office, a new product launch, or a total restructuring, careful planning is essential to execute changes smoothly. But why use project management software?
While it's possible to manage a small project with an Excel worksheet, small business project management software is a smarter choice. It helps you identify all the required tasks, allocate those tasks to the right people, and make sure your people complete those tasks on time.
One of the best small business project management software options is the free, open source ProjectLibre. Here's how to get started with it.
1. ProjectLibre Review: Download and Launch ProjectLibre
First, download ProjectLibre and install it on your computer. This stand-alone version is free of cost. The group that created ProjectLibre has plans for a cloud-based, for-fee subscription service, but it was not yet available at the time of this writing. Once you install and launch ProjectLibre, you can start your first project by entering a project name, a manager, and a start date (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The first step in getting started with ProjectLibre small business project management software: name your project and give it a manager and a start date.
2. ProjectLibre Review: Listing Tasks
Every project comes with tasks. List the tasks in the grid on the left of the screen (see Figure 2). Assign each task a name (or description) to identify it, a duration (how long it takes to complete), and the start date.
As you add these details, the chart on the right will begin to appear. It's best to start with a small list of major tasks, and then break these down into smaller tasks later. You can also allocate tasks to a particular person using the Resource Names column.
Figure 2: ProjectLibre small business project management software lets you enter required tasks in the grid on the left-hand of the screen.
3. ProjectLibre Review: Grouping Tasks
ProjectLibre small business project management software also lets you organize related tasks into groups such as R&D, Packaging, Legal and so on (see Figure 3). Add the individual tasks associated with each group under the group heading row—indent them using the Indent tool on the Resource panel to indicate they are part of a specific group.
You can add rows by clicking the Insert tool. Grouping tasks lets you manage the groups more easily.
Figure 3: Organizing project management tasks into groups lets you manage them both as a group and individually.
4. ProjectLibre Review: Handling Task Dependencies
Choosing a start date for some project management tasks is straightforward. If you know the start date for a given task, enter it in the Start column. But sometimes you can't accurately determine the date, because the task's start day depends on the successful completion of another task.
For example: if you have to design a product before you can prototype it, prototyping can't begin until you complete the design process. This situation is called a dependency (see Figure 4). In this case, the Prototype start date (row 3) relies on Design completion (row 2).
In the Predecessors' column, enter the Design task's row number (2) next to the Prototype task (row 3). This creates what's called a Finish-to-Start dependency—the most common type of dependency. Others include Finish-to-Finish, Start-to-Start, and Start-to-Finish.
Figure 4: The most common dependency is called Finish to Start—where one task can't begin until its predecessor task is complete.
5. ProjectLibre Review: Understanding Critical Path
Once you enter a series of tasks and arrange the dependencies, you'll see some red colored items in the right-side of the chart (see Figure 5). All the red tasks colored are on what's called the critical path.
The critical path describes the longest time that the project can take. If any critical path tasks take longer than the time you allocated, the project completion date will be affected and the project will take longer (and ultimately cost more) than expected. Completing critical-path tasks on time is crucial to completing your project on time.
Conversely if you can reduce the time it takes to complete one or more tasks on the critical path—say by allocating more people to the task—you can potentially reduce the overall project time.
To view critical-path tasks choose View>Filters list>Critical Tasks. To return to the regular view choose No Filter from this same box.
Figure 5: The Critical tasks view shows only tasks that reside on the critical path.
6. ProjectLibre Review: Analyze the Project
Outlining a project with small business project management software lets you see the scope of your project at a glance. Not only can you can use ProjectLibre to complete your project, you can also use it as a tool for analyzing and improving systems.
For example: streamline an existing system by creating a project timeline in ProjectLibre. Then look at the tasks on the critical path to see if you can simplify them, complete more quickly, or if you can complete some tasks in parallel instead of sequentially.
Both free and easy-to-use, ProjectLibre stands as one of the best small business project management software options for any business with projects to manage or systems to improve.
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her website, HelenBradley.com
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