Good surprises do come in small packages
by Charles C. Howe, Contributing Editor
WELCOME TO PM NETWORK'S FIRST quarterly project management software review column.
As a seasoned project manager, I was thrilled when this highly respected magazine approached me about breaking new ground by authoring this new column. Whether speaking at quality assurance conferences or appearing in publications, it's always a pleasure to share helpful information with my peers as we continually advance the profession.
Setting the wheels in motion, this new column was announced via e-mail to various vendors nationwide, requesting software for my review. Putting it mildly, the response was nothing less than opening the floodgates. Seemingly overnight, I was swamped with telephone calls, e-mails, and enough boxes of software to start a retail outlet. Bottom line? Choosing the package for my first quarterly review was no easy task, but good surprises do come in small packages.
“How's It Going?” Jumps Out of the Pack.
After installing and uninstalling a dozen packages, I found one that looked interesting, with a cute little Boston Terrier named Murphy on the front of the manual. Called “How's it Going?” this tool was designed and written [in Microsoft Access 97 (MSA)] for the consulting practice of Canada-based LogicAbility Inc., which is relocating to Florida in the United States. The company's lead designer is a certified Project Management Professional through the Project Management Institute.
What planted the seed for commercial distribution of “How's it Going?” was very simple: LogicAbility's customers loved it. If you are already using your favorite project management tool, “How's it Going?” will be an excellent enhancement. For example:
■ It imports and exports to other packages, but you are not forced to do so.
■ It tracks major milestones, issues, and budgets. This enables project managers (PMs) to fill the communication gap between executives, management, and stakeholders in single or multiple project arenas.
Package Appearance and Installation. Packaged in a clear plastic folder, the application is shipped on four 3.5-inch diskettes. In addition to the diskettes, the package includes a features manual with technical specifications; user manual; and a project management guide that contains project management concepts, standards, how-tos, and templates for many project management deliverables, and was largely derived from the Project Management Institute's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).
I opened the package and began the installation—which proved to be swift and simple—by inserting the first disk into my disk drive. The package uses an installation interface much like an Install Shield or WISE script. Although the install can be pointed to a local or network drive, be advised that some files reside on the client when using a network install.
Features for Project Managers.“How's it Going?” is a powerful package that includes many robust and forgotten features of its larger and more expensive competition. For instance, the application contains project planning features such as neatly formatted plan documentation, budgets, project organization structures, and import capabilities (from other project management packages).
Surprisingly, it also contains industrial-strength project tracking and status reporting that is unavailable or difficult to use in other notable packages of this type. The reports, which can be used for large or small projects, answer virtually any questions typically asked by most senior managers and financial personnel. It also has internal project meeting minutes, with the ability to print and use on display media for project team meetings.
This tool's resource management is quite extensive. The PM can run a report of a programmer working on multiple projects to inquire about the programmer's availability, rates, and so on. This feature also lets you directly record time and duration for individuals on different projects.
“How's it Going?”
A good enhancement to your PM toolkit, with emphasis on having all the right stuff. Online help, reports, and documentation are very in-depth. Offers features that many popular packages still lack.
Price: Single User: US$120; CDN$150 Network Version–50 user: US$360; CDN$495.
Pros: Many easy project features for both the up and coming and experienced PMs. Great reports, deliverable docs, and templates.
Cons: Network performance may degrade with many users. Platform limitations apply.
Taking the financial feature to another level, it delivers more than just tracking project monies. “How's it Going?” can set up and forecast multilevel budgets and relate them to the general ledger in many accounting packages. If the project costs and expenditures are carried in the accounting system, you can update them in any interval. Then, financial analysts can perform their analyses within the package to which they are accustomed. After writing reports on several accounting packages in the past, Microsoft Access reports should be a breath of fresh air to any PM.
Need Help? “How's it Going?” is definitely ready for you. Not only does it contain extensive online help facilities, it also has their entire project management guide embedded in its help screens. These are especially handy for new-kid-on-the-block PMs or those who could use an occasional memory jog in managing a project. (More about this in Online Help.)
Project Office Features. Project Office (PO) functions within “How's it Going?” are synonymous with those of a package costing hundreds of dollars more. The PO portion of the package allows a centralized PO administrator to complete and distribute reports of one, a selected few, or all projects. Also, its project tracking and control features are very useful in freezing/unfreezing projects, baselines, and updating statuses.
Resource allocation is performed across any or all projects. This feature will quickly assist the project manager in managing the availability of personnel on any or all projects. With the short time to market facing most shops, “How's it Going?” lets the PM allocate resources for projects behind the curve from other projects that are ahead of schedule or lack a hot project's significance.
In the PO portion of “How's it Going?” the PM can also pull time and budget reports across the projects of choice, and use them for submittals to senior management and financial personnel. This feature is used to set up the general ledger codes for export to the accounting package.
The PO administrator can grant access to the system, implement total system security, set up umbrella codes, maintain budgets and resources, and archive and restore project data.
Online Help and Project Management Guide.“How's it Going?” has superbly robust online help. For the new project manager, it is a must-have feature. Most large packages tell you how to set up a baseline, highlight critical path issues, and set up subprojects, but few packages tell you why. This one does by virtue of the online help system. Further, the package contains a complete, printable copy of the author's project management guide for use online.
No project management guide would be complete without fully and realistically addressing an especially critical topic: deliverables. For most beginning PMs, this is normally a sore spot, generating pressing questions. What does the weekly report need to contain? What is included and excluded from the project's work? What are the project's business objectives and requirements? What are the major deliverables?
These are but a few questions that the inexperienced PM could ask. Fortunately, all these can be answered with a brief cruise through the “How's it Going?” project management manual. By using the templates and the reporting tools in this package, the new PM can look and feel like a seasoned professional at the project's mid-point.
Yet, their project management guide is flexible enough to let the PM manage without over-enforcement of requirements. The guide lets the PM easily set up the reporting cycles and gain stakeholder/sponsor agreement on project requirements and acceptance criteria. With similar ease, the guide's standards and practices let you cross-reference all phases, milestones, deliverables, and activities to see if your company's standards have been met.
■ You can take home a copy of the project off a network installation, install it on a laptop or other desktop, update it, then bring it back to the office, and the import will update your project files.
■ Your projects will have a very flexible numbering scheme.
■ You can set tax names and rates for budget considerations.
■ You can forecast additional expenditures, office rent, and office supplies—and budget the amounts.
■ You can easily import and export to other project management tools.
■ You can interface to internal or Internet-based e-mail.
■ You can easily maintain project historical data.
“HOW'S IT GOING?” is a good addition to your project management toolkit. Although you are running MS Project or another tool, “How's it Going?” has some features that are not apparent in other tools and it carries a reasonable licensing fee. Plus, the manner in which its user manual and project management guide are written make the documentation well worth the price. Apparently, Mr. Gates hasn't seen this product, or it would possibly be sold under another name (or be part of another Project package). ■
Charlie Howe, CQA, CSTE, is a contributing author and speaker on various project management, quality assurance, and configuration management topics. He is an IT consulting manager for SIG Inc., based in Houston, Texas. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. Comments on this column should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 2000 PM Network
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