We've had a lot of positive feedback on the series of columns on resource management that have appeared in the PM Software Forum this year. This interest in resource management supports a trend that I have observed, relative to new practitioners of project management and new users of project management software (PMS).
Businesses are realizing that the work that they are doing is centered around projects. For those of us who have been immersed in the project management scene for a while, this is no major revelation. But what is happening is that a project orientation is more the modus operandi today rather than a special situation. Hence, there has been a growth in interest in project management and in computer-based systems to help them plan and schedule this work.
That they are looking to project management software for this purpose is essentially good!
But wait! There's more (why keep it simple?).
These businesses are also realizing that a key item to be planned and managed is the assignment and use of resources on these projects.
Again, they are looking to project management software, as well they should. There can be no doubt that traditional project management software packages can be excellent tools to support this important function.
In our model project environment we need to do critical path scheduling, and adjust the schedules for resource limitations. We need software that will allow us to:
- Identify the project work scope
- Organize the identified work (outlines and work breakdown structures)
- Schedule the work
- Identify available resources
- Assign resources to the work
- Evaluate and adjust the schedule and resource assignments
- Analyze and report schedule and resource information, oriented by project and by resource structures.
These are all functions that are fully supported by project management software, and I would recommend the use of such software for most applications.
However, traditional PMS may not be the ideal solution for every application, There are certain plusses and minuses that must be considered, especially when alternative software choices exist.
The strong point of PMS is its ability to do critical path scheduling. These tools are optimized to produce and display schedules of the work based on defined task durations, dependencies and date constraints (and, optionally, resource constraints). They are designed to analyze and display resource schedules and loads (as well as costs). They would appear to be complete systems for planning and control.
The issue is that these PMS systems are rarely connected to the corporate accounting systems. Yet the latter is usually the only complete and dependable repository for resource charges (time sheets) and cost data. Also, many of these PMS systems are optimized to present a project-centric view of the work, often leaving functional and resource managers with less information and control than would be desired.
Here are some options for software that can be used in place of or to supplement our traditional project management software products:
A tool that has been specifically designed to address these deeper resource issues is Allegro, The Resource Management System, from The Allegro Group, Inc.
Allegro is not a critical path scheduling tool It is a resource planning and analysis tool, employing a spreadsheet metaphor as a convenient mechanism to input to and analyze a comprehensive project and resource database.
Each Allegro installation is custom designed to interface with the company accounting system. Most of the project and resource information can be brought over to Allegro from the accounting system, and regular upload/download between these two systems (and to other data systems) is supported.
There are hierarchical structures for both projects and resources. The Project WBS is three levels (default is Department/Phase/Task). Also each project can belong to a specified group of projects (accumulators) for further summarized analysis.
Each individual resource can belong to a group or class of resources. Resource assignments can be made at the group or individual level. This supports a real-world environment, where we often wish to evaluate the impact of pending and future work, without assigning that work to specific individuals. An especially helpful feature of Allegro is the ability to reassign work from a resource class to individuals, either manually or automatically. In the automatic method, Allegro considers the workloads for resources assigned to the project when it makes these assignments. Allegro can do this because it maintains a record of resource availability.
The master calendar in Allegro can be set to define up to 54 custom, variable periods. Normally, you would set up a few historical periods, followed by weekly periods for a few months, and then going to coarser periods, such as months, quarters, etc. A period can be any number of days. Each period becomes a column in the spreadsheet.
Data can be analyzed by project, resources, time slice, etc., at any level of detail. All analysis views are in the spreadsheet format, with a “freeze” column at the right and a “freeze” row at the bottom (user-selectable). Data can be viewed in Hours, Revenue, Labor (costs), or Percentage of Available Time. All views can be printed. In addition, there is a report writer for graphs and customized reports.
All of this goes just a bit beyond the typical capabilities of traditional project management software. But Allegro users must forego critical path scheduling, or use a CPM program to generate the schedule. In Allegro, each work item (project/department/phase/task) is assigned a start and end date, which is used for assigning resources. Resource assignment can be uniform, or can be discrete (by loading each time period), or automatic (considering availability). Additional features include user-specified billing and costing attributes, an award probability (percentage) multiplier, project and contract accounting fields, and several project and resource classification fields.
TIME KEEPING SOFTWARE
Traditional project management software assumes that task progress will be entered into the system as start and completion dates and percent complete. It also assumes that actual resource usage will be entered directly into the resource assignment records on a task-by-task basis. But this is not normally the best way to enter resource time data.
Some of the products that have been optimized for the information systems applications (such as Project Workbench, MicroMan II, MultiTrak, PlanView) have a built-in time capture function that acts as a timesheet mode. Scitor's Project Scheduler 6 has a unique resource spreadsheet mode that can be used for entering actual resource usage on a period-by-period basis. PS6 also has resource distribution (spreadsheet) reports for communicating the period-by-period data. Some products offer add-on time capture modules. These include Artemis Prestige and PSDI's p/x (in development). It is important for these software packages to allow the user to design a time capture input form or view that will allow timesheet data to be entered on a resource-by-resource basis across multiple projects.
A key difference between a full-featured time keeping program and just a time input form is the level of administrative control provided. We can see this as we look at two special time keeping programs that have been developed for use with project management software.
Time$heet Professional, from TIMESLIPS Corporation, has been around for several years. This summer's version 3.0 release, in a Windows mode, has added features and capabilities suitable for large resource groups. A data exchange utility, now included with the product, supports data transfer to and from SuperProject, Microsoft Project for Windows, InstaPlan, Project Workbench, and Symantec's family of project management software products. Support for Scitor's Project Scheduler 6 and Primavera is expected later this year.
Time$heet Professional is a corporate time- and project-tracking software using a timesheet metaphor. While it can be used as a stand-alone program, it works very well as an adjunct program with traditional project management software, as listed above. It tracks time and expense data for projects, clients, employees, tasks, etc.
Custom reports support multiproject consolidation, with several analysis options. A Stopwatch Timer automatically records time spent on tasks. Many of the terms can be customized to match the “corporate jargon.” Tasks can belong to billing groups or cost centers.
Using the data exchange utility, projects and tasks, with their assignments, can be downloaded to Time$heet Professional and the entered timesheet data can then be brought back over to the project management software.
Suggested pricing is $199 for a single-user version and $695 for a concurrent eight-user version.
Buy The Hour
A newer product is Buy The Hour, from Austin Computer Resources, Inc. This 1994 addition to project management tools was developed to work specifically with Primavera Project Planner (DOS or Windows) and Finest Hour.
Buy The Hour is another time-tracking software for the Windows environment, but this one is dynamically linked to the Primavera database. It tracks hours for each resource, for each activity in multiple projects in Primavera. Extensive administrative features and security levels are provided to control who has access to setup functions and for reading, writing and approving timesheet data. Like Time$heet Professional, Buy The Hour has a Stopwatch function and the ability to define non-task activity categories (vacation, sick leave, personal time, etc.).
It is easy to connect Buy The Hour to Primavera, and options are provided to download resources from Primavera by individuals or position. Users can define an Organizational Breakdown Structure, which is used to control management access and approvals. Once the time data is entered and approved, the hours can be posted to Primavera.
Suggested pricing is $195 for a single-user version and $495 for a concurrent five-user version. ❑
Harvey A. Levine, principal, The Project Knowledge Group (21 Pine Ridge, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866), has been a practitioner of project management for over 30 years, primarily with General Electric Company and is a past chairman of PMI. MT. Levine has been adjunct professor of project management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY and is the author of Project Management Using Microcomputers, as well as numerous articles.