Categorized | Project Management

Hardware and Software 3.9. Project Management

Most every business, including yours, will be involved in a project at some point or another. Some businesses will do nothing but projects; those businesses at some point need to seriously consider a project management system to help manage their projects, even if they outsource project management to another firm.

So what exactly is a project? It’s a complex set of jobs directed towards a final product, such as building a Web site, constructing a building, making a movie, or developing new software. Because projects are made up of several jobs, project management software allows you to plan and monitor those jobs as they are performed by different people using different equipment.

Projects are also highly collaborative affairs, so project management systems at some level have to facilitate communication and information transfer between all interested parties. If person B can’t start a job until person A has finished his, then you want a system that informs person B as efficiently as possible when person A has actually finished. So, the best project management systems really have four components:

  • Planning―project management software shows you what resources you have available for a project and how to allocate them.
  • Monitoring―the software should give you accurate snapshots of where your project is in terms of being completed and in terms of cost.
  • Reporting―the software should have summary tools, including statistical tools, that give you high-level views of how your projects are going.
  • Collaboration―most projects fail not for lack of project management tools, but for lack of communication―the best project management systems allow for quick transfer of information and effective computer-to-computer collaboration environments, such as document tracking, discussion forums, email alerts, and so on.

3.9.1. Microsoft Project

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/project/default.aspx

Microsoft Project is by far the number one project management software on the marketplace―for many, it is the only project management software. While the latest version, Project 2007, is included in Microsoft Office Ultimate Edition (see 3.6.1), the price tag (over $600) may inspire you to buy a smaller version of Office―or another office application entirely―and purchase Project as a stand-alone application…except when you take a gander at the price: $599.

Project provides you with the full gamut of project management tools as well as allowing you to create several levels of users. Because project management, by definition, involves several users, Project allows you to create different classes of users each with different access to parts of the Project database.

By upgrading to Project Server, Project can be server-based―the application database resides on a server and is accessed through Project software installed on different client computers. However, you can set up Project to work on a single computer or on a network of peer-to-peer machines. Microsoft Project Web Access allows you to connect with Project Server via a Web browser from any computer, anywhere, without having to install Project on the client computer.

Project works by allocating tasks to resources (read: people or departments). Resources can be put into shared resource pools so they can be used across projects. One resource can have many tasks and one task can be assigned to many resources. The application keeps calendars for each resource to aid in assigning tasks.

As with almost all other project management software solutions, the system was not designed for projects that require material resources. If projects are limited by materials availability―say, a construction project―Project cannot help you manage materials aspects of the project.

3.9.2. dotProject

http://www.dotproject.net

dotProject is a free, open-source project management system created, managed, and maintained by a community of volunteers around the world. It is the number one installed open source project management system in the world with some 500 downloads per day. It is Web-based and requires installation on a Web server, such as your Web site server. This server must be enabled for PHP and MySQL. If you do not know how to install the PHP code and the MySQL database on your server, you will have to hire someone to do it for you.

Like Project, project managers set up tasks and assign them to resources. Project members can view tasks and record their progress. The application allows you to maintain contacts, keep calendars, manage users, create email trouble tickets, store files, and even use a discussion forum for online collaboration among project members. Supplementary modules include journals and physical materials management tools (making dotProject one of the few project management systems that allows you to manage materials as well as resources).

3.9.3. Intuit QuickBase

http://www.quickbase.com

Made by the same folks who produce QuickBooks, QuickBase is a Web-based project management system that allows you to track projects, create project templates, schedule tasks, allocate resources, track documents, track and elevate issues, maintain contacts, create calendars, create timelines, synchronize with Microsoft Project, and manage risk. All that’s required is a Web connection and a browser. QuickBase is, however, a fairly expensive solution for a start-up or shoestring venture: pricing starts at $249 per month for up to ten users; additional users cost an additional $15 per month. Since you use Intuit’s servers, that price only allows you to have 5 MB of data in the database and one hundred megabytes of file attachments.

3.9.4. Basecamp

http://www.basecamphq.com

Both the authors of this book use Basecamp as our default project management system in our endeavors and consulting. Like eLoops below, Basecamp is a stripped-down project management system without all the fancy scheduling, estimating, risk management, and tracking tools that you get with more full-bodied project management systems. While some power project management types are going to miss all that stuff, the basic simplicity of Basecamp and its ease-of-adoption for all possible users more than make up for the scaled-back project management toolbox. In fact, one of the authors is a power project manager that was the principal designer of another online project management system (not in this book), but still uses Basecamp on most projects. That’s a pretty high recommendation.

Basecamp and similar stripped-down, easy-to-use online project management systems, are ideally suited to start-ups where both time and money are limited. Project management is a must if projects are running through your business, but the complexities and time commitment demanded by full-bodied project management systems may take too much focus off the core tasks that need to be performed.

Simplicity, ease-of-use, and universality are what this online project management system is about. The system basically allows you to create a user base, start projects, set milestones, set tasks, produce a to-do list within each task, store and share files, and send messages to the project group. As To-Do items are completed, they are simply crossed off the list.

Pricing is based on a subscription model and is determined largely by the number of projects you can put through the system and how much storage space you’re allowed. All subscription levels allow you to have an unlimited number of users participate in the projects. At the basic level for $24 a month, you’re allowed fifteen concurrent projects and three GB of storage space; Plus, $35 a month allows you thirty-five concurrent projects and ten GB of storage space; and Max for $149 a month allows you unlimited projects and fifty GB of storage space (but if this is what you need, you should seriously consider buying a more full-throated project management system to save some money). ,

3.9.5. AceProject

http://www.aceproject.com

AceProject is another Web-hosted project management system with a monthly fee a little easier to swallow. AceProject allows you to track multiple projects, assign tasks, manage resources, maintain contacts, create calendars, manage users, track tasks, create time and Gantt charts, and generate a number of statistics and reports. In fact, of all the software discussed here, AceProject offers the best statistical tools for analyzing project data, a definite boon for people―like me―who use statistical analysis heavily in our project management portfolio.

The application is available in two formats: in a hosted version or as source code that you install on your own Web server (provided your server computer is Windows-based and has SQL Server installed). The source code version is rather pricey ($1,300 for up to twenty users) and requires installation on a server. The hosted version, however, comes in three forms:

  • Basic (free)―allows you to have 5 users, 5 projects, 50 tasks, and 25 MB of storage
  • Regular ($25 per month)―permits up to 10 users, 15 projects, 250 tasks, and 250 MB of storage
  • Advanced ($39 per month)―with 20 users, 25 projects, 500 tasks, and 500 MB of storage.

3.9.6. eLoops

http://www.eloops.com

eLoops is a subscription-based project management and collaboration Web-based software with plans ranging form $25 per month (ten users and 500MB storage) to $389 per month (1,000 users and 15GB of storage). eLoops allows you to

  • Create projects
  • Manage clients
  • Create timelines
  • Store data
  • Manage and share calendars
  • Generate reports
  • Maintain contacts
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