A great idea is only the start of a new business venture. We look at how to keep a project on track at all stages of its development using a free online planner.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It’s an overused cliché, but one that rings true – especially when embarking on a new project.

Unless you properly plan your project, it’s likely to run over in terms of time and budget. Project planning involves concepts such as Gantt charts, dependencies and critical paths. However, with suitable software much of the donkey work can be avoided.

For years the de facto standard tool in the project manager’s armoury has been Microsoft Project. But if you’re new to project planning and you need to learn the ropes, you can do so with free software. In the following tutorial, we’ll do just that.

As a zero-risk entry point, we’ve chosen a program that involves no up-front cost. AceProject is an online utility that offers five different packages, from the free Basic option to the $99 (£61)-per-month Gold. The packages differ only in the number of users, projects and tasks that you can create, and the amount of disk space available to you on AceProject’s server. We used the Basic package, which lets you create up to five users, five projects and 50 tasks. Online storage is restricted to 250MB.

AceProject offers sophisticated facilities for document, expenses, timesheet and HR management. As you become more familiar with the software, you may want to make use of its advanced features. Here, we deal simply with how to create a project plan, assign users to that project, and go on to monitor and update its status as the project proceeds.

Set up a project plan using AceProject

Step 1. Head to AceProject.com. Click ‘Sign up & pricing’, then ‘Sign up’. In the following workshop we’ll be demonstrating how to use the free Basic package. When filling in your personal details, note that the Account Name is your company name and the Username is your name.

AceProject 1

Step 2. Next, click ‘Log me in now’. AceProject will display the ‘Administration: Account Info’ settings as shown in the screenshot above. Enter as much detail as you wish, but be sure to fill in all the fields listed under Preferences. You can edit, add to or delete this information later if necessary.

AceProject 2

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