Managing projects is a passion of mine, and so when I get asked to review a piece of project management software it's always a pleasure. In fact, I secretely hope to find a new system that will help me to better manage tasks in my full-time/side-business constraint driven world. This particular review is about a new web-based application called AceProject. Will I be switching over to their platform to get my projects done? Read the rest to find out...
My Experience With AceProject
There are three criteria by which I judge any piece of software. The first is the feel, experience, and efficiency that I get from it. The second is how well it works for my virtual assistant(s). Lastly - and the most important - what benefit does it bring to my customer? Obviously, a great system would work well in all three areas, but let's start off with my experience as a Newbie Ace...
When I inititally signed up with AceProject, I received this email:
When I get messages like these after I sign uo for something, I know that it's not going to be user-friendly. Now don't get me wrong, if something is complex but still rocks the house, that's great. But to a person that's not that tech savvy or not that apt to try to tinker with things, an email like this is a huge red flag.
When you first log in, you are presented with a very extensive help page. In essence it just reinforces the fact that the software is not easy to use. Personally, I prefer the in-line help model. I am not going to wade through piles of documentation just to figure out how to start adding tasks. A great application has great user experience at its core, and starting off with reading documentation is not that great of an experience.
After logging in and working my way around all of the features, the first thing I thought was, "This is not software for a solo-preneur." You'd be very hard pressed to find a 1 - 5 person business that would be able to utilize the system effectively. The application is ideal for medium-size companies that have enough support staff to track and monitor tasks (like business and planning analysts), but don't have the large enterprise overhead.
If you take a look at the task manager, you can see that there is a lot involved with tasks. This is great and absolutely necessary if you are an organization - say an architectural firm - that needs to not only track tasks, but also the projected time and cost associated with each task. Without that amount of detail, there would be no way to apply Earned Value principles that are vital to large-scale project management.
However, for a small business, this can be a little overwhelming. Yes, you don't have to enter in that data, but the fact that there are so many options that it's paralyzing.
Another downside (in my opinion) is the lack of AJAX. Adding multiple tasks and navigating around can get a little daunting because of the constant change in pages. Buy breaking everything down to their essentials, and streamlining the process via on-page updates , it'd make things much easier.
Tracking and Reporting
Task dependencies and the use of calendars and Gantt charts make this tool pretty cool for large-scale projects. Often, some of the more dumbed down project management tools like Basecamp don't give a great view of what tasks are dependent on other, which can lead to confusion.
In big projects, having the ability to load resources into tasks is essential. Knowing how many human resources and funding you have per task greatly increases the accuracy of project expenses and time as a whole. So this is a big plus of the software. Especially when you need to let customers know where their money is being spent and why.
Their Mobile Capabilities
Logging into Ace Project on my iPhone was actually quite a surprise. Honestly, I'd rather use the mobile interface more than the web because it's far more simplified, sleek, and makes use of AJAX. I don't feel the need to enter in 100 pieces of information for 1 task. All of the projects are neatly organized, and when you drill down into each task things become clearer and clearer.
Another great thing about the mobile version is that it's fast. Maybe it's just an illusion from the simple look, but it felt like I was able to navigate and manage much more quickly.
My suggestion would be to make the main site just as good as the mobile. The mobile site makes the software seem more reasonable for a small business to use and if they could change the web interface to match, they'd be a pretty hot commodity.
Comments From My Virtual Assistant
What my virtual assistant thinks about a particular product is extremely important to me, especially since they are going to be using it even more than I will in order to stay on task. Therefore, I polled him real quick and here are his comments in a Skype conversation that we had (kept it as raw as possible):
I can't really tell much 'til we use it on an actual project, but I still like Basecamp's UI.. hehe.. but what's good, is that there's an integrated timesheet. Tasks have various states (todo, in-progress, verify..) and type (improvement, correction, modification) much like our Edit Request Todo List in Basecamp.
... We've got estimates time for each task and an Actual time though i don't know how it's going to be used yet.. There's a calendar too.. with weekly and monthly view making it easy to see tasks..
... Oh yeah, I like that there's an expense approval tab ( i know we won't be using this ) but if only there was a Task approval tab..
... now where the heck is that save button?
BAD SIDE: How do you think clients will like this? My main issue here is, there's a lot of things to type in... of course that's because I've been used to the Basecamp way...
Overall I think we could probably use this for in-house projects. I'm still not sure how good it will be for collaboration with clients.
(I couldn't agree more about the client issue, as you'll see below....)
How Would Clients React?
Lastly, the most important part in any task management program is how my client interacts with it. This was the big question that my virtual assistant had too.
From my perspective, I wouldn't give my client access to the software at all. My clients are not program managers and are not tech savvy most of the time. Those two things would make sharing this piece of software quite dangerous, not in the sense that it'd harm our relationship, but in that it wouldn't give them an interface that's easy to interact with. What better way to let your customers know that it's going to be a complicated experience working with you than to give them access to your complicated project management software?
What I'd do is send weekly reports on the status of their projects rather than have them log in.
If I had a 20+ person business that dealt with large-scale projects, I'd definitely look at AceProject as a potential investment. As a solo-preneur/small business web developer - not so much. My projects just aren't detailed enough and funded enough to warrant a full-fledged PMP style project management system. The ratings for Ace Project are as follows:
Solo-preneur/Small Business (w/20 employees or less): 3 out of 10
Medium-sized Business (w/20+ employees): 8 out of 10
Enterprise: 7 out of 10
Kudos to AceProject. I've yet to see any project management Software as a Service (SaaS) out there that is made for true project management until now. Most try the "social" project management route or they are a watered down PMP want-to-be's.
My biggest suggestion is to improve the user interface. The fact that you are presented with a warning to read the documentation prior to even doing anything tells me that the developers know that their software is complicated and would scare off new users. Take the mobile experience and adapt it for the web. It doesn't have to be too simple, but make it easy on your users to grow into your software.