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Friday18 August 2017

Make the most of your resources

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There are many resource programming tools on the market, with some simpler to master than others

A long time ago my first introduction to project planning was a programme called Plan & Track which used to run on a Macintosh Classic (circa 1990). It allowed users to easily and intuitively draw Gantt charts to map out project milestones and task timelines. However, its ease of use was directly linked to its main drawback. Being an entirely graphical tool there was no ability to analyse and interrogate the resource programming. So while you could quickly sketch out a resources schedule there was no ability to attribute costs, analyse critical paths, etc. Plan & Track has long since disappeared into the mists of time, but is there a new resource programming tool that is appropriate to be used by anyone?

Microsoft Project is the de facto standard software for project/ resource management, and costs around £480 plus vat (http:// office.microsoft.com). But many regard it as too complicated for use other than by dedicated project managers. FastTrack Schedule 9 (www.aecsoftware.com) offers both Windows and Mac compatibility and does so at a lower price of £282 plus vat. However, given that it offers a similar level of functionality to Microsoft Project, it too may be found by some to be over-sophisticated. SharedPlan Pro (www.sharedplan.com) is a simpler cross-platform project planner. At just $99 (£63) per user it can be used as a standalone tool or combined with a server application it can also provide a collaborative team solution.

There are several free cross-platform, open-source project management software tools. OpenProj (http://openproj.org/openproj)

achieves a high level of functionality almost comparable to Microsoft Project and FastTrack Schedule 9. Its user interface does, however, lean rather heavily on a spreadsheet-style interface. At the other end of the functionality scale GanttProject (www.ganttproject.biz) is a fairly basic open-source solution which is reasonably intuitive and visually clear. Allocation of resource costs and customisation of resource availability is very basic and likely to become a frustration if these aspects are critical.

Head in the cloud

In the SAAS sector (Software as a Service), otherwise known as “cloud” computing, web-based project management is an established offering. Clarizen (www.clarizen.com) and Daptiv PPM (www.daptiv.com) are two leading generic project management tools. They use the advantages of a web-based product to make the project management an intrinsic part of the workflow of all members of the team, but in doing so potentially duplicate existing systems.

Of all the tools I have looked at the one I liked using best, Omniplan (www.omnigroup.com) was also one of the simplest. Unfortunately it is a Mac only product, but I found it was intuitive to set up and edit projects, tasks and resources, and the interface was much more visually appealing than the “clever spreadsheet” look of other products. It is shy on features compared with others but after spending a couple of hours inputting a project you do at least feel you have mastered the software.

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