A Decade Ends
A Review of the 80's -- A Preview of the 90's
The purpose of “Concerns of Project Managers” is to share expert knowledge and opinions on topics of general and continuing interest to PM NETwork readers. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the respective author. They are, in no way, to be construed as official positions of PMI on an issue or endorsements, either positive or negative, of any product or service mentioned herein.
THE BIRTH OF AN INDUSTRY
It’s that time of year. The time where columnists review the happenings of the past year and prognosticate the key changes expected in the year to come. Of course, this year is different - it marks the end of a decade. So you can expect to see even more review/ preview columns, marking the end of the 80’s, and a view into the 90’s. The PM Software Forum willingly yields to the urge to join the bandwagon.
But, as technology cycles occur in shorter and shorter time spans, a decade has become a very long period, indeed. And for the computer industry, including developers and users of project management software, a decade seems more like a millennium.
We all know that the 80’s was the decade of the microcomputer. In this short time span, an entire new industry was born and matured. I remember, quite vividly, an observation that I made in 1980 when I noticed several people in my office using Apple, Radio Shack and Commodore “home computers”, which they had bought with their own funds. It was apparent that the microcomputer was going to become a standard fixture in the workplace. The introduction of the PC, by IBM, validated this forecast, and the age of the microcomputer-furnished office came into being.
Early suppliers of project management software, for the microcomputer, were new software developers converting older mainframe type programs. Computerline (Plantrac) and Primavera are examples of these trailblazers. Other vendors (Harvard Software was the best known of these) developed totally new products aimed at taking advantage of the inherently more friendly microcomputer user interface. This class of products tended to be easier to learn and to use, but at the cost of functionality and flexibility (power).
The third source of microcomputerbased project management software was existing vendors of mainframe and minicomputer project management products, such as Metier, AGS and PSDI. By 1984, most of the major players (Plantrac, PMS-II, Pertmaster, Hornet, MicroGantt, IntePert, Time Line, MacProject, PacMicro, Trakker, AMS Time Machine, Harvard Project Manager, Primavera, Scitor, Qwiknet, SuperProject, Promis, OpenPlan, MicroPlanner, Microsoft) were selling microcomputer-based project management software. Today, most of these vendors are still serving the project management community.
At first, these PC packages ranged from $99 bare bones type products, through the $395 mass market group, to high end products from one to four thousand dollars. Users, always quite vocal in their demands on product performance, called for additional features. The industry responded. By 1986, the bare bones products had all but disappeared. Today, the low end products start at about $500, but most are anything but low end in performance.
AN INDUSTRY MATURES
Up to a few years ago, virtually all PC-based project management software attempted to address the same set of project manager needs. They all provided an automated set of functions to enable the user to develop a model of the project and a schedule for the work to be performed. If resources and costs were defined, the programs could provide time phased analysis of such resources and costs, and, inmost, even automated resource leveling. The major differences in these programs concerned the user interface and the feature set, but they primarily assumed that the calculated schedule would drive the project resources and costs .
During the past few years, programs that placed a greater emphasis on the management of resources and costs started to appear. In the resource area, these are represented by such products as Project Workbench, MicroMan II, Task Monitor, Artemis Team and Multitrak. Also. some of the mass market products, such as SuperProject Expert and Project Scheduler 4, provided additional support for resource management functions.
The cost management area is strongly driven by the requirements of DOD and DOE Cost/Schedule Control Systems Criteria. The pioneer PC program to support C/SCSC protocols was M*PM from Micro-Frame Technologies. It is joined today by Cobra, from Welcom Software, and by I/CSCS, from K&H.
Of course, a major objective of most developers for the microcomputer has been to take advantage of the graphical potential of this medium. Much of the initial attraction of Harvard Project Manager can be attributed to its graphical approach. This was adopted by several products and raised to another level by Computer Aided Management’s ViewPoint, which allowed the user to define the project as a time-scaled network diagram.
Today, the move is toward the graphical user interface (GUI) wherein the screen is broken up into pixels (ie. 640 x 480 pixels, in VGA) rather than limited to characters (typically 80 x 25). While the GUI was strongly promoted by the Macintosh, that platform was never strongly embraced by the project management community. Still a few popular products emerged for the Mac, namely Apple’s MacProject (now Claris), and MicroPlanner. Interest in the Mac is increasing and so are the number of project management software vendors that will be supporting this platform.
DOS-based GUI’s are now appearing, led by Scitor’s Project Scheduler 4, and several Windows-based products, including MicroPlanner, Outlook and Topdown Project Planner. Microsoft has been showing a pre-release version of their new Project for Windows.
In 1987. InstaPlan introduced a new program, priced at $99, with a tracker option at $79. while the pricing was a departure from the more traditional $495 low (at that time), the biggest impact was the introduction of the “outliner” approach. Outlining allows the user to define a hierarchy for the project workscope, with automated summarization. This approach has gained in popularity and has been incorporated in Harvard Project Manager, SuperProject, TimeLine, Project Workbench and MicroMan II. Most other products can achieve a similar result through the use of activity codes, but the outliner is popular in the mass market category.
Another aspect of the maturing project management software products is the ability to interface more easily with other programs, This has led to the capability, in many scheduling packages to import to or export from spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3 format) and data bases (dBASE format), as well as ASCII.
Who would dare hazard a guess as to what this industry will look like in another decade? Even a year from now we are certain to be surprised. But we can look at where current development emphasis is being applied and at the trends that will drive this industry, in the short term.
In general, we are likely to see more activity in the area of hardware, user platforms and interfaces, and graphic presentation capabilities, than any big changes in the basic feature set. As the sales of Macintosh units increase, look for an increase in the number of project management software products that will operate in the environment. Also look for an increase in products that will operate on Unix systems.
The hottest development area is the graphical user interface for the PC. Primary activity is currently directed to the Microsoft Windows environment, and we can look for OS/2 Presentation Manager products toward the end of the year.
The shift to the GUI’s will put some pressure on users to upgrade equipment. The minimum hardware, for most of these new products, will be 80286 CPU’s with EGA and VGA monitors. You will also need a mouse.
At PMI ’89, in Atlanta, a panel of principals from four key vendors discussed the state-of-the-art and projected trends for project management software. At least one speaker forecasts the move toward 80486 and RISC chip technology, using file servers and networks. This would be a form of distributed processing, in which the user’s PC is linked to a server PC. The former is used as a command and view station, while the major numbercrunching is performed at the latter.
This trend, if it develops, will potentially counteract the original intention of the PC (personal computer), moving us back to an environment that requires an extensive knowledge of computers, job control languages, and an administrative support function.
Thus, users and vendors alike may be faced with a paradox. Should the availability of new hardware technology motivate vendors to develop advanced programs that will potentially outdistance the typical user’s capabilities? We already are producing highly advanced products which, although driven by user demand, are taxing user capabilities. With today’s F-16 caliber programs and tomorrow’s stealth bomber types, will there still be support for the pilot of a Piper Cub?
Actually, it does appear that there will be easy to use products developed for the users who wish to primarily generate schedules and schedule presentation charts. So what we are likely to see in the next few years are the two current levels of products (the $500 to $700 group and the $2000 to $5000 group), with new releases using GUI methods, plus the development of new products at the low end (for simplicity) and at the high end (to take advantage of new chip and file server technology). A little something for everyone.
The biggest impact of these possibilities will likely be on the vendors. With limited resources, they will have to prioritize their development options. They will have to choose both which platforms to support (Windows, Presentation Manager, Macintosh, Unix, etc. ) and what level of functionality to support. The industry has continually responded to user needs and priorities and can be expected to provide us all with a greater choice as we enter this next decade.
We can also look for further developments in resource and cost management systems. Many of these will be LAN-based, and incorporate “groupware” philosophy. Such systems will provide support for resource managers, who are responsible for supporting multiple projects, at several locations.
Another product trend is in the presentation graphics area. This includes low-end Gantt chart generators and very sophisticated network plotting programs. The trend in the latter group is to provide a capability for the user to annotate the schedule charts.
Getting back to the PMI ’89 conference, one could not help noticing the increase in the number of training and support vendors that were present in the exhibitor’s hall. There were also several papers devoted to training and education. This can only serve to further recognize the complexity of the implementation of project management capabilities and the need to supplement software acquisitions with extensive training and support. This will be essential for success in the 90’s.
Needless to say, the next few years will be interesting and challenging ones for the project management community. For both vendors and users alike, it promises to be profitable and rewarding. We can only wish that it will lead to more and more successful projects. We look forward to reading about these in the PM NETwork (Showcase Projects) and the Project Management Journal. It has been a privilege to serve you these past few years. To all our readers, we wish you a rewarding decade as we face the challenges of the 90’s.
Harvey A. Levine, President, Project Knowledge Group, (35 Barney Road, Clifton Park, NY 12065) has been a practitioner of project management for over 24 years with General Electric Company and is a past Chairman of PMI. Mr. Levine has been Adjunct Professor of Project Management of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N. Y., and is the author of the book Project Management using Microcomputers, as well as several articles.
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