When teaching Project Management, I often have the feeling I am struggling to make the class interesting and relevant.   Since my audience consists of senior undergraduate level students and it is a required course I face two hurdles:  1) Many would not choose this course if they did not have to take it; 2) Most (99%) have no experience in Project Management, even as someone who had worked under a project manager.   I do have an occasional adult student who has some experience.   So enough whining, what is my point anyway…

I do stick pretty close to the book with my lectures, the very good book from Kathy Schwalbe, I am always giving a lot of thought to what I can do as a value-add and make the course more interesting.   Most of these students have not started their careers yet, not even sure where they want to go with their careers and certainly are not looking for a PMP certification.  One thing I do is assign a group exercise where they are required to research and present an assigned topic such as eXtreme Programming, RUP, Scrum, MSF (Microsoft Solutions Framework, etc.   This gives them an insight into the software developmnent lifecycle and differing methodologies.

Since the book mainly uses MS Project as a software project planning software example, I have decided this semester to show some other examples.   I am not knocking MS Project, I also decided to go over some lightweight methods of organizing projects verse the heavier method MS Project provides.

So, I have chosen two examples.   These are:

1) Basecamp – a blurb taken from their website states: Basecamp turns project management and collaboration on its head. Instead of Gantt charts, fancy graphs, and stats-heavy spreadsheets, Basecamp offers message boards, to-do lists, simple scheduling, collaborative writing, live chat, and file sharing.

2) Zoho Projects – again from thee product website a short description of their goal.  Zoho Projects help teams organize their work & track progress. Most of the project management software takes longer time to setup & it becomes a overhead in a project. Zoho Projects is designed to make sure Planning & Management takes lesser time than the actual work.
Basecamp is from the same company that brought the world the Ruby On Rails phenomenon.  They have several other collaboration products available such as Campfire, Backpack, Writeboard and Ta-Da List.

A couple of notes/disclaimer.  First, you may ask what problems these are products trying to solve?   Microsoft Project works fine, it has all the functionality I need from a project planning software tool.  Again I repeat, I am not slamming MS Project it is a great tool for many projects.  This is only a different perspective.  You are right, that is the point.  It can have too much functionality.   These products are trying to be effective by being simple.   A software planning tool should assist the development team in delivering software, not become a project in themselves.  Often maintaining the project plan becomes a horrendous task taking up way too much time.  I have experienced this myself, all the charts, reports and task lists (Work Breakdown Structure) become tedious to maintain.  These products are providing a lightweight manner to maintain tasks, resource assignments and the communication.  These products would work great with a development methodology such as Scrum which is meant to be lightweight.
The disclaimer is that I have used the free versions of 37Signals products for my own use and am a big fan of them.  Basecamp is a very capable product that has been available for some time, Zoho Projects is in beta.  I am not going to compare the two (though will be inevitable it may happen) but attempt to explain my view of how each works.

In installment two I will start looking deeper into these two lightweight project management products.