“But," you ponder, “what if I need to get a suite of products that include spreadsheets? Where do I get those?"
Ah, the simplest applications are still pretty expensive. You might need a spreadsheet program to list tasks or do calculations on cost, since some free Gantt Charts will not do that.
There is a set of free software applications that can mirror many of the functions of the spreadsheet, or word processing, or even database applications that can cost you hundreds of dollars. These are found through the www.openoffice.org web site.The download is free and actually pretty quick. I scanned the executable once I downloaded it just to be safe, and found no problems, so I went ahead and installed the applications. The result was pretty impressive. The applications run pretty well, and they perform almost all the functions of more expensive applications. Why am I covering this? Most project tools start with the basic ideas of documentation, which includes word processing to write minutes, lessons learned document, etcetera. If you want to go totally free, it may benefit you to use free tools that are relatively basic in order to better link to those tools that are more sophisticated.
We come to the real crux of this article. Getting free software is all fine and good, but why download it if it does not perform the function or produce the type of document that can be shared? If the free software does not export to PDF or at least to a JPEG, then what good is the software? Unless everyone in the company gets the free software and agrees to constantly update it one at a time, the free software will cost you. Not in a monetary sense, but in a convenience sense.
For the record, I used the word processing part of the openoffice suite and can tell you firsthand that the word processing application works fine. How do I know? This article was originally written in a purchased word processing application, then exported to the free word processing application, finished, and then exported back to the purchased word processing application. Bottom line: it works fine. Yes, it is not the same, but nothing free ever has the same intuitive nature as purchased. And that, in some instances, is fine.
Free software may not live up to the standard of the purchased software, but it helps to put the limit on the budgeted price for software, which according to the scenario was part of the assumption. It is essential that the neophyte project manager understand that in order to determine if a free tool will work it must do everything necessary to provide the project documentation.
We talked about time and task, two of the main elements of project tracking. Although this article just touched on the free software available, it covered some that are available along with the links and samples. As future project managers, you can do the rest. If you need help, please contact me through my web site at www.grectech.com. I have some classes that are available that go into more detail on finding and using free software for project management, as well as classes on how to retain your team members.
About the Author: Chris Greco has spent over a combined 35 years as a project manager and manager in the military, private industry, public service, and academia. His company, GRECTECH, develops and presents training that can help them save money on software and help their project managers develop better teams. You can contact him at www.grectech.com or by email at chris @ grectech.com.