Going Virtual: Online Tools for Project Management



Welcome to the e-learning lesson on Going Virtual: Online Tools for Project Management.In this lesson, you will be introduced to three web-based tools that will enhance your ability to collaborate with partners while managing projects, including Central Desktop, ProjectSpaces, and Basecamp.These tools are low-cost, web-based, and require no programming or advanced technical skill.

Collaboration is imperative in project management.

Project management is the methodical approach of planning, organizing, and managing resources to successfully reach specific project goals and objectives. Typically, project management involves many partners (some of whom may be working in remote locations), so collaboration via a web-based application is ideal.

As you learn about these unique tools, keep in mind how you will collaborate with your volunteers, partners, or other individuals with whom you work to manage a project.

Use project management tools for remote access, document management, tracking tasks, and capturing ideas.

The first reason to use project management tools is remote access to files. With these tools, your documents are stored online. This means that you have access anytime and anywhere you have access to the Internet. This is especially important when you are working with partners who are either in another part of the country or travel frequently.

The second reason is document management. As you upload edited versions of a document, these tools will keep the old versions for historic reference. Additionally, only one person can work on the document at a time. These features ensure that you do not waste time and effort, or create unnecessary steps to produce a polished document.

The third reason to use online project management tools is to assist you in easily tracking tasks and milestones. For example, you can easily track or assign tasks for an upcoming conference, and get a quick progress check on the accomplishments to date to ensure you are prepared.

Finally, online tools provide a single place to capture team discussions and ideas. These tools provide user-friendly forums for promoting team communication and the exchange of ideas. Additionally, these tools will keep a record of past discussions if a new team member joins or an idea resurfaces.

To find the right tool, it helps to do a side-by-side comparison.

The report card and the comparison table will help you compare and evaluate online tools for project management.

The report card uses multiple factors to compare the various tools, including cost, security, level of skill required to setup and maintain, and key benefits and drawbacks. The comparison table includes information on core features, project coordination capabilities, and knowledge management capacity.

Download the Report Card and Comparison Table to reference as you complete this lesson.

CHAPTER 1: Central Desktop: An Online Tool Used to Collaborate and Manage Projects.

Central Desktop is a great tool for project coordination and document management.It provides a variety of features, including project coordination through document management, task and milestone tracking, synchronized calendar functions, and progress reports. In general, the tool is fairly easy to set up and use. The cost may be a deterrent, but the capabilities provide a great deal of variety.

The Central Desktop Dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of your projects.

The homepage of a Central Desktop account is a personalized workspace, which includes a dashboard which is a compilation of items from all of your projects.

The dashboard includes three main sections. The first is a list of links to all current projects, your company intranet, or other stored databases that you choose to include. The second section is a list of all overdue tasks and milestones across various projects. This list is automatically generated for any project you have entered into the system that remains incomplete. Finally, the last section is a list of impending events, tasks, and milestones, that are coming up in the next 10 days.

The project homepage provides an overview of a specific project.

The project homepage is where you can get a quick sense of how a specific project is going. Here you can make project-wide announcements to all team members, see a list of overdue tasks and milestones by team members, or see upcoming meetings. Also included is a recent activity section where you can see any new documents, resources, revisions to documents, or meeting cancellations.

You can also see an at-a-glance list of who is a member of the project, so you can send emails or instant messages if they are online. You can also send invitations to a web meeting or Skype conference call.

The "Files & Discussions" tab provides access to all of your project files.

The “Files & Discussions” tab provides access to all of the project files. You can quickly access files through the search bar and tree structure of the files, which is similar to a Windows structure.

Documents are displayed with multiple variables including title, status, modification date, or owner. Documents can be “checked out” to maintain version control, and all historical versions are stored for reference.

Document version control is essential to any project management tool.

When working with multiple partners, document version control is essential. There are many ways to handle version control including tracking comments, document status alerts, and storing historical versions.

Specific types of documents should be used when multiple partners are working on the same documents. For Central Desktop these are known as “online” documents—which are like a wiki or editable webpage.

With these online documents, you can choose to see a snapshot of all previous versions (including a percentage by which each version has changed); you can view versions side-by-side; or you can merge versions to view the changes.

The "My Tasks" tab is a single source for access to all tasks associated with a project.

The "My Tasks" tab allows you to create a task, organize tasks into folders, check tasks complete, attach tasks to milestones, and more. You can assign a new task to one or multiple people, notify assignees via email, make the task recurring, assign a due date, and set the priority.

After a task is created, you can edit the task, move the task to a different milestone, request an update from the person that it is assigned to, add comments, or delete the task.

"Milestones" allow you to track progress of several tasks at a glance.

Within a project, there may be several milestones, and within each milestone, there are several tasks. You can assign responsibility for a milestone to a certain person and track the progress.

Central Desktop will tell you how much of the milestone is complete based on how many of the tasks assigned to that milestone have been finished. This allows you to observe a larger picture of the progress versus looking through individual tasks.

The "Calendar" and "Reports" tabs track several activities in a single location for easy review.

Other Central Desktop features include "Calendar" and "Reports." The calendar view provides a visual representation of all the project activities. These are color coded for ease of use. It includes overdue tasks and milestones as well. Within the calendar, you can create a new event, email chosen recipients, and synchronize with Outlook.

On the "Reports" tab, you can run several reports, print them out, and review them together as a team. The Project Status Report provides information about tasks and milestones. The Activity Log Report shows what your teams are doing in Central Desktop. The Login Report shows you who is logging in and how often.

The Central Desktop resources highlight the friendly layout and functions.

The Report Card has been created to help guide you in your decision-making process. The first element to consider is the cost, which depends on how many users, projects, and storage space you desire. Central Desktop earns a “high” rating for security, which means it’s an appropriate project management and storage tool for confidential materials.

The tool’s administrative and user skill ratings are three stars and two stars, respectively. The administration skills are equal to someone who is comfortable posting content to websites like Facebook or LinkedIn. The user would only need to be comfortable surfing the web.

The key benefits to Central Desktop are that each user gets a secure log-in, it’s easy to coordinate tasks and manage documents, and it’s easy to set up and begin using right away. However, a major drawback is how the cost increases as storage space increases.

The comparison table includes information such as core features, project coordination capabilities, and knowledge management capacity. In addition to the many features you have already learned about, Central Desktop also has the capability to organize workflow processes and document approvals. Additionally, it allows users to post polls and conduct web meetings, which integrate nicely into the concept of project management as a whole.

Access the Central Desktop website here.

CHAPTER 2: ProjectSpaces: Another Tool for Online Collaboration and Project Management.

You will notice that the key benefits of ProjectSpaces are very similar to those of Central Desktop, with the added benefit of a live helpdesk. A drawback, however, is that the ProjectSpaces interface is not as glossy as that of its competitors.

The ProjectSpaces homepage is used to share documents, manage tasks, and communicate announcements.

The ProjectSpaces homepage displays similar tabs as Central Desktop, as well as other key features including the most current files, tasks, and upcoming calendar meetings. Files are listed and sorted by date, followed by a list of tasks organized by due date.

One main difference between Central Desktop and ProjectSpaces is that ProjectSpaces provides more deliberate space for discussions and blogs, showing the latest blog posts right on the homepage. The ProjectSpaces homepage is a simple, one-page view to access all highlights of a project.

The "Files" tab provides access to all of your project files.

The "Files" tab provides access to all the files across all projects. You can access specific project files via a simple drop-down menu.

The file folder structure is similar to that of Microsoft Windows. A feature unique to ProjectSpaces is the file management document tagging. Tagging a file allows you to keep it in multiple folders, as appropriate. As changes are made in one location, changes will automatically carry over to copies in any other folder.

Similar to Central Desktop, you can subscribe to a document and automatically be alerted whenever a new version of the document is posted, or when changes or modifications have been made.

ProjectSpaces also offers document version control.

In ProjectSpaces, collaborative documents are called “shared documents.” This document type is ideal when several users need to access a single file from multiple locations. As with Central Desktop, ProjectSpaces allows you to “check out” a document so that only one person can edit it at a time.

One of the benefits of the document management feature in ProjectSpaces is that for any document, you can go back to an earlier version if a more recent version contains changes that are not to your liking. At the bottom of the page, you can also add comments that are date and time stamped.

ProjectSpaces offers a live helpdesk, but its interface is unrefined.

ProjectSpaces is not free, but the prices are reasonable, and you are allowed more users and a greater amount of storage space for your money than with Central Desktop.

The security level of ProjectSpaces is rated as “high,” and the administrative and user skills are the same as that of Central Desktop. The key benefits of ProjectSpaces are also very similar to those of Central Desktop, with the added benefit of live helpdesk support. The only major drawback is that the ProjectSpaces interface is not as glossy as that of its competitors.

The comparison table shows that ProjectSpaces has many core features and functionalities that are not discussed in this lesson. For example, ProjectSpaces allows for an individualized, customized page. Some of the core features that ProjectSpaces does not have compared to its competitors include the ability to assign recurring tasks or filter to-do lists by the person responsible.

Access the ProjectSpaces website here.

CHAPTER 3: Basecamp: Another Project Management Tool Available Online.

The third and final project management tool we will review is Basecamp.The benefits and key features that differentiate Basecamp from the previous tools are time-tracking and the ability to integrate project information with the Highrise contact management system, which is discussed in the Data Management lesson.

Basecamp’s "Dashboard" and "To-dos" tabs offer an overview of milestones and tasks.

Basecamp’s dashboard is very similar to the homepages of Central Desktop and ProjectSpaces. Similar features include upcoming tasks and milestones, calendars, and overdue items. One of the unique features of Basecamp is that it allows you to track the amount of time it takes to complete each task. Time-tracking can be useful for recording volunteer time or estimating future project timelines.

Basecamp’s time-tracking feature is helpful but storage space is limited.

Basecamp has no free option, but any price point allows for an unlimited number of users, and the storage space available per-dollar is considerably more generous than that of the other two tools. Similar to the other tools, the security level of this tool is rated “high,” and the administrative and user skills are comparable to those of Central Desktop and ProjectSpaces.

The benefits and key features that differentiate Basecamp from the other two tools are time-tracking and the ability to integrate project information with the Highrise contact management system, which can manage volunteer or donor contact information, and is discussed in the Data Management lesson. The main drawback to Basecamp is that while you do receive more storage space for your investment than with the other two products, there is a maximum storage capacity of 50 GB.

The comparison table shows that Basecamp has many core features and functionalities that are not discussed in this lesson. For example, you can chat or instant message with your project partners. You can search for items across workspaces and print out task completion reports.

Access the Basecamp website here.

CHAPTER 4: Next Steps for Selecting and Implementing New Technologies

The next step will be to select and implement the right technology tool that fits your business needs. There are a few pitfalls you will want to avoid while choosing the right tool for your organization. The first pitfall to avoid includes failing to conduct research around previous user experiences. Ratings of the product and comments from people or organizations that have used the tool can be very insightful. Second, you want to avoid choosing a tool based on a surface level review. Avoid making a decision based on what looks flashy or sleek—the bells and whistles—versus what the company actually needs. Finally, steer clear of pushing the use of a tool down from the top, without any kind of buy-in, training, or involvement from the end-users. All of these pitfalls are common when choosing a new technology tool and will result in an expensive system that no one uses. A three-step process of conducting research, methodically comparing technology, and committing to controlling change management can help you implement a technology solution. Utilizing the resources available and creating an action plan will also result in success.

Utilize research to understand and prioritize your needs when creating a budget.

Before implementing a tool, you’ll need to indentify and understand the needs of the people who will use it. These people include your volunteers or partners. Also identify anyone else who is going to be impacted by your decision, such as the consultants, clients, or even the board of directors. These people are your key stakeholders.

To help you understand the needs of the key stakeholders, pull together a focus group or conduct surveys. Estimate the time that should be dedicated to this step based on the number of people impacted, the processes affected, and the overall business impact. Free web-based tools, such as Google Docs, allow you to create and analyze a survey online. Next, prioritize the organization’s needs. Think about what is most important and what the biggest “pain points” are in your organization and how technology can address them.

Finally, you will want to identify your budget. Several tools are either free or low-cost; however, the amount of time it can take you to set up and run the tool can actually make the tool more expensive than some of the tools that have a subscription cost. Review the comparison tables that provide guidance on time required for each tool.

Compare and prioritize features, and conduct a pilot test.

Let your needs drive what kind of functionality you require. A common pitfall is to choose the tool with the most features; however, this may not be the best choice for your organization.

Once you’ve identified your needs, take the time to compare the features that meet those needs. You can begin by using the comparison table and report card provided in the overview chapter. Build upon these tools and adjust them for your organization.

Determine if you can get a free “test drive” of the product. Ask end users to be involved. Their involvement will result in highly applicable feedback. Additionally, you will be able to rely on them to help train the rest of the team or speak about their positive experience with the tool.

Effectively prepare for and address change management.

Once a tool is chosen and the adoption phase begins, you will need to involve key stakeholders in the beginning to help manage the change. Many players are involved so you must identify and mitigate possible risks, including: refusal to adopt the tool or volunteers and partners not showing up. Evaluating risk includes identifying the likelihood of an event occurring and the resulting negative impact.

Next, think about how to communicate the decision to implement a new technology and how to get people involved. What are you going to say to your stakeholders? How will you communicate? Is it going to be a series of emails, is it going to be in a meeting, or is it going to be in a newsletter? Finally, who is going to be rolling this out, and who can answer questions? This is where your end-user pilot advocates will come into play. Also, you can identify people whom you believe will be early adopters to have them be part of the rollout plan.

Once a communication plan has been identified, a training program should be developed. The program includes not only hands-on training, but development of collateral materials, such as step-by-step guides, reminder emails, or tip sheets. These are helpful reference tools for people who are slow to adopt technology.

Finally, evaluation of the tool post-rollout will demonstrate the effectiveness of the solution. Usage statistics can show how many people are coming to training, who is using the tool, and how frequently. Collecting information along the way can help identify the most effective strategy for adoption. Other evaluation measures can be done through surveys or focus groups to find out if the technology solution is addressing the needs that it was designed to address.

An action plan can help your staff see the value.

People will only use new technology for one of two reasons: they are excited about it and want to see the value it will add to their jobs, or they have to use it. While people are often required to use a certain system, showing the value it will bring to their position will speed the time from trial to adoption.

An action plan can help you organize your thoughts on paper. Include your goals, list of identified stakeholders, and steps for moving forward. To begin creating your action plan, download the Action Plan Template.


Thank you for taking the time to review the e-learning lesson on Going Virtual: Online Tools for Project Management. Central Desktop, ProjectSpaces, and Basecamp are all options that can enhance your ability to collaborate with partners while managing projects. These tools are low-cost, web-based, and require no programming or advanced technical skill.

Web-based project management tools are designed for success.

Project management is the methodical approach of planning, organizing, and managing resources to successfully complete specific project goals and objectives.

Web-based tools can provide a structured environment to successfully handle the needs of a highly collaborative project, such as remote access of files, document version control, task and milestone tracking, and having a centralized location for team discussion.

Project management tools should be web-based, low cost, and require no programming or advanced skills. Comparing these features, as well as many others, will help to ensure your goals are met.

Central Desktop, ProjectSpaces, and Basecamp are three web-based project management tools available today.

Here is a summary of the three project management tools discussed in this training:

Finally, when reviewing the tools available, focusing on a step-by-step process will point you in the right direction to choose the tools that fit your organization. Utilize the findings from your research, feedback from your stakeholders, and your own knowledge of your company to create a formalized action plan that will guide you through the process of identifying and implementing a new project management tool.