We use scheduling software for our projects, we teach project managers how to use it and we help our clients pick the scheduling software that’s right for them. The number of choices in project scheduling software has exploded and there are now thousands of packages. Many are free (at least at the beginning), others are crap. They give you the later in exchange for your email and phone number so they can sell you more crap, so be forewarned.
Project Manager Role and Scheduling Software Tools
Our scheduling software review criteria are based on 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. Once management approves the cost, duration and deliverables, the project manager and team begin work. Throughout the project, the project manager reviews progress and reports any changes to the project’s expected cost and duration. They use scheduling software to help them do the analysis and create status reports. It is also a helpful tool for suggesting corrective action to keep the project on track. Management often wants to make additions or deletions to the plan. When that happens, the project manager uses scheduling software to quantify their impact on the planned cost and finish date. Both weekly tracking and managing changes require the project manager to give solid decision-making data to management. And scheduling software provides that data.
Scheduling Software: Required Features
Scheduling software must also have the following capabilities at a minimum:
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.
There are several packages that will give you these three capabilities for $25 or less. You could also spend thousands of dollars for packages that don’t do much more than these three capabilities; they just do it fancier.
To fulfill the project management role I described above, you need a scheduling software tool that allows you to calculate the cost and duration of each task and the project as a whole. This includes the following:
- Estimated hours of work for each task
- Availability of the team member(s) to do that work (# of hours per week devoted to the project)
- Hourly cost of the team member(s) doing the work and materials required to produce the deliverable
- Sequence of the tasks in the project
- Impact of changes to any of the above.
In addition to the above criteria, even project managers on a small project need the following scheduling software capabilities:
- Ability to control task sequencing with predecessor relationships. These relationships eliminate the need to reenter start and finish dates every time something changes in the schedule. An astounding number of the packages we reviewed did provide this. Predecessor relationships will allow you to update your schedule in 10 minutes, rather than hours, a week.
- 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. Then you can forecast when the project will finish. This makes your status reports and communications much more complete. It also demonstrates to management that you are in control of what’s happening on the project.
The two scheduling software packages we suggest to our students are:
Gantter – it’s free and works within your Gmail account.
Microsoft Project – this software has been the top ranked tool for project managers for years. The standard edition costs $589.
You will learn how to use project management software in our online courses. We offer project management courses for business/marketing, IT, construction, healthcare and consulting. You will work individually with your instructor on case studies and practice making project plans, schedules, reports and presentations that fit your specialty.
- 101 Project Management Basics
- 103 Advanced Project Management Tools
- 201 Managing Programs, Portfolios & Multiple Projects
- 203 Presentation and Negotiation Skills
- 304 Strategy & Tactics in Project management