Using Project Management Software
Using Project Management Software
A wide variety of automated project management tools are available to help you manage a development project. New versions of these tools are continuously being developed and released by software vendors. Most of the available tools have a common set of features that include the ability to define and order tasks, assign resources to tasks, and easily modify tasks and resources. Project management tools are available to run on Windows-compatible personal computers, the Macintosh, and larger mainframe and workstation-based systems. These systems vary in the number of task activities supported, the complexity of relationships, system processing and storage requirements, and, of course, cost. Prices for these systems can range from a few hundred dollars for personal computer–based systems to more than $100,000 for large-scale multiproject
FIGURE 3-29 Establishing a project starting date in Microsoft Project for Windows.
systems. Yet, a lot can be done with systems like Microsoft Project as well as public domain and shareware systems. For example, numerous shareware project management programs (e.g., OpenProj or EasyProjectPlan) can be downloaded from the World Wide Web (e.g., at www.download.com). Because these systems are continuously changing, you should comparison shop before choosing a particular package.
We now illustrate the types of activities you would perform when using project management software. Microsoft Project for Windows is a project management system that has earned consistently high marks in computer publication reviews (see www.microsoft.com and search for “project”—also, if you search the Web, you can find many useful tutorials for improving your Microsoft Project skills). When using this system to manage a project, you need to perform at least the following activities:
- Establish a project starting or ending date.
- Enter tasks and assign task relationships.
- Select a scheduling method to review project reports.
Establishing a Project Starting Date
Defining the general project information includes obtaining the name of the project and project manager and the starting or ending date of the project. Starting and ending dates are used to schedule future activities or backdate others (see following) based upon their duration and relationships to other activities. An example from Microsoft Project for Windows of the data-entry screen for establishing a project starting or ending date is shown in Figure 3-29. This screen shows PVF’s Purchasing Fulfillment System project. Here, the starting date for the project is Monday, November 5, 2012.
Entering Tasks and Assigning Task Relationships
The next step in defining a project is to define project tasks and their relationships. For the Purchasing Fulfillment System project, Chris defined 11 tasks to be completed when he performed the initial system analysis activities of the project (Task 1—Start Analysis Phase—is a summary task that is used to group related tasks). The task entry screen, shown in Figure 3-30, is similar to a financial spreadsheet program. The user moves the cursor to a cell with arrow keys or the mouse and then simply enters a textual Task Name and a numeric Duration for each activity. Scheduled Start and Scheduled Finish are automatically entered based upon the project start date and duration. To set an activity
FIGURE 3-30 Entering tasks and assigning task relationships in Microsoft Project for Windows.
relationship, the ID number (or numbers) of the activity that must be completed before the start of the current activity is entered in the Predecessors column. Additional codes under this column make the precedence relationships more precise. For example, consider the Predecessor column for ID 6. The entry in this cell says that activity 6 cannot start until one day before the finish of activity 5. (Microsoft Project provides many different options for precedence and delays such as in this example, but discussion of these is beyond the scope of our coverage.) The project management software uses this information to construct Gantt charts, Network diagrams, and other project-related reports.
Selecting a Scheduling Method to Review Project Reports
Once information about all the activities for a project has been entered, it is easy to review the information in a variety of graphical and textual formats using displays or printed reports. For example, Figure 3-30 shows the project information in a Gantt chart screen, whereas Figure 3-31 shows the project information as a Network diagram. You can easily change how you view the information by making a selection from the View menu shown in Figure 3-31. As mentioned in the chapter, interim project reports to management will often compare actual progress to plans. Figure 3-32 illustrates how Microsoft Project
FIGURE 3-31 Viewing project information as a Network diagram in Microsoft Project for Windows
FIGURE 3-32 Gantt chart showing progress of activities (right frame) versus planned activities (left frame).
shows progress with a solid line within the activity bar. In this figure, task 2 is completed and task 3 is almost completed, but there remains a small percentage of work, as shown by the incomplete solid lines within the bar for this task. Assuming that this screen represents the status of the project on Friday, November 16, 2012, the third activity is approximately on schedule. Tabular reports can summarize the same information. This brief introduction to project management software has only scratched the surface to show you the power and the features of these systems. Other features widely available and especially useful for multi-person projects relate to resource usage and utilization. Resource-related features allow you to define characteristics such as standard costing rates and daily availability via a calendar that records holidays, working hours, and vacations. These features are particularly useful for billing and estimating project costs. Often, resources are shared across multiple projects, which could significantly affect a project’s schedule. Depending upon how projects are billed within an organization, assigning and billing resources to tasks is a time-consuming activity for most project managers. The features provided in these powerful tools can greatly ease both the planning and managing of projects so that both project and management resources are effectively utilized.
Key Points Review
1. Describe the skills required to be an effective project manager?.
A project manager has both technical and managerial skills and is ultimately responsible for determining the size, scope, and resource requirements for a project. Once a project is deemed feasible by an organization, the project manager ensures that the project meets the customer’s needs and is delivered within budget and time constraints.
2. List and describe the skills and activities of a project manager during project initiation, project planning, project execution, and project closedown.
To manage the project, the project manager must execute four primary activities: project initiation, project planning, project execution, and project closedown. The focus of project initiation is on assessing the size, scope, and complexity of a project and establishing procedures to support later project activities. The focus of project planning is on defining clear, discrete activities and the work needed to complete each activity. The focus of project execution is on putting the plans developed in project initiation and planning into action. Project closedown focuses on bringing the project to an end.
3. Explain what is meant by critical path scheduling and describe the process of creating Gantt charts and Network diagrams.
Critical path scheduling refers to planning methods whereby the order and duration of the project’s activities directly affect the completion date of the project. Gantt charts and Network diagrams are powerful graphical techniques used in planning and controlling projects. Both Gantt and Network diagramming scheduling techniques require that a project have activities that can be defined as having a clear beginning and end, can be worked on independently of other activities, are ordered, and are such that their completion signifies the end of the project. Gantt charts use horizontal bars to represent the beginning, duration, and ending of an activity. Network diagramming is a critical path scheduling method that shows the interrelationships between activities. These charts show when activities can begin and end, which activities cannot be delayed without delaying the whole project, how much slack time each activity has, and progress against planned activities. Network diagramming’s ability to use estimated completion times, based on optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely completion times, when determining critical paths.
4. Explain how commercial project management software packages can be used to assist in representing and managing project schedules.
A wide variety of automated tools for assisting the project manager are available. Most tools have common features, including the ability to define and order tasks, assign resources to tasks, and modify tasks and resources. Systems vary regarding the number of activities supported, the complexity of relationships, processing and storage requirements, and cost.
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FIGURE 3-32 Gantt chart showing progress of activities (right frame) versus planned activities (left fraeffectively utilized.
tive project manager.