Saturday, November 11, 2017

Project software

A run down on the project software I've used over my career so far.

First in NSW Public Works Department

Vision, running on an Alpha Micro minicomputer (size of a large dishwasher)
Vision ran in two parts. First load was of activities ('tasks' is the word amateurs use), and the activity application was run. Then the activity relations application was run to weave the activities together.

It printed out at great length as you could imagine for a time scaled network diagram.

Next package was Timeline 3 running on DOS.
I used this in a medium sized architectural office where I was senior architect. I was running a small job to design a new factory for BHP, making welded plate beams. The firm seemed to have little idea of job pricing, so I created a schedule in Timeline, put costs against all the staff and consultants we'd be using. I printed this out on my little dot-matrix home printer and showed the partner in charge. He was struck by the cost of the project. I think it was the first time he'd seen such a thing.

After this I upgraded to Timeline 4 on DOS as it had macros.

My next package was CA Superproject in Windows.
This was a charm to use, although I was irritated by it showing each resource as a separate activity bar. Took up lots of space on the screen, and lots of paper to print. It may still be available at Vetusware. I might have some disks somewhere as well, but would be surprised if they still worked.

I didn't touch PM packages for sometime then, until I was working for a multi-national design-construct business. We used Fast Track and an architectural information package, name of which escapes me (maybe it was Fast Track!). I saw an early version of Prolog (now owned by Trimble) at a trade show and was impressed that here was software that supported full management of a project, not just schedule and cost. It managed the entire information flow, which is the heart of PM, in my view. Details 3 is a similar package, but I'm not sure if it is still live.

Then I came to Microsoft Project, in a very early incarnation. Was good, and I liked it, although the presentation control (for printing) could have done with some tweaking.

I moved to another multi-national D-C firm where Primavera P3 was used: a great PM package. We also looked at Expedition for full project information control, but as we were implementing BAAN ERM, our efforts went there instead. This also distracted us from implementing Cobra for earned value management. We also had a stripped down version of P3 called Suretrak. It was a superb little package. I've got the disks for that somewhere too.

Primavera was great. It really felt and performed as a top of the line professional package (its now P6 and owned by Oracle).

I missed it when I joined a public sector operation and back to MS Project; OK but not great, although it has improved over the years.

One aberration I encountered in this public service organisation was during the implementation of SAP financials and HR systems. SAP projects was bolted on. This was so bad it wasn't even wrong! Project management as conceived by an accountant is not the way to go. It was so clunky and non-project in its concept-of-workflow that it was impossible to use for project management. Reporting, maybe, cost accounting, maybe, but not for PM. No one used it. The idea of tracking people and costs on the one platform was a good one, but force feeding by corporate types who know nothing about project management was a recipe for disaster, they not knowing what they didn't know, and thinking that multi-degreed engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, whose first degrees were twice the length of theirs had nothing to offer was risible.

Now, a few curios:

TurboProject. From the same stable as TurboCad, and pitched at the same market: I'd call it sub-professional. OK but not brilliant. The product seems fast and reliable with sufficient functionality to satisfy more than basic needs. I used it at version 1, and its still around, in a number of variants and would probably be great for a firm that did smaller contained projects: event management, publishing, simple buildings or civil works, etc.

Key Project Manager. A small 'task' management package; came on a magazine cover disk decades ago and I used it in Windows' early days. Simple for non-project tasks and even had task durations with calendar views to help coordinate. But here, as most 'task' managers, the fatal flaw is no way of assigning or tracking dependencies.

In the world of Mac the only offerings I am aware of are Merlin Project and ConceptDraw Project. Both are at the same level as TurboProject, in my estimation, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. That is, good, but not for major projects with hundreds of activities, dozens of calendars, multiple baselines, earned value reporting, etc.

Update: a quick look at the Mac websites was good; both packages have come along since I encountered  them about 10 years ago. Quite mature products. Merlin has the ability to link lots of files to activities (they call them tasks, like a project is equivalent to cleaning the house). Now this is starting to be where we need project management software. The big job in project management is managing and communicating information. Tracking this torrent of what used to be 'paperwork' is at the heart of it. Tracking project configuration changes is also essential: drawing and specification revisions, scope changes, work remediation...the time schedule approach to PM is nowhere near this.

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