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New research: What are the advantages of Microsoft Project software for small businesses?

Steve Forbes famously said that “Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.” Microsoft got that message loud and clear. 31 years after its IPO, Forbes magazine ranked Microsoft the world’s third most valuable brand behind Apple and Google. And new research from GetApp shows that project managers are equally swayed by Microsoft’s cache.

Research we conducted in December 2016 shows that two in three project managers use Microsoft Project. This is in spite of the fact that three in four survey respondents work in small and midsize businesses (SMBs), which is not Project’s target end user. When we published that survey’s results, we theorized that at least part of Project’s popularity correlated with its Office 365 integration. We’ve now confirmed that this theory has some truth behind it.

After hearing at Gartner’s Program and Portfolio Management Summit this past June that project managers in SMBs are switching to Microsoft Project, we wanted to learn why. So, GetApp surveyed close to 500 project managers who work in SMBs in the U.S. in the summer of 2017.

As a qualifier to take this survey, all respondents had to denote that they planned to switch to Microsoft Project from whichever project management software they used at the time. Their answers tell a fascinating story.

Key findings:

Of the nearly 500 project managers in U.S. SMBs surveyed:

“Gap in the Clouds”

We began by asking respondents which project management software they currently use. This question revealed a small handful of tools that hold the most sway among project managers who work in SMBs.

Key takeaway: One in four project managers in a U.S. SMB use Basecamp.

A full one in four respondents use Basecamp for project management. Additionally, more than one in five (21 percent) use Asana and another one in five use Trello. Nearly eight percent use Wrike, and five percent use Atlassian JIRA.

The final one in five respondents use a diverse range of tools. These range from SharePoint and Excel all the way down to no tools at all. Smartsheet also earned several mentions, although not enough to be statistically significant.

So, what’s the key theme among this group of 20 percent? These project managers either use a Microsoft product for project management software or they use no software at all. Perhaps this makes the answers to our next question less surprising.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

Our second survey question cut to the chase. We asked each respondent why they’re moving their team to Microsoft Project from the software their team currently uses. And there’s a lot to unpack from their answers.

Key takeaway: One in three project managers in a U.S. SMB plan to switch to Microsoft Project because it integrates with Office 365.

At first glance, this question’s results might seem shocking. Why would one in three project managers who work in SMBs spend the time and money switching to Microsoft Project for the sole reason that it integrates with Office 365? Upon further review, this confirms how strong of a hold Microsoft’s apps ecosystem has on users.

A SWOT analysis published by Gartner in June 2017 outlines the threats and opportunities that Office 365 faces (the report’s content is available to Gartner clients).

This analysis shared that G Suite by Google is often the productivity suite of choice for low-budget software users who work in SMBs. But the same report also found that Office’s investment in its CSP program makes a compelling case for G Suite’s core users to consider Office 365:

“The fact that channel partners can control their customer billing relationships was a huge step forward from the previous Office 365 Syndication program. This, along with other facets of the CSP program, have enabled Microsoft to convert its Hosted Exchange providers and scale up its onboarding of other resellers.

“This growing channel, along with the inherent scalability and low entry-level pricing options of Microsoft-hosted Office 365, provides an opportunity to make significant inroads in the SMB market against Google. Microsoft Exchange has always been strong with midsize and large enterprises, whereas Google has been stronger in the lower end of the market. But Microsoft, with the help of its channel partners, is now well-poised to drive net-new growth as well as competitive displacements in the SMB market.”

In short? When it comes to selecting productivity software, project managers who work in SMBs prefer Office 365 over G Suite. This is due to Office 365’s integration with Microsoft Project. And Gartner research reiterates the fact that Microsoft Project’s integration with Office 365 is a strong selling point:

For comparison, GetApp reviewed the five most popular project management software tools that our survey respondents currently use. Here’s what each of them offers for Microsoft integrations:

GetApp’s verdict on Office 365 integrations:

Project managers who use Wrike should try using the tool’s integration with Office 365 before switching to another tool like Microsoft Project. Likewise, project managers who use Basecamp, Asana, Trello, and Atlassian JIRA should confirm if they can use Zapier to build their own integrations with Office 365 before switching if the Office 365 integration is their biggest need.

“The Final Countdown”

Switching to Microsoft Project isn’t an abstract idea. The project managers who answered our survey have specific timelines in mind.

Key takeaway: 84 percent plan to switch software and start using Microsoft Project within six months.

Why the rush? As part of our survey, we asked respondents to share specific reasons for switching to Microsoft Project. Here’s a small sample of the replies we received:

“I need a better tool to assist me in managing my staff.”

“We currently have a fairly small portfolio of projects that we need to complete, however, we are thinking of scaling up. So we are looking into purchasing MS project.”

“My team works together frequently. We are always looking for new ways to share ideas, and have been looking into a variety of ways to do this, including Microsoft Project. My supervisor mentioned this to my team and we have been weighing the options, trying to decide if it would work well for us or not.”

“[Microsoft Project] will enable me to break down tasks into smaller tasks that I can delegate to my employees and track their progress.”

“It’s the software that is very prominent in the our industry and would be the most efficient way for our company to keep up to date.”

Above all else, these answers show how complicated software shopping is. Project managers have a host of reasons for switching from one tool to another. Teresa Jones—a principal research analyst at Gartner who covers project and portfolio management (PPM) software—says that this isn’t uncommon among her own clients. But she does advise project managers who work in SMBs not to switch software in haste.

“Sometimes people make decisions and commit very quickly and then find that the selected option doesn’t really work,” Jones explains. “Alternatively, they may spend months identifying requirements but then find that (superficially) all the tools seem to be able to do everything.”

GetApp’s verdict on low-risk ways to test new software:

There are many valid reasons for switching from one project management software to another. Depending on your own project team’s size, portfolio, and a host of other factors, switching to Microsoft Project might make the most sense. But the process of searching for, selecting, buying, and on-boarding new software shouldn’t be underestimated.

Before you sink a ton of time and money into a new tool, make sure that you’re using your current project management software to its full extent. This includes reviewing all of its features and integrations.

If you do this and find some key things that your software’s missing—like an integration with Office 365—don’t panic. Jones suggests signing up for free trials to test different types of project management software. This process provides a low-risk way to compare several tools without breaking the bank.

“I often suggest doing a proof of concept with a limited cross-section of users, using a cloud-based option, to help flesh out what the key things are that they really need,” Jones says. “This will be very different depending on why you are looking for a tool.”

“Stayin’ Alive”

Despite clear reasons for switching to Microsoft Project, not all hope is lost for other vendors. Our survey’s respondents said that they’d consider keeping their current software—if those vendors do a few key things.

Key takeaway: More than one in four project managers say they could be enticed to stay with their current project management software if those vendors add more features.

We’re not surprised that software buyers value strong features and integrations. It’s a key reason why “Integrations” is one of five data points in GetApp’s quarterly Category Leaders rankings. We also list specific software features to the left-hand side of our product catalogs. This helps users can find tools that have the features they need most.

But we are surprised that the project managers who answered this survey seem dissatisfied with their current tools’ offerings. As one example, Asana integrates with 55 percent of the most popular apps listed on GetApp.com. By contrast, Microsoft Project integrates with five percent of our most popular apps. Even Basecamp—which one in four of our survey respondents use—integrates with 15 percent of our most popular apps, which is three times the amount of Project.

Recall that one in three survey respondents also plan to switch to Microsoft Project due to its integration with Office 365. So, we theorize that when respondents say they wish their current vendors would add more integrations, they would specifically like to see their software tools integrate with Office 365.

We’re also surprised that one in four of the project managers we surveyed say they want more features, yet plan to switch to Microsoft Project. GetApp’s cross-comparison of Microsoft Project, Wrike, and Asana shows that the two latter tools offer several things that Project does not. As three examples, Wrike and Asana both offer:

Microsoft Project offers none of the above. And reviewing GetApp’s cross-comparison of key features for all three tools shows several more features that Microsoft Project lacks. But when we asked survey respondents for specific ways that their current vendors could keep their business, they had some ideas. Here are some replies that our survey received when we asked respondents how their current project management software vendors could entice them to stay:

“Allow for direct file compatibility with MS Projects.”

“Provide better support and hosting.”

“We aren’t getting rid of JIRA. That will still be used by the software development team.”

“Be an equal competitor with Microsoft, I guess. Common support is a major factor here.”

“Offer everything for free.”

GetApp’s verdict on how to choose software with the right features and integrations:

Before you switch project management software, review all of the tools that your team uses to manage projects. Then, assess how many of those tools are independent cloud-based apps versus how many are part of Microsoft’s apps ecosystem.

If you already use Office 365 and/or Microsoft’s holistic suite of tools, then switching to Project might make the most sense. But if you’re using cloud-based project management software, don’t switch without confirming what you’ll lose. It’s possible that Project won’t integrate with many additional tools that your project team uses.

In that case, switching software could just lead you to new problems. But if you start by considering what your project team needs software to do—and evaluate tools based on those specific needs—you’ll make a more informed choice.

“The challenge SMBs have is… thinking about what they really need in terms of features, and PMs often think of project management software as a single ‘type’ whereas in reality there are a vast number of different ‘flavors,'” Jones explains. “I often have conversations that start with, ‘We want something easy to use, intuitive…’ and then go on to add that they want help prioritizing workloads, identifying resource constraints, and being able to experiment with alternative scenarios to help with making decisions. Often, these capabilities are missing from some of the lower-end options.”

“Where Do We Go From Here?”

Microsoft’s brand prowess can’t be overstated. It may have taken more time for many of its products to move to the cloud. But many of its most popular products—such as Office 365—are so ubiquitous that using a project management tool outside the Microsoft suite seems difficult.

As one example, Gartner’s SWOT analysis found that social media mentions of Office 365 grew 15.5 percent in user conversations from 2012 to 2016. By contrast, social media mentions for G Suite dropped by 2.3 percent during this same period:

* These mentions have been derived from keywords depicting feature addition related keywords for Office 365 and G Suite. Note: The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) here is measured half-yearly from 2012 through 2016. Source: Gartner (June 2017).

For project managers, the end result is often that they need software to integrate with Office 365. This concern isn’t without merit: as Gartner’s SWOT analysis noted, “A May 2017 query showed more than 250,000 worldwide profiles mentioning Office 365. This was in addition to the 1.53 million SharePoint profiles and 1.49 million .NET profiles, many of whom could quickly be put to work on related Office 365 projects. This compares with 74,000 for G Suite and Google Apps for Work.”

Many of today’s projects utlize Office 365. But that doesn’t mean you need to stop using your current project management software right away. Before you switch to Microsoft Project, use GetApp’s software comparison chart to cross-check several cloud-based tools— like Basecamp, JIRA, and Asana— against each other. This will help you confirm which project management software meets most of your needs. You might even find that your current software does the trick.

Curious to see how Microsoft Project compares to your current software? You can create a comparison chart via GetApp’s catalog. And as part of your broad software search, make sure to check these items off your list:

All of these steps will help you reset your expectations. No software tool will solve all of your project problems. But the truth is that most software users use just a small number of features. And moving your project data from one software tool to the next is no small feat. It involves substantial time and money alongside a learning curve.

But here’s the good news: there are several low-risk, low-cost ways to find the best project management software for your business. That tool might be Microsoft Project. It might also be the tool that your team already uses.

Survey Methodology

GetApp used Amazon Mechanical Turk to survey project managers who work in SMBs and are based in the United States. GetApp used Gartner’s definition of an SMB, which classifies small businesses as having less than 100 employees and midsize businesses as having less than 999 employees.

To take this survey, all respondents had to denote that they plan to switch to Microsoft Project. Those who denoted that they do not plan to switch were disqualified.

The survey consisted of four multiple choice questions and one essay question where respondents explained their perceived advantages of Microsoft Project. It received a total of 496 qualified responses.

Categories: Independent SaaS and SMB industry research
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Lauren Maffeo :