Project Management Institute

Mac Attack Hits Project Management

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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.

Feature Editor: Harvey A. Levine

MAC ATTACK HITS PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Once upon a time (actually less than two years ago), project management on the Macintosh was virtually a contradiction in terms. Through the '80s, project management for microcomputers was primarily IBM-PC based. There were a few products that could operate on a Unix platform, and those that could work on a Macintosh could be counted on the fingers of your mouse-mover hand. As we enter the '90s, support for several platforms is expanding, and the Mac is getting its share of that attention.

Prior to this year, there were precious few Mac-based project management products, the most notable being: MacProject II, Micro Planner, and AEC Information Manager. MacProject is no doubt the best known, as earlier versions were often bundled with the hardware sold by its developer, Apple Computer.

The current version is MacProject II, and is distributed by Claris Corporation, the software subsidiary of Apple. Priced at $499, it is considerably more powerful than earlier versions, but, like most Macintosh-based project management software, it does not match the feature sets of most of the IBM-PC scheduling products, Nevertheless, MacProject II is a flexible, easy-to-use product that should find favor with traditional Mac users who do not have exceptionally demanding project management needs. It is a true “activity-on-the-node, ” critical path system (which the other two products in this discussion are not), and it offers resource leveling capabilities. There are notable limitations in the costing area, data sorting, and reporting. Schedules are developed by placing activity boxes on the Schedule Chart and connecting the nodes to indicate precedence. This may be the easiest way for the novice to create a simple (small) project, and could get tedious and cumbersome as project size and user experience increases.

The most notable competitor to MacProject II has been Micro Planner 6.1, from Micro Planning International. Priced at $595, it provides users with an alternate choice in the low to medium functionality area. MPI had been one of the few project management software companies to offer products for both the Macintosh and IBM-PC platforms; that is, until this year. MPI has recently introduced Micro Planner X-Pert, the first truly high-level project management software for the Macintosh. X-Pert is priced at $1,995, competing more with the high-end IBM-PC products than with any of the Macintosh packages.

Micro Planner 6.1, unlike other CPM programs, offers only the activity-on-the-arrow method of drawing networks and showing relationships. While there is nothing “wrong” with this long-established method, the activity-on-the-node approach has become the de facto standard model for microcomputer-based project management software. There are other pluses and minuses, compared to Mac-Project II. You are limited to only 26 resources per project, but there is much greater control over the defined availability of these resources. Full time-limited and resource-limited leveling is available.

AEC Information Manager, from AEC Management Systems, is priced at $695. In the vendor's own words, AEC Information Manager is “a project-oriented information manager for organizing and tracking the flow of information throughout a project.” This differentiates this product from other project management software in that AEC Information Manager, while providing a project-oriented database capability, does not provide a critical path processing capability, or resource levelling. Although lacking these two traditional computational processes, AEC Information Manager excels in the use of the database functions. This differentiation is important. If you require a traditional critical path and resource management program, pass this one by. However, if you require extended reporting, set up to your preferred design, AEC Information Manager is in a class by itself. It has often been said that project management is a process of lists and ledgers. In essence, AEC Information Manager is an automated log and ledger system with graphic presentation capabilities, built on a database manager system. If CPM is required, data can be imported into AEC Information Manager from either MacProject II or Micro Planner.

AEC Management Systems also offers FastTrack Schedule, priced at $195. This is also not a critical path program. It is strictly a Gantt chart Payout and annotation system. Within that single and significant restriction, Fast-Track is a delightful and practical product. The options available to the user are virtually without limit. All kinds of bars and symbols are available, either as defaults, or through the user-operated drawing board. Sizing, colors, shapes, patterns, etc., are all user-selectable, as are font types, styles, sizes, and colors. Schedules may be collapsed or expanded at the click of the mouse. An added feature is the ability to import a schedule from Mac-Project II. This would allow the user to create a resource-loaded, critical path schedule from MacProject II, and use the Gantt customer capabilities of Fast-Track to enhance the graphic output.

In addition to the new Micro Planner X-Pert, the spring growing season appears to have blossomed into several new Macintosh-based products. Introduced at the San Francisco MacWorld, in April, were Macintosh-based versions of Project Scheduler 4 (Scitor Corp.) and Open Plan (Welcom Software); two established IBM-PC products. Also introduced earlier in the year was KeyPlan, from Symmetry Corp. Monitor Software, another established IBM-PC platform vendor, has come out with a Macintosh version of Task Monitor and a Gantt chart maker, called MacTask. So from three notable products, the marketplace has about tripled in just a few months. Also, the price range has been redefined, with Micro Planner X-Pert at $1,995, and Open Plan/Mac at $4,200.

I haven't heard any reasons for this explosion. I don't think that there is any doubt that the Macintosh platform is powerful enough to support the project management function. But there has been an image problem; that the Mac is more of a hobbyist or drawing-oriented or home-type computer, rather than a bona fide business tool. Certainly, the lack of strong business-oriented software has served to proliferate that condition; a situation that is now changing, Still, the perspective expressed in an April 30, 1990, review, published in PC Week, illustrates the extent of this “less-powerful” view of the Macintosh. The subtitle refers to “Three High-End Project-Tracking Packages.” Yet the products reviewed are all priced below $600, a range that is classified as “low-end” on the PC platform. While I am disturbed at PC Week's choice of label (high-end), I must admit that, until this year, that was the high-end price range for project management software for the Macintosh.

Perhaps the strongest reason for the growth in product offerings for the Mac is that people are getting more used to the concept of the graphical user interface (GUI). Earlier, most users were quite content with a character-based screen with all input and movement controlled from the keyboard. Now, with Microsoft's Windows, and proprietary GUIs, such as Scitor's, project management software users are noticing the attraction of the mouse-driven, bit-mapped interface, and its appropriateness for the graphic nature of the project management application. The character-based mode is far from dead, and there is no reason to ignore such products; but, look for most of the new developments to embrace the various GUIs (Windows, OS/2 -Presentation Manager, AIX, X-Windows, etc.). So, it seems that now that the non-Macintosh world has discovered the GUI, Macintosh software developers have discovered project management software,

Looking at the spring crop, Scitor's Project Scheduler 4 is a kissin' cousin of their popular PC-based version. The user interface that was designed into the DOS version was a natural for conversion to the Macintosh format. The later format gains flexibility by using the Macintosh capability to resize and overlay the various windows. This allows the user to keep several templates on the screen at once, bringing the desired one to the foreground upon command. Overall, Project Scheduler 4 for the Macintosh is a well-balanced program; and, at $685, a strong performer within its price group.

PS4/MAC provides an interactive scheduling and leveling capability as well as tradition automated resource leveling. With the Gantt chart and histogram views up on the screen at the same time, the user can move any task with the mouse and immediately see the effect on a resource loading. WBS and OBS code fields are built in and the system allows the user to filter or summarize on any part of these fields. A resource breakdown structure capability is provided for similar processing of resource data. PS4/Mac is easy to learn and use, and provides sufficient cost management and reporting capabilities to meet the needs of all but the most demanding user. But it also wouldn't be considered a high-end product in the DOS-based world.

Micro Planner X-Pert is a new, top-of-the-line offering from Micro Planning International. It raises project planning, on the Macintosh, to a new level, shared only by Welcom Software's new Open Plan for the Macintosh. With these two new products, PC Week will have to reestablish its criteria for high-end, Macintosh-based project management software. A significant feature of Micro Planner X-Pert is the ability to work in the precedence method (Micro Planner 6.1 had been the only popular product to use the activity-on-the-arrow method, only). Advanced users will appreciate several features that permit optimization of resource assignment and resource leveling. These include allowing a task to be split, definition of the minimum split duration, and definition of the day of the week (and time of day) that a task must stint. Although the learning curve is a little bit steeper than some of the less functional products, it is no more than one would expect for a product of this nature.

Open Plan/Mac, at $4,200, is the most expensive project management software package for the Macintosh. It stores its data in FoxBase files and requires the use of the FoxBase database management program. With Open Plan/Mac and FoxBase, there is virtually no limit to the functionality and flexibility available to the user. It provides all of the traditional high-end critical path scheduling capabilities, plus extensive data management capabilities, either within Open Plan/Mac or in conjunction with FoxBase. Open Plan/Mac retains all of the windows and views of the PC version, but these are improved in the Mac version.

A GUI, such as on the Macintosh, is inherently easier to use than most character-based systems. Nevertheless, the availability of the GUI does not necessarily mean that a program is intuitive. Also, there can be no doubt that there is a price to pay for increased functionality and flexibility. The more that a program does, and the more options available to the user, the more there is to learn and remember. Products like Open Plan/Mac and Micro Planner X-Pert provide this increased power, but should be used primarily by people who need these features and will use the software regularly. All project management software users will benefit from formal training in project management and the software. However, the “occasional” user may need a refresher to remember the intricacies of these higher-end packages.

Task Monitor for the Macintosh is the newest of the lot, and offers still another interesting variation on the traditional project management software package. It provides extensive critical path scheduling capabilities, but does not have resource analysis and leveling functions. Any data relative to cost or labor is associated with the entire task, rather than a resource. To facilitate sorting, selecting, and reporting, Task Monitor/Mac has three, 20-character fields for “project organization codes.” This allows for up to five WBS-type structures, each with user-defined number of levels. Task Monitor/Mac also allows the user to save four variations of the schedule, each of which can be compared to a baseline plan. Task Monitor has been available for several years in a PC version. The latter also includes strong resource and C/SCSC modules, as options. Task Monitor/Mac data can be exchanged with the PC version and to or from rnainframe products such as Artemis, Project/2, and VISION.

Recognizing the growing interest in schedule presentation, Monitor Software has also developed a schedule drawing program for the Macintosh. MacTask, priced at $195, is more like AEC's FastTrack. It does not do critical path scheduling, and has no calculation capabilities. It provides a simple means of preparing a Gantt chart of tasks and milestones, and showing progress. Five different bar chart formats are available, with a choice of symbols and fonts. Schedules prepared in MacTask can be transferred to Task Monitor/Mac.

Two products that I haven't seen are: KeyPlan, from Symmetry Software, Inc., and Great Gantt, from Varcon Systems. Keyplan, at $395, offers an outline format to create the project model. It is reported to be strong (on graphics, but to lack some of the traditional analysis features, such as resource leveling. Great Gantt, at $195, is another bar chart maker, and offers user-customizable data fields. It will import data from MacProject II and FastTrack.

Summary and Buyer's Guide

We reviewed two new products that redefined high-end and established new price points and functionality and flexibility standards for Macintosh-based project management software, These are:

Open Plan/Mac ( $4,200 )
  Welcome Software Technology
  Houston, TX (713) 558-0514
Micro Planner X-Pert ($1,995)
  Micro Planning International
  Mill Valley, CA (415)389-1420

Several products fall in the more common, mainstream area, providing traditional critical path features combined with reasonable ease-of-use. Those products providing both critical path and resource management functions include:

Project Scheduler 4/Mac ($685)
  Scitor Corporation
  Foster City, CA (415) 570-7700

Micro Planner 6.1 ($595)
  Micro Planning International
  Mill Valley, CA (415) 389-1420
MacProject II ($499)
  Claris Corporation
  Santa Clara, CA (408) 987-7000

Also in the mainstream area, but without resource leveling are:

Task Monitor/Mac ($495)
  Monitor Systems, Inc.
  Los Altos, CA (415) 949-1688
KeyPlan ($395)
  Symmetry Software, Inc.
  Scottsdale, AZ (602) 998-9106

We noted one product that did not fit into a traditional category, offering advanced data management capabilities, but no critical path functions:

AEC Information Manager ( $695)
  AEC Management Systems, Inc.
  Sterling, VA (703) 450-1980

We noted several schedule presentation programs. These are not project management programs per se, but offer easy-to-use provisions to create, update, and print attractive and readable bar charts:

FastTrack Schedule ($235)
  AEC Management Systems, Inc.
  Sterling, VA (703) 450-1980
MacTask ($ 195 )
  Monitor Systems, Inc.
  LOS Altos, CA (415) 949-1688
Great Gantt ($195)
  Varcon Systems, Inc.
  San Diego, CA (619) 563-6700

Harvey A. Levine, president, Project Knowledge Group, (35 Barney Road, Clifton Park, NY 12065) has been a practitioner of project management for over 24 year with General Electric Company and is a past chairman of PMI. Mr. Levine has been adjunct professor of project management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Insti -tute, Troy, N.Y., and is the author of the book Project Management using Microcomputers, as well as several articles.

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October 1990

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