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Is It Time to Upgrade From Free To Affordable Project Management Software?

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A wise man once said, “you get what you pay for.”

That man was either 15th-century German philosopher Gabriel Biel, or novelist Kurt Vonnegut, depending on who you ask.

Greg Billings, the hero of our story and president of Shady Acres Landscaping in Winsted, CT, chose to heed the advice of a more frugal, unknown wise person.

“If it ain’t free, it ain’t for me,” was Billings’ mantra when it came to project management software for his company.

Despite suggestions from his field service managers that it was time to upgrade to a paid product, Billings insisted that their free project management software was good enough.

“If free software was good enough to grow this company from a teenager mowing his neighbor’s lawns into a 30-person operation with more than 100 clients, I’ll be damned if it’s not good enough for us now,” he would bluster.

Then again, this is the man who holds the annual holiday party at the local duckpin bowling alley because the owner is a client and lets him use the party room for free (employees still had to pay $2 each for their shoe rentals, though). Billings’ high school nephew’s ska-grunge fusion band, The Sweater Daddies, provided musical entertainment in exchange for community service credits.

In other words, Billings was never going to pay for project management software as long as there was a free alternative.

Unless, that is, somebody made a very compelling argument.

Affordable Project Management Software

Reba Greenway, Shady Acres’ most tech-savvy field manager, had been trying to convince her boss to upgrade from ProjektMan.pm—their free, open source PM software—for years without any luck. But as their organization continued to grow, the software’s limitations were becoming glaringly obvious.

Crews were showing up to worksites on the wrong day because they weren’t communicating about deadlines. Workers would arrive only to find that the landscaping had already been completed by a different crew because they weren’t using Gantt charts. And teams were arriving with only a couple of weedwhackers to tackle a five-acre lawn because they weren’t managing their resources. All this because of inadequate project management software.

“I know how much you like saving money, Greg,” Greenway said one day over lunch at an all-you-care-to-eat pizza buffet. “But this shoestring software is becoming a real headache. We’re botching jobs and losing clients. It’s time to upgrade!”

As much as he tried to deny it, he fielded enough angry calls himself to know that customer satisfaction was slipping. He knew that if his business was going to succeed, some expenses would have to grow along with the customer base. He wasn’t still using the same Black & Decker push mower he started with 20 years ago, maybe it was time to upgrade his software, too.

“Alright, I’m listening,” he said as he wiped Grade C marinara sauce off the corner of his mouth.

1. Affordable PM tools as an alternative

Greenway waited for a couple of rowdy kids in party hats to move away from their booth, then eased into her pitch.

“Just because we decide to pay for project management software doesn’t mean that we have to pay a lot. A little money can go a long way, especially for a relatively small organization like ours,” she said. “We can try out a few options with a free trial and some—like Asana or Wrike—remain free for small groups.”

To Greenway’s point, a Gartner research report—Are Low-Cost or Open-Source Options for Project Management Tools Right for You?—says “PM tools are often available for free trials or even free usage for a small number of users, and they may meet the PM needs of lower-maturity users.”

2. Hidden costs of free PM tools

“How much money do you reckon we were saving by using that open-source software, anyway?” Greenway asked.

“Well, I know that zero per month is less than any amount of dollars per month,” Billings replied before defiantly taking a bite of his Mexican Fiesta pizza slice.

“I understand that, but what about the money we had to spend to have that slick consultant from Hartford come in to train us? Or how about when we had to have that mousey fella from the Nerd Patrol come in last week to reinstall the software after it became corrupted on three of our laptops?” Greenway reminded her boss.

Billings scowled at the renewed memory of writing those checks, then took a swig of Hawaiian Punch from a translucent red plastic cup.

Gartner reminds users to “Factor in the cost of training, governance, and maintenance of the application” when considering the cost of project management software, and that open-source “does not always yield considerable (total cost of ownership) advantages over proprietary alternatives.”

Billings sat back and thought to himself, “just how much money have I spent over the years to keep that ‘free’ software running, anyway?”

3. Innovation in open-source PM tools

Billings felt like he was losing this argument by a wide margin and needed to save some face. Remembering something he had read online about the benefits of open-source software, he fired a counter-point.

“Yeah, well our terrible open-source software is being improved on every day by a community of developers and eggheads who are adding new features, making ProjektMan.pm more secure, fixing bugs, and helping users like us with tech support,” he mustered.

Greenway paused to take a bite of her spinach alfredo slice before responding. She knew that transitioning to new software would be difficult even in optimal conditions, so she would have to make a strong case to convince her boss that it was worth the trouble.

“In a perfect world, all of that would be true. But in reality, our PM software hasn’t been updated since 2014. It crashed last week because it’s out of date, and when we tried to get help on the online forums we found that we were the first visitors in almost six months,” she said. “Not to mention that our data could be compromised and we wouldn’t even know it. I’m sorry, Greg, but the software community has abandoned ProjektMan.pm.”

According to Gartner, “Most examples of innovation have been in new leading-edge markets such as big data, mobile, cloud, web development, and machine learning rather than in more-established areas like PM.”

Realizing that his master stroke about open source innovation was a major whiff, Billings slumped in his seat.

4. Proprietary PM software is Easy to Use

“Don’t look at paying for project management software as a defeat,” Greenway consoled her boss. “Just think of how much more time we’ll have to focus on creating beautiful landscapes for our clients instead of wrestling with a cumbersome, arcane open-source alternative. The less time we spend in the office, the happier our customers will be.”

Billings nodded and dejectedly took an indulgent bite of pepperoni and sausage.

“Open-source was never a great fit for our team, anyway. It’s best suited for users who are comfortable with coding and troubleshooting. We’re not meant to be cooped up behind a keyboard, we belong out in the sun with grass-stains on our knees and dirt under our fingernails,” she said. “Won’t it be nice to have a support team to handle the computer stuff?”

As Gartner confirms, “Open-source and low-cost solutions historically fared best in environments populated by highly technical users, such as IT professionals and software developers. These users are familiar and comfortable with the inner workings of the technology at the source code level.”

Greenway knew that Billings didn’t want anything to do with the source code.

5. Try out affordable project management software

“Just like a new riding mower, new project management software is an investment,” Greenway said. “And just like we’d test out a new $8,000 zero turn Husqvarna mower before buying, we can also try out our new project management software before investing. The training and replacement of equipment won’t be easy, and it won’t come without costs, but we’ll be glad we did it in the long run.”

Gartner found that trials “give everyone the opportunity to try (software) on before buying. Users need to see whether the interface is intuitive, and stakeholders need assurance that the solution addresses an actual, real problem.”

In fact, most buyers demoed only two PM systems before making a decision.

The concept of a test drive seemed to ease Billings’ concerns somewhat, allowing him to savor a bite of dessert pizza.

Are you ready for affordable project management software?

If you’re like Greg, and you don’t want to pay for project management software, maybe it’s time to try out a few popular options. If you’re like Reba, and your team has had success with affordable project management software, please leave a review!

Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.

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About the Author

Andrew Conrad

Andrew is a content writer for Capterra, specializing in church management and project management software. When he’s not striving for the perfect balance of information and entertainment, Andrew enjoys the great outdoors and the wide world of sports. Follow him on Twitter @CapterraAC.

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