Project Management Network Programs

Joan Mills

Florida International University

New organizational models are being developed to accommodate the rapid technological change occurring in industry. In the last decade significant numbers of companies have implemented project management organization structures to help plan, schedule, direct, and control company resources that have been allocated to short-term projects.

The major techniques that have withstood the test of time and grown with the newly evolved requirements have been the networking schemes of CPM and PERT. Both techniques offer project managers methods of controlling increased project complexity, voluminous amounts of data, tighter time deadlines and limited manpower, material, and capital resources.

This article is an update of an earlier comparison by Smith and Mahler of 20 major network programs. Commercially available software programs currently marketed have taken advantage of the increased capability of computer hardware to reduce many of the early constraints of data and data manipulation. Many of the programs evaluated in this article have indicated either no upper limit or significantly high (non-binding) constraints on the size of the project.

Forty computer software programs were evaluated to reveal how well they kept pace with the increased demands of the marketplace. These programs were evaluated by questionnaire, phone calls, published and readily available company literature as well as information from the articles listed in the bibliography. As is the case of any survey of this type, subjective judgments were required when indicating the existence or non-existence of particular characteristics.

Network Types and Constraints

An important feature of project management network programs is the means by which activities are identified. Two main types of networking schemes were found in the programs surveyed:

1. Arrow Diagrams, or

2. Activities being able to commence when a percent of an immediate predecessor is complete, (precedence)

TABLE 1 NETWORKING SCHEME

No. Pct.
Arrow Diagram 35 87.5
Precedence 32 80.0
Both 26 65.0

Table 1 indicates that 35 of the 40 programs have activity on the arrow capability, and 32 have a precedence capability. Twenty-six programs have both.

The size and detail of the projects that are being planned, scheduled and controlled with the aid of network is indicated in Table 2.

TABLE 2 PROJECT SIZE

Activities Per Network No. Pct.
0-10,000 12 30
10,001-20,000 2 5
20,001-30,000 3 7.5
30,001-40,000 8 20
40,001-50,000 0 0
over 50,000 15 37.5
Total 40 100

15 (37.5%) of the 40 programs have the capability of handling over 50,000 activities per network. Several programs indicate that there is no upper bound on the size of the network.

Calendar Dates

All of the 40 programs surveyed have some form of internal calendar (See Table 3) that allows the user to select from a shop calendar, a fiscal calendar, or some combination of both. Their flexibility ranges from a standard fiscal calendar to customized project calendars containing holidays, non-working days, standard work weeks that range from 1 to 7 days, etc.

TABLE 3 CALENDAR DATES

No. Pct.
Yes 38 95
No 0 0
Limited 2 5
40 100

Gantt or Bar Chart

39 of the 40 programs have a graphic representation by activity or work vs. time. Some depict, using various notations, critical activities, free float, total float, activities in progress, activities completed, etc.

TABLE 4 GANTT OR BAR CHART

No. Pct.
Yes 39 97.5
No 1 2.5
40 100

Flexible Report Generator

One of the options that can be valuable is the ability to specify the type and format of reports for the user. These include management summary reports, time related reports, cost related reports, and resource related reports. As seen in Table 5, 34 of the 40 programs indicated various degrees of report generator flexibility.

TABLE 5 FLEXIBLE REPORT GENERATOR

No. Pct.
Yes 34 85
No 6 15
40 100

Updating

Does the program accept new revisions, changes, and modifications of time estimates and interface logic? All programs surveyed have this capability. A project cannot be managed without the capability of changing plans, times, costs, etc.

Cost Control

Projects vary in their degree of cost control from a simple comparison of actual costs vs. budgeted costs to plots of cash flow, cumulative cash flow, budgeted cost of work scheduled (BCWS), actual cost of work performed (ACWP), budgeted cost of work performed (BCWP), monies committed, etc. 39 of the 40 reported some form of cost control, as indicated in Table 6.

TABLE 6 COST CONTROL

No. Pct.
Yes 39 97.5
No 1 2.5
40 100

Scheduled Dates

All programs allow the option of developing a plan and cost resource program with the constraint of meeting predefined milestones and completion dates.

Sorting

One of the options many project managers require is the ability to sort activities according to such user specifications as cost accounts, responsibility, active jobs, finish jobs, late jobs, amount of float, etc. most programs provide at least a limited amount of this type of flexibility.

TABLE 7 SORTING ABILITY

No. Pct.
Yes 39 97.5
No 1 2.5
40 100

Resource Allocation

Resource allocation, leveling, and balancing is an important option, especially in a multi-project environment. It is the most important technique available when attempting to prioritize the allocation of resources. In its simplest form it allows the user to see a histogram of resources required and to make changes accordingly. In its most useful format, resource allocation balances resources and simultaneously adjusts the schedule. In the survey, 34 indicated that they had some capability of allocating resources (See Table 8).

TABLE 8 RESOURCE ALLOCATION

No. Pct.
Yes 34 85
No 6 15
40 100

Plotter Availability

Once the logic has been developed and the interrelationships of activities evaluated, it may be beneficial to have the network plotted. Due to increased development of plotters and graphics there has been an increase in the availability of this option.

TABLE 9 PLOTTER AVAILABILITY

No. Pct.
Yes 34 85
No 6 15
40 100

Summary

Figure 1 identifies definitions of the 13 major characteristics the authors felt comprised the most critical set of high priority items that the project manager should first evaluate. It must be understood, however, that this selection is only a small subset of characteristics available in most of the programs assessed. Table 10 identifies program availability of these characteristics. An “X” indicates the characteristic is available in that program; an “L” indicates limited availability, “No” indicates that it is not available and an empty cell indicates that its availability is not known.

FIGURE 1 DEFINITIONS OF CHARACTERISTICS

images

TABLE 10 PROGRAM CHARACTERISTICS

images

Conclusions

The project manager has sufficient planning and operating responsibilities, such that he does not have to add the task of developing a network software program. It is necessary, therefore, for him to be able to evaluate quickly and effectively the commercially available software programs and to select the most appropriate one for the needs of the project and the organization. Most of the features of the available network programs make them desirable for almost any project.

It is the responsibility of the project manager, however, to determine which characteristics are important. This study should assist in the first iteration of screening the available programs.

Bibliography

1. Baker, N. and L. Eris, An Introduction to PERT-CPM. Richard D. Irwin, Inc., 1964.

2. Evarts, F., Introduction to PERT. Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1967.

3. Horowitz, J., Critical Path Scheduling. The Ronald Press Company, 1967.

4. Levin, R.I. and A. Kirkpatrick, Planning and Control with PERT/CPM. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966.

5. Lockyer, K.G., An Introduction to Critical Path Analysis. Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Limited, 1967.

6. Miller, W., Schedule Cost and Profit Control with PERT. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1963.

7. Moder, J. and R. Phillips, Project Management with CPM and PERT. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1970.

8. Morris, L.N., Critical Path Construction and Analysis. Pergamon Press, 1967.

9. Project Management Institute, “Survey of CPM Scheduling Software Packages And Related Project Control Programs”, Project Management Quarterly, January, 1980.

10. Riggs, L. and O. Heath, Guide to Cost Reduction through Critical Path Scheduling. Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

11. Smith. K.M., Critical Path Planning. Management Publications Limited, 1971.

12. Smith, L.A. and P. Mahler, “Comparing Commercially Available CPM/PERT Computer Programs”. Industrial Engineering, April 1978.

13. Woolpert, B., “Computer Software for Project Planning and Control”. A paper for James R. Freeland and Charles A. Holloway, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business, May, 1976.

14. ICP Software Directory, 2506 Willowbrook Parkway, Indianapolis, Indiana.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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