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Scheduling Software

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
CEO 4pm.com

We don’t sell project management software, nor accept fees or commissions to recommend software.  

We use project scheduling software, teach project managers how to use it and help our clients pick the software that is right for them.  The number of choices in project management software has exploded; there are thousands of packages. Many are free (at least at the beginning), others are crap and they give it to you in exchange for your email and phone number so they can sell you more crap.

Project Manager Role and Tools Required

Our review criteria are based on how we see, and what we teach our clients, about the role of project managers in organizations.  That role begins with providing management with decision making data on the alternative costs and duration required to produce the project deliverables management wants.  Once a decision is made on a cost, duration and deliverable combination, the project manager and team produce go to work. As the project is executed, the project manager asses progress and reports on changes to the expected cost and duration as well as corrective action the will keep the project on track.  The project manage also quantifies the impact to the planned cost and finish date of any additions/deletions to the plan that stakeholders want to make.  So both weekly tracking and managing changes require the project manager to give solid decision-making data to executives.

Required Features of Scheduling Software That Make PMs Effective

To fulfill the project management role I described above, project managers need, regardless of project size, a software tool that allows them to calculate the cost and duration of each task and the project as a whole from:

  1. Estimated hours for each task,
  2. Availability of the team member to do that work (# of hours a week devoted to the project
  3. Hourly Cost of the team member(s) doing the work and and materials required to produce the deliverable
  4. Sequence of the tasks in the project.
  5. Software also needs to calculate the impact of changes to any of the above

Few packages provide all those capabilities.  It is the opposite of the “pluck the due dates from the sky” approach that most of them give purchasers

1. Produce a Gantt chart that clearly communicates the start and finish date for each task and the sequence of tasks.
2. Display the name of the person accountable for each task and its duration.
3. Allow you to generate graphics and data comparing actual performance to the baseline project schedule.
If those criteria are all you need, then there are plenty of packages that will give you that capability for $25 or less. You could also spend thousands of dollars for packages that don’t do much more than the above three capabilities; they just do it fancier.

In addition to the above criteria, there are other capabilities that even beginning project managers on a small project should have in their project scheduling software:

  •  Allow you to control task sequencing with predecessor relationships, rather than having to reenter start and finish dates every time something changes in your schedule. An astounding number of the packages we reviewed did not do this. This capability will allow you to update your schedule in 10 minutes a week rather than spending hours on data entry.
  • Allow you to enter “estimate to complete” data into the software. This capability lets you gather data from your project team on when they’re going to finish their tasks and then use the software to forecast when the project will finish. This makes your status reports much more complete and lets you communicate that you are in control of what’s happening on the project.

The two scheduling software packages we suggest to our students are;

Gantter – is free and works within your gmail account.

Microsoft Project – This software has been the top ranked tool for professional project managers for years.  The standard edition costs $589

At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

  1. 101 Project Management Basics
  2. 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
  3. 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
  4. 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
  5. 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management