Today, a multitude of project management (PM) software products are available to help managers organize tasks necessary to operate a project, including assigning people to interrelated tasks, obtaining and distributing information and materials, meeting deadlines and keeping an eye on the budget.
The first step in determining the ideal PM software is to evaluate the size and complexity of the typical project being managed.
For small projects, such as a 10,000-sq.-ft. office addition with a six-month schedule, a simple scheduling program is all that's needed. Examples include FastTrack Schedule 6.03 from AEC Software and Project KickStart 3.1 from Experience in Software.
These programs provide basic reporting and charting tools without the hassle of setting up rigid sets of rules.
Larger projects, such as a new 10-story office tower, require a software that not only creates a schedule, but lets managers track some level of progress, assign staff to tasks, and budget and monitor disbursement of funds. This sort of undertaking requires a full-fledged PM program, such as Microsoft Project 2000, Primavera's SureTrak 2.0 or Scitor's Project Scheduler 8.5.
New to Project 2000 is a set of planning and scheduling tools, called Project Central, that enable all building team members to view and update project information via the Internet. Through its close integration with Microsoft Office, Project Central allows organizations to integrate users who rely on Microsoft Outlook messaging for low-level management of their own day-to-day schedules. Project Central works with Outlook in two ways. First, the Import Tasks feature of Project Central captures a user's Tasks list from Outlook, combining it with project-related activities to present a single to-do list. Second, the "import" Calendar feature further enables users to prioritize project commitments, and to notify the project manager of all exceptions to scheduled work time.
For complicated projects, not only do the necessary tasks need to be defined, but also the people, equipment and materials required. Once defined, these resources can be entered into the PM software's calendar, which will help anticipate scheduling issues. For example, the schedule can accommodate employees who work four-day weeks.
The calendar also comes in handy when, for instance, a simple duration doesn't adequately describe a task. For example, the freshly poured concrete of a building foundation requires no resources while it's drying, but the contractor can't start building the walls until the foundation dries. Project Scheduler deals with such situations more gracefully than the other PM software — it lets managers vary an assigned resource's activity over the duration of a task.
Many PM programs allow project managers to "level" resources, or rearrange the project schedule to even out resource demands. SureTrak, for instance, permits managers to choose between assigning leveled resources to tasks with shorter durations (thus completing more tasks sooner) or to tasks that can't afford a delay (thus completing critical tasks sooner).
Another important factor to PM programs is the ability for managers to easily generate charts or reports, and in a format ideal for the building team members to read and use. For instance, many PM programs have the ability to export data to Microsoft Excel and Access, as well as create HTML pages or Adobe PDF files for easy distribution.