Project managers are always in a tricky spot when it comes to project budgets. They have to push their teams to perform while reining in the hours they spend on tasks. Project resources are the same story: equipment, software licenses, and travel costs all add up to some pretty hefty numbers. So it’s no wonder that when a PM sees the words “free” next to “project management software”, they can’t click the link fast enough. It’s a valuable program to have, and getting one for free is a deal of a lifetime – or is it?
Most of the “free” PM software available has a cost attached to it, whether it be hidden or delayed, and unwary project managers are caught by surprise when the hitch kicks in.
Free for a While
Ah, yes. The free trial. These things are great introductions to software, but you have to make sure that the trial actually offers you access to the full product for a reasonable time frame. This is necessary for gaining a full understanding of the capabilities it offers, rather than being caught off-guard when you are asked for your credit card. Avoiding free trials that are less than 14 days, and ones that restrict the functionality of the product you are looking into will help you make the best decision.
The Bait and Switch
So you just installed a free project management program with loads of useful features. Great! Except that when you try to access those features, you get a “premium feature” notice instead. Soon, you notice that there are price tags for everything, and the only thing you can do on your “freemium” software is stuff that Outlook already does.
Open Source = Work for Free
There are free open-source programs that you can download, but many of these require a lot of work for you to tailor it to your unique projects and team structures. And this isn’t just 10-minute customization. You need to spend hours learning their code and modules, and more hours implementing it, and then more hours tweaking after you realize you did it wrong the first time. Hours upon hours that you could’ve spent working. Or sleeping. Additionally, open-source software is great for tinkerers that have unlimited time on their hands, but not ideal for busy professionals, in that the support offered is notoriously hit or miss. Even when it is present, training and support in open source are usually limited to digging through countless forum pages, rather than picking up the phone and calling support or live-chatting with online help.
Free? Not quite.