A quick look at Project Support tools

As we are getting more and more projects going (implementing products for customers, developing new products and improving existing products) we need to get more control and overview across these projects. Until now we have been using traditional Gantt style planning tools, but the problem with these type of tools is the strong focus on planning and scheduling and not so much on the balancing with priorities and deadlines across multiple projects. PC-based tools like MS/Project, Omniplan have limited functionality for sharing and collaboration, which means a lot of manual work (which often does not happen). In most cases we have to deal with changing priorities, so the need for collaboration and up-to-date overviews, available to our staff, clients and business partners, is an important requirement. 

In the course of our search for a pragmatic solution I have tried several popular online project management tools, to see if they would fit our needs. I will try and give you a brief impression of what I think about these tools, with our specific needs in mind. It is not a complete review with all the information and comparison of features. If you need to know more, just visit the tools homepage.

I started off with Basecamp (by 37signals), since this is considered to be one of the most popular tools available. I will extend this article in the course of time whenever I have tried another tool. This will probably (hopefully) stop when I find the right one for us.

 So, how about Basecamp. I was impressed with the appealing, straightforward design, usability and simplicity of the product. The example project proves to be a very good starting point and shows all the possibilities in no more than half an hour. I can imagine this is a great tool for (small) teams working together across organizations and/or geographies. It delivers collaborative, web 2.0 style, features in an attractive package. Defining projects, discussions, tasks and calendars is very straightforward and efficient. You can have your project going in no-time. I like the possibility of contributing content by e-mail very much (haven't tried it, but looks promising).
But the simplicity of the product is probably it's most important drawback (in our situation). Basecamp lacks basic planning features like deadlines, milestones, product-breakdowns and prioritizing tasks/deliverables. And although you can define multiple projects (pricing depends on the number of projects you use), there is no way to organize them into a program and manage/report dependencies between projects.
Despite the appealing look and feel and very easy and quick project set-up, Basecamp does not fit our needs, so we will be looking further.