June 23, 2023

Best Microsoft Project Alternatives

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These days, organizations have to juggle a host of system apps, schedules, time zones, file formats, security policies, and so much more just to complete a single project. Project Management (PM) tools like Microsoft Projects are designed to help with this, but how do you avoid simply adding another cumbersome dashboard to the tech stack? 

Software solutions can only be counted as such when the software actually addresses the pain points of your use case, and no tool is designed to meet every possible need. 

So, to help you find the PM platform that best meets your organization’s needs, let’s take a closer look at 7 major PM vendors, and how their app stands up to Microsoft’s offering.

  • Wrike: Best for newcomers to PM software
  • Jira: Best for IT and dev teams
  • Smartsheet: Best for simple use cases
  • Asana: Best for enterprise users
  • Airtable: Best for data visualization
  • Hive: Best for build-your-own PM usage
  • Todoist: Best for soloprenuers and work-from-anywhere pros

Wrike – Best for newcomers to PM software


Pros

  • Offers multiple view modes, including Kanban and Gantt Chart modes
  • “Activity Stream” helps users keep up-to-date on major developments across projects
  • AI automation helps streamline task creation and management
  • Invoicing and budgeting features

Cons

  • Several core features, such as Gantt Chart view and project budgeting, are reserved for higher subscription tiers

Wrike is a cloud-based project management system designed to support collaboration for distributed teams. With a robust free plan that includes unlimited projects, unlimited subtasks and nesting levels, and up to 20 free external collaborator user accounts, it can provide solid functionality for growing teams or those new to PM software.

Paid plans for Wrike are middle-of-the-road, offering something between the low-cost options and the enterprise-focused options elsewhere on this list. For those wondering whether the free plan will cover their needs, or if they should pay for a Team or Business plan, rest easy knowing they offer a 14-day free trial of the Business plan, with no payment info required.

  • Free plan available
  • Team: $9.80/user/month
  • Business: $24.80/user/month
  • Enterprise: by quote
  • Pinnacle: by quote

Wrike is an excellent mid-grade option for growing teams, organizations with very dynamic and diversified PM needs, or users that are still trying to determine the exact shape of their use case. The free plan and free trial provide ample opportunity for risk-free testing, and the moderate subscription fees keep paid usage from being outright prohibitive for most team budgets.

Wrike is a multi-service platform that’s cloud-based, and built to empower collaboration across decentralized and remote teams. The project management solution is designed with Agile methodology in mind, whether that’s teams of programmers or less technical departments employing a similar productivity strategy. 

PM functionality is just the beginning for Wrike, though. The vendor offers additional applications for marketers, creative services, professional services, and more. Beyond the team-based verticals, the platform also offers numerous add-ons and integrations to make it easier to implement Wrike into existing processes without increasing complexity or tech bloat.

For teams looking for a flexible and adaptive solution to their project management needs, Wrike is a good place to start.

Jira – Best for IT and dev teams


Pros

  • PM tools designed with developers and IT teams in mind
  • Extensive options for privacy, security, and role-based permissions
  • Flat-rate annual billing favors larger teams

Cons

  • Not optimized to facilitate work outside of target demographic disciplines
  • Setup and management require technical expertise

Jira is defined primarily by how its functionality prioritizes users in software engineering and related disciplines. All displays are in scrum or kanban board views, to better enable the style of planning and organization most teams running on agile use. 

Automation-powered bug-tracking tools help teams limit tedious busywork when creating or passing assignments back and forth, while cutting down on the risk of those details slipping through the cracks. 

Project managers can even get a high-level view of project timelines, zooming out to see projected estimates across multiple sprints and goalposts.

  • Free
  • Standard: $77.50 per month
  • Premium: $152.50 per month
  • Enterprise: by quote

Jira is a highly specialized platform, making it less than ideal for use cases outside of development or network administration. But for those who have to deal with bugs, service tickets, and other pain points unique to the work of digital technology experts, Jira is second to none.

Jira is project management by agile developers, for agile developers. Brought to you by the same company behind Trello, Jira is a digital scrum board that equips technical teams with all the features needed to plan, organize, track, optimize, and troubleshoot tasks and projects across every sprint.

If you’re looking for a more casual, even-the-marketing-team-can-use-it project management tool, Jira’s not for you. The solution is heavily tailored to teams that report to CIOs and CTOs, even going so far as to add bug-tracking features, just for starters. 

Dashboard views are strictly scrum and kanban boards; setup and ongoing management both require a minimum level of technical know-how. And advanced controls for user permissions, security, and privacy are likely far more than other departments typically need. 

With a wealth of specialized, dev-centric bells and whistles, though, Jira is perfect for teams that need to make the most of their sprints and minimize process friction for their staff.

Smartsheet – Best for simple use cases


Pros

  • Simple, intuitive UI with a familiar format
  • Low cost, minimal setup
  • Surprisingly robust and flexible functionality

Cons

  • May lack more advanced features
  • Larger teams may find it a bit restrictive

Smartsheet comes with a recognizable format and toolset, but also includes a number of pre-built templates, customization options, and analytics features, putting the “smart” in Smartsheet. 

Beyond that, Smartsheet provides a variety of critical integration options and advanced management tools, allowing for calender sharing, data visualization, budget tracking, and more.

Above all else, though, Smartsheet’s greatest feature is its simplicity and ease of use. If you can navigate your way around an Excel sheet, you can easily put Smartsheet to use.

  • Free plan available
  • Pro: $7/user/month, billed yearly
  • Business: $25/user/month, billed yearly
  • Enterprise: by quote

Nearly every organization has experience dealing with spreadsheets in one form or another. That makes learning Smartsheet easy, since the format and features are built to mimic spreadsheets used elsewhere. With a low subscription cost and minimal setup or onboarding, Smartsheet is an excellent pick for teams with simple PM needs.

Smartsheet is exactly what the name implies: it’s the flexibility, simplicity, and familiarity of a spreadsheet, applied to project management needs. Designed with simplicity and straightforward functionality in mind, it has a more streamlined feature set than more comprehensive platforms. 

But that leaner toolset lends it to smaller, less complex use cases, and allows for speedy setup and onboarding. Paired with some of the lowest subscription fees available among leading solutions, and Smartsheet is perfect for teams that need an easy answer to their project management woes.

Asana – Best for enterprise users


Pros

  • 30-day free trial (twice as long as most competitors)
  • Intuitive UI
  • Easily adapted to support teams in numerous verticals
  • Built to support organizations with large and complex teams and workflows

Cons

  • Priced for enterprise users with larger budgets
  • Free plans come with strict feature limitations
  • Small teams may find it to be more than they need

Asana boasts an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use interface, making it easier to onboard teams and staff. Once they’re up and running, Asana makes it even easier to keep information, updates, and management in a single place. Clean, easy-to-read dashboards make staying up-to-date a breeze, and features like task dependencies and automation can minimize both wasted time and human error.

  • Basic: Free
  • Premium: $10.99/user/month, billed yearly
  • Business: $24.99/user/month, billed yearly
  • Enterprise: by quote

No list of leading project management tools is complete without mentioning Asana. Most organizations that find other solutions lack critical features or functionality switch to Asana to get what they need. And while not every team needs every toggle and switch Asana can offer, few will find one it fails to provide.

Founded by former Facebook engineers, Asana was built as a direct response to the rapidly scaling growth seen in tech startups. Intended as a solution to the “meetings about meetings” problem, the platform is designed to allow teams to keep all pertinent information in a single location, reducing time spent digging through emails and shared drives.

Thanks to its robust feature set, its user-friendly design, and a wealth of knowledge in the resource library, Asana has quickly grown to be one of the foremost brands in the PM space. As a result, it also boasts one of the largest catalogs of API integration options in the market.

Asana is on the more expensive side, especially considering plans bill annually. And the platform can be overwhelming for smaller, leaner teams that may only need the kind of simple task tracking a kanban board might provide. But for growing teams that need a complete project management solution, Asana is a leading option to consider.

Airtable – Best for data visualization


Pros

  • Extensive data visualization options
  • Views can be customized by individual users for personalized dashboards
  • Can be either code-free or code-based as needed

Cons

  • Solution limits attachments, data storage, records, and API integrations
  • Subscription fees are on the higher end, especially for large user bases

Airtable boasts a streamlined, spreadsheet-centric design, with numerous added features that help users make the most of large datasets and extensive quantitative records. The deep analytics and visualization options may be a bit niche for most use cases, but for the kinds of users that are usually already elbow-deep in spreadsheets, it likely provides a wealth of functionality they can put to good use.

  • Free plan available
  • Plus: $10/user/month billed annually
    • $12/user when billed monthly
  • Pro: $20/user/month billed annually
    • $24/user when billed monthly
  • Enterprise: by quote

While Airtable does come with a higher price tag than most, and may prove a bit restrictive to teams that need to collaborate on a variety of large files or records, the tool is indispensable for use cases that prioritize data and reporting.

The deep analytics and visualization functionality are a must for any team that needs to crunch numbers and provide at-a-glance evidence of measurable changes to staff and management alike.

A spreadsheet-based PM solution like Smartsheet, Airtable sets itself apart by providing a data-first design scheme for teams that want to focus on the numbers and raw information. The platform comes with many of the simple, easy-to-use controls as its other spreadsheet-based peers, but goes a step further by including extensive options for data visualization and reporting.

Analytics can be customized across teams and by individual users, making it a breeze to focus on the information that’s most immediately relevant, regardless of who’s logging in. And with both code-free and code-based options, complexity can be customized to meet the level of expertise available to your users. 

For any team looking to make the data the start of their project management, Airtable is a solid choice.

Hive – Best for build-your-own PM usage


Pros

  • Low starting cost for subscriptions
  • Add-ons can be used individually, allowing users to pay only for what they actually use
  • Active, easy-to-reach customer support team
  • AI-powered features, including automation and analytics

Cons

  • Many “core” PM features are only accessible through add-ons
  • Zapier implementation required for most key integration support

Hive offers a highly customizable project management solution to users. With a low starting cost, users can pick and choose from a variety of add-ons, paying for additional functionality on a case-by-case basis. While this can make full functionality more expensive than strictly necessary, for users that are looking for some but not all of what Hive has on offer, it can be an easy way to reduce subscription fees.

  • Free plan available
  • Teams: $12/user/month, with additional fees for add-on packages
  • Enterprise: by quote

No two use cases for project management software are the same, and neither are the budgets. Though its a relative newcomer to the PM market, Hive presents an alternative to the standard pricing models offered by most competitors. Rather than having subscription tiers akin to consumer cell phone plans, Hive offers add-ons for supplemental functionality. Add what you need, leave the rest, and pay only for what you’ll need to use.

One of the oldest frustrations, both for businesses and for consumers, is the issue of paying for features that aren’t necessary. No one likes paying for a cable subscription just to watch live sports, and many businesses likewise don’t want an enterprise PM tool when they only need select digital functions.

Hive provides a method of building your own solution by separating a number of tools into add-ons that would normally come standard on higher subscription tiers with competitors. This pricing model works best for use cases where teams need a limited number of features that aren’t typically combined in free or low-cost subscription tiers.

Todoist – Best for soloprenuers and work-from-anywhere pros


Pros

  • Individual users can get nearly everything they need PM-wise from the free plan
  • Doubles as a personal to-do list and wellness app
  • Automatic syncing helps keep you up-to-date
  • Among the lowest subscription costs available

Cons

  • Can prove limited in functionality for larger, more complex teams
  • Free plan does lack a select few key features, including reminders, user roles, and automatic backups

Todoist is an effective, if somewhat simple, project management solution. But it’s also a to-do list, a productivity-boosting wellness app, and more. Branded as a tool for achieving better work/life balance, it’s perfect for professionals who have felt those two aspects of their day-to-day bleeding into each other in the past few years.

Todoist is an effective, if somewhat simple, project management solution. But it’s also a to-do list, a productivity-boosting wellness app, and more. Branded as a tool for achieving better work/life balance, it’s perfect for professionals who have felt those two aspects of their day-to-day bleeding into each other in the past few years.

  • Free plan available
  • Pro: $4/user/month billed annually
    • $5/user when billed monthly
  • Business: $6/user/month billed annually
    • $8/user when billed monthly

Todoist is an effective, if somewhat simple, project management solution. But it’s also a to-do list, a productivity-boosting wellness app, and more. Branded as a tool for achieving better work/life balance, it’s perfect for professionals who have felt those two aspects of their day-to-day bleeding into each other in the past few years.

With more and more professionals making the shift to partial or complete self-employment, tools that can help them balance both work and personal responsibilities are more valuable than ever. That’s where Todoist comes in. It’s a step up for those who have been relying on their personal Google calendar as their default scheduling assistant, without actually costing the equivalent of an employee’s salary.

Microsoft Project advantages

For years, Microsoft Project was an on-premise-only solution, like most of the Microsoft Office suite. Recently, the PM tool has been tweaked to better align with market trends, and their own Office 365 suite of applications. The result is a refreshed Microsoft Project with two variations: Project Online (which is cloud-based), and Project Pro (which is local to the device, and available offline).

While the cloud-based and on-prem variations come with the benefits and drawbacks of either format, just as any other solution would, the big advantage of using Microsoft Project in any form is how it connects to the rest of the Microsoft family of apps. Project Online and Project Pro both integrate seamlessly into Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and everything else your organization is likely using from the O365 suite of tools. 

In other words, if you’re already on the Microsoft bandwagon, using Microsoft Project will likely extend and expand the value you’re getting. 

Microsoft Project disadvantages

Microsoft’s proprietary integrations are both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. Teams that lean on Microsoft tools for their stability and security will benefit from keeping everything in-house. But those that don’t will likely have little reason to prioritize Microsoft Project over other PM options.

Even those that use some or all of O365’s offerings may find Microsoft Project’s enterprise-level pricing too rich for their current budget, especially if their PM needs are relatively straightforward. 

Finding the right Microsoft Project alternative for you

Which solution is the best for your team? It all depends on circumstance. No software tool has universal application across the board. The only way to find an app that will provide the needed return on investment is to match the needs and budget to the available options. Hopefully this article has helped make that effort a little easier for you and your team. 

Looking for the latest in Project Management solutions? Check out our Project Management Software Buyer’s Guide.

Featured partners

1 Wrike

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Wrike’s top-notch workflow management software allows you to easily visualize priorities, boost collaboration, and maintain control of your projects. Bonus: you can move seamlessly between apps, without logging in or out. Wrike has more than 400+ integrations with popular platforms such as Google, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and many more. Automation and AI features strip away time-consuming admin tasks so you can do the best work of your life.

Learn more about Wrike

2 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is the project management software that helps you and your team plan, execute, and track projects and workflows in one collaborative space. Manage everything from simple to complex projects more efficiently with the help of visual boards, 200+ ready-made templates, clever no-code automations, and easy integrations. In addition, custom dashboards simplify reporting, so you can evaluate your progress and make data-driven decisions.

Learn more about monday.com

3 Quickbase

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Big ideas aren’t simple to execute. So we’re here to help you tackle any project, no matter how complex. We’re Quickbase.

Quickbase helps customers see, connect and control complex projects that reshape our world. Whether it’s raising a skyscraper or coordinating vaccine rollouts, the no-code software platform allows business users to custom fit solutions to the way they work – using information from across the systems they already have.

Learn more about Quickbase

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