Completing a project successfully depends on two elements. The first is the unrestricted sharing of information. By structuring and easing the flow of information and ideas, project management applications promise to keep projects on target and within budget while reducing errors and the number of gray hairs caused by miscommunications.
If effective communication is one-half of the success equation, the other half is applying effective technology. Microsoft Corp.’s Project 2000 and Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania-based Primavera Systems Inc.’s SureTrak 3.0 project management applications can help you initiate, track and control information. Be prepared to invest several hours to learn – up to three days to master – either of these applications.
Aside from the acquisition price of the software the decision to implement project management software also depends on the complexity of the project. What benchmarks can you use to tell when it’s time to abandon your magnetic wall chart? You will probably see a return on investment when your project involves a dozen or more people (some located remotely), 100 or more sequential tasks and projects that have a “critical path” – a workflow model where time-sensitive, interdependent events must occur in a specified sequence.
Either Project 2000 or SureTrak will competently plan and manage a variety of projects, such as an enterprisewide software upgrade or the coordination of a move into a new building. Likewise, both are equally adept at handling knowledge-based projects, such as marketing campaigns, as well as more tangible ventures, such as the construction of a building.
While SureTrak’s extensive use of wizards makes it moderately easier to learn than Project 2000, Microsoft offers a better overall value, a more intuitive design – especially for users of its Office suite – and a richer set of Web-based remote access features. Overall, it’s more than worth the slightly extra ramp-up effort.
Tracking Tasks, Time and Budget
Under limited circumstances, text-based groupware and scheduling applications such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange are alternatives to traditional project management applications. Groupware applications provide an adequate communication channel; however, they lack the organization imposed by SureTrak’s and Project’s structured forms. Likewise, they lack scheduling engines capable of managing cascading dependencies. For example, if the delivery date of a new server slips by, these engines will automatically delay every task associated with the new server, like installing additional cabling.
Knowledge is power; shared knowledge is power on steroids. Improving the flow of information among employees while achieving greater collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners will happen only if stakeholders can collaborate whenever they need to, wherever they are.
Project 2000, along with its Web-based companion product, Central, expertly meets that requirement. It allows remote team members, suppliers, partners and anyone with an interest in the project’s successful completion to view the project and modify their own tasks via the Web. For example, users can input time sheet information, submit status reports and create and delegate tasks. Executives can also create a Portfolio view to determine the status of all projects under way as well as drill down for detailed descriptions of key events.
In addition to Project Central’s $233-per-seat license, remote users require only an Internet Explorer browser, Version 4.01 or later. They need not have Project 2000 installed on their desktops. This means reduced acquisition costs and less maintenance complexity.
SureTrak uses the Web for the distribution of HTML-formatted reports, but it’s strictly one-way, pushing information out to the clients. Primavera’s Webster, a $250-per-seat companion product, provides the equivalent interactivity found in Project Central. SureTrak’s other attributes include well-designed tutorials and Project KickStart Wizard, which provides fill-in-the-blank simplicity for brainstorming and creating new projects. Another wizard streamlines the process of adding projects into an existing group. SureTrak works with Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers.
Millman operates Data System Services LLC, a consultancy in Croton, New York. Contact him at email@example.com.
Cost: $1165 with five Project Central licenses
Highly recommended. An all-around excellent value that’s well-suited for professional and novice project managers and planners. It offers a comprehensive array of project management, data analysis and communication tools. This release is easier to use and offers better database performance than its predecessor, Project 98. Bundled with Microsoft’s lightweight Data Engine database, Project 2000 also runs on Microsoft’s Access and SQL 7 databases, as well as Oracle Corp.’s databases.
— Offers excellent control over tasks, resources and budgets.
— Tasks and report progress are accessible via the Web through Project Central, making anytime, anywhere, anyone access a welcome reality.
— Allows flexible viewing of project data.
— Numerous add-ins are available from third-party vendors, providing job-cost accounting and enhanced scalability.
— Integrates with Microsoft’s Office suite to simplify moving data into Excel or Access for more advanced data analysis and presentation options.
— Microsoft-centric in design, Project Central requires Windows 2000/NT 4.0 and Internet Information Server. Remote users must use Internet Explorer browsers.
Primavera Systems Inc.
Recommended. A solid performer offering all expected team-building, communication and “what-if” features required for single and multiple project management endeavors. Runs on Open Database Connectivity-compliant databases.
— Works with multiple browsers.
— Offers a wide selection of canned and ad hoc reports.
— Integrates with Microsoft’s Excel for cross-tab data analysis options.
— Wizards automate common tasks, such as project start-up, multilevel viewing and Web-based information distribution.
— Variable timescales feature allows users to vary time increments for selected portions of a project.
— Flexible display options help with the assimilation of complex data.
— Lacks full Web-based interactivity; limited to Web-based distribution of HTML reports. Webster, an optional add-in that I didn’t test, provides similar features to Microsoft’s $199 Project Central.
Project Management On the Lite Side
If you’re looking for an alternative to a full-featured project manager, consider eProject Express from eProject.com Inc. Entirely Web-based, free and independently hosted, eProject’s open architecture and clear navigational aids make it a no-brainer to learn and use. Ramping up should take less than five minutes for first-time users. But simplicity has its downside: eProject lacks advanced features such as resource leveling, bar and Program Evaluation, and Review Technique charts, as well as the multidimensional data analysis tools available in Project and SureTrak.
Another concern you might have with eProject Express and its competitors, such as Washington-based IntraActive Inc.’s InTandem and Lotus Development Corp.’s QuickPlace, is how well you can sleep nights knowing your project’s information is sitting out there on the Web.
EProject Express’ strength is its real-time interactivity and simplicity, which makes it suitable for anyone who has Internet access, from any browser. It requires no downloads or the installation of additional hardware. Since it’s hosted by the application service provider, eProject.com, it consumes no internal network resources or server capacity and makes no demands on the IT department for implementation or maintenance.
For larger projects involving more than five people and two dozen or so resources, online solutions may not be the wisest choice – yet. But the Web-hosted application service provider model will likely grow more robust over the next few months. For example, eProject plans a major upgrade this month. If eProject’s current limited feature set might satisfy your needs, it’s worth looking into.
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