The programs now available vary widely in the way they let you create your project plan. Some make planning the project easier, while others present serious limitations in how you can define the project elements.
Entering the project plan — The way you enter the project plan into the program and the ease of changing the plan may have a direct effect on how much use you get out of the program.
When entering the project plan, you must define all the project activities. Most of the programs have you build your plan by listing the project activities down the left side of a Gantt or timeline chart. You then fill in a form for each activity to identify its duration, required resources and any activities that must precede it.
A few programs let you create your project as a network first, actually drawing the boxes for each activity and the connecting Lines that show their sequence.
You may prefer one method of creating the project plan over the other. But what is important is the ease with which you can create the plan and make changes in it. Some programs make it downright difficult to add or delete activities once the plan is created. And as any experienced project manager knows, projects rarely go exactly as planned. So the first consideration is to make sure the program makes it easy to create the plan and change it.
Full precedence capability — A second important feature to check for is how well the program can represent the relationships among the activities that make up the project. When you enter the activities into the program, you also specify their sequence and precedence; that is, how the activities depend upon each other and which must be done before others can begin.
At a minimum the program must be able to contain all the project activities, and calculate and show the project's critical path, which is the sequence of activities that must be done on time if the project is to be completed on schedule.
Beyond showing the critical path, a program can be judged by how well it depicts the precedence relationships among the activities. Many of the less expensive programs permit only a finish to start precedence relationship between activities. A finish to start relationship means a subsequent activity can start only after a previous activity is finished.
Finish to start is a common relationship among activities, but you may also frequently have activities that depend on each other, but overlap to some degree. With these activities the finish to start relationship does not accurately apply. So if you have a program that allows only for finish to start relationships you must decide either not to show the relationship as it should be or to artificially break down the activity into subactivities so they fit into the finish to start mode.
The ability to handle full precedence relationships is a key difference between programs. Determining the precedence relationships a program is capable of showing is an important first test of any software you consider. After all, you do not want to have to force your project to meet the software program requirements. You want the software to meet your requirements.
Limits on number of activities - Many of the less expensive programs have a maximum number of activities that can be entered into a project. This maximum may be well below your needs. If your projects have more than a hundred activities, you should keep this in mind when shopping for a program.
WBS capability — Equally important to some managers is the ability to identify activities in a work breakdown structure (WBS). A WBS as it applies to software programs is the capability of assigning ID codes to each task in the project, from the highest level main tasks all the way down to the lowest level subtasks.
WBS codes can be used to cross reference the tasks to be performed with the account codes of the organizations or individuals who are to do them. By assigning WBS codes to each task you can produce cost reports that are sorted based upon either the task group or the organizational group. This can allow for improved accounting and cost control.
Of those programs that do let you create a WBS, few have the capability of showing the WBS graphically in the normal heirarchical tree structure.
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What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.