Finding the Best Project Management Tool for the Mac
The Mac isn’t exactly known for things like accounting or project management. The Mac platform has become more synonymous for graphic design, video and other creative work. However, we’re starting to see more of a shift in Mac usage, a blend in the office that was once predominantly a Windows-based environment.
Case in point: Gantt charts. Project managers find great value with this management tool and yet haven’t had many options for the Mac. There hasn't been a Mac version of Microsoft Project since Project 4.x (Project 97) and today, Microsoft Project for Mac does not exist. There are some workarounds to use Microsoft Project on a Mac, like using an emulator or virtual machine to run Windows applications, like Parallels or VMWare (for more information on running Microsoft Project on a Mac, check out these 5 ways to run Windows on Mac).
Even though you can technically run Windows software on a Mac, the bottom line is that Microsoft Project wasn't developed for the Mac. And, Excel for Mac doesn’t bring all of the same features you might find on Windows. In fact, more than just Gantt charts, and whether you're on Windows or Mac, many users are seeking an alternative to Microsoft Project. We recently published an article that helps users make the right choice alternative: The Top 3 Secrets to Selecting the Perfect Microsoft Project Replacement. Check it out to get lots of relevant information for making the right choice.
Today, however, there are quite a few tools available for Mac users to create Gantt charts, manage small to complex projects, and do a whole lot more.
The Value - and History - of the Gantt Chart
Gantt charts have been around a long time. A Polish engineer named Karol Adamiecki developed the first Gantt chart in the mid-1890s. A few years later an American engineer by the name of Henry Gantt created his own version of the project management tool, and it took off. That’s why it’s called a Gantt chart instead of an Admiecki chart.
A Gantt chart lists tasks that need to be completed in a left-hand column and time frames across the top. Bars are then added to the chart that display the start time, the duration, and the end date for the task. These bars can be color-coded to signify other aspects of a project, such as if the task will be completed by a contractor or a certain department within your organization. The Gantt chart provides an easy way to see at a glance what’s been accomplished and what still needs to be done.
Gantt charts are used by many different types of professionals across numerous industries. Project managers, marketing teams, IT teams, and professional service firms all work with Gantt charts regularly. They are also often used by architects, contractors, business analysts, and project contributors.
The Gantt chart is a core feature in Microsoft Project, but since that program only works on PCs, Mac users often have to download a template or create their own Gantt charts using Excel. While you can create a Gantt chart with Excel, you still need to update it manually, and it has limited features. Additionally, these options don’t offer the ability for resource management or critical path, which are common features in Gantt chart software.
Mac users no longer have such limited choices for creating Gantt charts. There are quite a few options available that also provide robust project management tools. Before picking a solution that’s right for you, think about some of your requirements, such as ease of use and customization. Gantt chart software should make it easier — not harder — to manage your projects.
Benefits of Gantt Chart Software
Using Gantt chart software can benefit your projects and organization in several ways. Below is a list of the top benefits.
- Boost Collaboration: With real-time software, team members can simultaneously access the Gantt chart, make updates, and stay on top of the project schedule. This ability can encourage teams to work together rather than remain siloed with their own versions (and potentially be misinformed).
- Schedule Accurately and Efficiently: Many platforms include scheduling tools and automation features that take much of the heavy lifting out of calculating realistic schedules. This saves time and leads to more accurate predictions.
- Shorten Setup and Maintenance of Project Schedule: Most Gantt chart software is intuitive and easy to learn. From fast setup (many programs include a product walkthrough) to pre-built templates of the best-in-class project plans to familiar charts, you can easily deploy the software to create schedules with reduced training time.
- Make Smart Decisions: Depending on the program, Gantt chart software allows you to visualize relationships to identify the most critical tasks and provides built-in reports so that you can make informed scheduling decisions. Some programs even allow you to designate what-if planning by setting certain tasks to inactive to timing scenarios. You can also often synchronize task lists for projects that are occurring simultaneously.
The 10 Essential Features You Need
This sounds like a basic feature, but timelines are at the heart of a Gantt chart and should work the way you do. When creating timelines, they should handle dependencies, which let you identify when one task needs to be completed before another one can start. It should also handle predecessor tasks - a feature that lets you create dependencies between tasks. Look for an option that automatically updates timelines as events change in the project.
Not everyone you work with is using the same program as you, so be sure the Gantt chart software for Mac you select can support multiple file formats. Since Microsoft Project is such a widely adopted program, Gantt chart software for Macs should import and export Microsoft Project files. It should also import and export other popular file formats such as Adobe PDF and PNG image files. This allows you to both print and share the Gantt chart to others that may not have the same software.
With so much work done in the cloud today, select a Gantt chart program that syncs with popular cloud services such as iCloud, Google Drive, and Dropbox. One of the benefits of saving and accessing a Gantt chart from the cloud is that you’ll be able to access it on web-enabled devices, so you don’t need to be at the office to check on the status of a project. If you use a different cloud service, the program you pick should sync with it as well.
A Gantt chart offers a great high-level overview of a project, but some project managers prefer to track deadlines using a calendar view. Many programs provide the option of viewing the Gantt chart as a calendar, but it would be more useful if it could integrate with the calendar app you already use. Whether you use Google Calendar or Apple’s iCal to manage your schedule, the Gantt chart software should support calendar overlays (appointments in Google Calendar or iCal can be added to the Gantt chart) and the ability to update tasks from those calendar apps.
One way to make Gantt charts really work for you is to customize them to suit your needs. Perhaps you want to select or change barcode colors or add new shades to represent different parts of the project. Can you set-up automatic alerts when a deadline for a task is approaching or has passed? You should also be able to annotate tasks by adding text to the chart. Not everyone working on a project needs to see the big picture; the Gantt chart program you select should allow you to create custom views for different team members.
A Gantt chart isn’t just for project managers, it should be a useful tool for all of the team members working on a project. That’s why sharing features are an essential requirement. Be wary of programs that require you to buy a license for others to view or use the Gantt chart. This feature needs to be built-in. Team members should have the ability to leave comments and chat with others looking at the chart. With that in mind, in addition to working on a Mac, the program should support multiple platforms such as Linux and Windows. This will give people access to the Gantt chart regardless of the type of computer they use.
If you’re a Mac user, chances are you have either an iPad or iPhone that you’d like to use to track a project. Make sure the option you choose allows you to view Gantt charts on your mobile devices. If you rely heavily on your iPhone or iPad, then look for a solution that also allows you to edit the chart on those products. Make sure to ask which versions of the OS are supported.
This comes down to how you enter information on your Gantt chart and general ease of use. Once your tasks are created, see if you can drag a specific task on the chart to change the duration or the due date. How easy is it to create dependencies between tasks? Can you just drag a line between them or do you need to enter more information?
A milestone is a marker denoting a major part of any project. That can be an event or a task completion. Either way, it’s essential that you have the capability to easily add milestones in order to visually track major moments of the project cycle. Adding a milestone shouldn’t affect the other events in the chart, however, you should be able to associate tasks with it.
Reporting is key to any project. Gantt charts contain a ton of information that you’ll want to export in a form that allow you to easily track the status of a project, see which teams are (and aren't) on track, and make adjustments as needed. Look for a solution where you can create project status reports. Better yet, it should let you automatically generate reports that are then sent to you on a regular basis. If other people on the team need to see the report but don’t have the same software, make sure you can export the report in a format that works for them, such as PDF or Excel.
Most Gantt software programs include dozens of other helpful features. Look for a program with an intuitive search tool, so you can quickly find additional useful features that will help you work more efficiently.
Support, Open Source and Free Trials: Other Key Items to Consider When Choosing Gantt Chart Software for Mac
Today, nearly all software is available via online download. Many solutions are quite robust and offer more than just Gantt charts. Whether you’re downloading a Gantt chart template or Gantt chart software, make sure it works with the system you’re using. That means checking that it works with your version of Mac OS and the versions of other people who might access the Gantt chart. Speaking of other users, find out what the cost of the software includes. Do you need to buy a license for more than a few users? Is there a cost difference for Windows users?
There are plenty of free versions of Gantt software available, but they can have limited features or are open source offerings. Open source can be a good option depending on your needs; however, there can often be compatibility issues, and it might not support the security protocols your company requires. That said, these solutions are highly customizable and a good choice if you have an engineer on hand who can help manage the program and its updates.
Most Gantt charts for Mac will have a free trial period, typically up to 30 days. You should take advantage of this before you buy to make sure it meets your needs. It’s also a great way to compare a couple of products simultaneously, with the only real investment being your time.
Support is also crucial. Support is more than just having someone at the company to call if you have a question. Many companies offer video tutorials, online training, user forums, community features, and other helpful resources. Always ask to see what is available for the software you’re evaluating.
Additional features to consider include the following:
- Timesheets and Invoicing: If you are compensating team members hourly, look for a program that saves hours worked as timesheets to ease invoicing.
- Save Projects as Templates: To cut down on time and avoid further hassle in the future, save and reuse Gantt projects that you create. Many programs also come with built-in templates for a variety of business or personal planning scenarios.
- Remote Collaboration: Cloud-based systems allow you to access the Gantt chart from any device, at any time. This is helpful if you have remote employees or want to collaborate in real time.
- Split Tasks: If you need to delegate aspects of a single task among multiple team members or simply view a task as its underlying activities, look for a program that allows you to split tasks.
Platform Choice Shouldn't Matter
In this point in our technical evolution, platform choice shouldn’t matter when it comes to software. This sentiment holds true for Gantt chart software. As one of the essential tools used by project managers everywhere, Gantt chart software has been relegated to Microsoft Project and Excel, but no longer. Now, more than ever, project managers on the Mac platform – as well as team members – have greater choices for selecting a program that works for them. The chosen program should also work equally well on Windows. When evaluating an option, make sure it can provide the 10 key features outlined here:
- Create Timelines
- Import/Export Multiple File Formats
- Sync with Cloud Services
- Create Calendars
- Customize Views
- Share and Collaborate with Team Members
- Integrate with iPhone and iPad
- Drag and Drop for Schedules
- Create and Modify Milestones
- Generate Detailed Reports
Discover a Powerful Gantt Chart Tool with Smartsheet for Project Management
When choosing Gantt chart software for Mac, consider a comprehensive platform that can help streamline workflow in other project management activities as well. Smartsheet is a work management and automation platform that enables enterprises and teams to get from idea to impact — fast. Top project management leaders rely on Smartsheet to help align the right people, resources, and schedules to get work done.
Use Smartsheet to create consistent project elements, increase speed, and improve collaboration with scalable options that fit individual work preferences. Hold yourself and your team accountable, improve visibility into team priorities, and ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
Discover how Smartsheet can help maximize your project management efforts, today.