History

The development of network analysis techniques more or less coincided with that of the digital computer. The early network analysis programs were, therefore, limited by the storage and processing capacity of the computer as well as the input and output facilities.

The techniques employed mainly involved producing punched cards (one card for each activity) and feeding them into the machine via a card reader. These procedures were time consuming and tedious, and, because the punching of the cards was carried out by an operator who usually understood little of the program or its purpose, mistakes occurred which only became apparent after the printout was produced.

Even then, the error was not immediately apparent - only the effect. It then often took hours to scan through the reams of printout sheets before the actual mistake could be located and rectified. To add to the frustration of the planner, the new printout may still have given ridiculous answers because a second error was made on another card. In this way it often required several runs before a satisfactory output could be issued.

In an endeavour to eliminate punching errors attempts were made to use two separate operators, who punched their own set of input cards. The cards were then automatically compared and, if not identical, were thrown out, indicating an error. Needless to say, such a practice cost twice as much in manpower.

Because these early computers were large and very expensive, usually requiring their own air-conditioning equipment and a team of operators and maintenance staff, few commercial companies could afford them. Computer bureaux were therefore set up by the computer manufacturers or special processing companies, to whom the input sheets were delivered for punching, processing and printing.

The cost of processing was usually a lump sum fee plus x pence per activity. Since the computer could not differentiate between a real activity and a dummy one, planners tended to go to considerable pains to reduce the number of dummies to save cost. The result was often a logic sequence, which may have been cheap in computing cost but was very expensive in application, since frequently important restraints were overlooked or eliminated. In other words, the tail wagged the dog - a painful phenomenon in every sense. It was not surprising, therefore, that many organizations abandoned computerized network analysis or, even worse, discarded the use of network analysis altogether as being unworkable or unreliable.

There is no doubt that manual network analysis is a perfectly feasible alternative to using computers. Indeed, one of the largest petrochemical complexes in Europe was planned entirely using a series of networks, all of which were analysed manually.

The PC

The advent of the personal computer (PC) significantly changed the whole field of computer processing. In place of the punched card or tape we now have the computer keyboard and video screen, which enable the planner to input the data direct into the computer without filling in input sheets and relying on a punch operator. The information is taken straight from the network and displayed on the video screen as it is 'typed' in. In this way, the data can be checked or modified almost instantaneously.

Provided sufficient information has been entered, trail runs and checks can be carried out at any stage to test the effects and changes envisaged. Modern planning programs (or Project Management systems, as they are often called) enable the data to be inputted in a random manner to suit the operator, provided, of course, that the relationship between the node numbers (or activity numbers) and duration remains the same.

There are some programs which enable the network to be produced graphically on the screen as the information - especially the logic sequence - is entered. This, it is claimed, eliminates the need to draw the network manually. Whether this practice is as beneficial as suggested is very doubtful.

For a start, the number of activities which can be viewed simultaneously on a standard video screen is very limited, and the scroll facility which enables larger networks to be accommodated does not enable an overall view to be obtained at a glance. The greatest drawback of this practice, however, is the removal from the network planning process of the team spirit, which is engendered when a number of specialists sit down with the planner round a conference table to 'hammer out' the basic shape of the network. Most problems have more than one solution, and the discussions and suggestions, both in terms of network logic and durations, are invaluable when drafting the first programs. These meetings are, in effect, a brainstorming session at which the ideas of the various participants are discussed, tested and committed to paper. Once this draft network has been produced, the planner can very quickly input it into the computer and call up a few test runs to see whether the overall completion date can, in fact, be achieved. If the result is unsatisfactory, logic and/or duration changes can be discussed with the project team before the new data are processed again by the machine. The speed of the new hardware makes it possible for the computer to be part of the planning conference, so that (provided the planner/operator is quick enough) the 'what if scenarios can be tested while the meeting is in progress. A number of interim test runs can be carried out to establish the optimum network configuration before proceeding to the next stage. Even more important, errors and omissions can be corrected and durations of any or all activities can be altered to achieve a desired interim or final completion date.

The relatively low cost of the modern PCs has enabled organizations to install planning offices at head office and sites as well as at satellite offices, associate companies and offices of vital suppliers, contractors and sub-contractors. All these PCs can be linked to give simultaneous printouts as well as supplying up-to-date information to the head office where the master network is being produced. In other words, the IT (Information Technology) revolution has made an important impact on the whole planning procedure, irrespective of the type or size of organization.

The advantages of PCs are:

1 The great reduction in the cost of the hardware, making it possible for small companies, or even individuals, to purchase their own computer system.

2 The proliferation of inexpensive, proven software of differing sophistication and complexity, enabling relatively untrained planners to operate the system.

3 The ability to allow the planner to input his or her own program or information via a keyboard and VDU.

4 The possibility to interrogate and verify the information at any stage on the video screen.

5 The speed with which information is processed and printed out either in numerical (tabular) or graphical form.

Programs

During the last few years a large number of proprietary programs have been produced and marketed. All these programs have the ability to analyse networks and produce the standard output of early and late start and the three main types of float, i.e. total, free and independent. Most programs can deal with either arrow diagrams or precedence diagrams, although the actual analysis is only carried out via one type of format.

The main differences between the various programs available at the time of writing are the additional facilities available and the degree of sophistication of the output. Many of the programs can be linked with 'add-on' programs to give a complete project management system covering not only planning but also cost control, material control, site organization, procurement, stock control, etc. It is impossible to describe the many intricacies of all the available systems within the confines of this chapter, nor is it the intention to compare one system with another. Such comparison can be made in terms of cost, user friendliness, computing power, output sophistication or range of add-ons. Should such surveys be required, it is best to consult some of the specialist computer magazines or periodicals, who carry out such comparisons from time to time.

Some of the programs more commonly available to date are listed in Table 21.2, but to give a better insight into the versatility of a modern program one of the more sophisticated systems is described in some detail in Chapter 49. The particular system was chosen because of its ability to be linked with the EVA system described in Chapter 32 of this book. Although the terms are different - e.g. 'Value Hour' is called 'Earned Value' - the result is a useful coordinated system giving the essential relationship between the planning and the cost functions.

The chosen system, Hornet Windmill, is capable of producing both AOA and AON network outputs using a plotter.

Commercial programs

At the time of going to print, 294 project management software programs were listed on the Internet. Many of these will not exist any more by the time this book is being read, while no doubt many more will have been created to take their place. It is futile therefore to even attempt to list them here, but Table 21.2 does give a very small selection of the better known programs which seem to have stood the test of time. The cost of these systems can vary between $150 and $6000 and the reader is therefore advised to investigate each 'offer' in some depth to ensure value for money. A simple inexpensive system may be adequate for a small organization running small projects or wishing to become familiar with computerized network analysis. Larger companies, whose clients may demand more sophisticated outputs, may require the more expensive systems. Indeed, the choice of a particular system may well be dictated by the client, as described earlier.

The current list is clearly not claimed to be 100% complete.

Table 21.2 Project management software (current)

System

Marketing company

Ace Project

Websystems Inc.

Acos Compact

D & L Computer Services

Acos Plus 1

D & L Computer Services

Apache Project

Aran Ltd

Artemis Project View

Artemis

Artemis 7000

Artemis

Artemis 9000

Artemis

Asta

Asta Development

Autotask

Autotask Corporation

Cascade

Mantix Systems Ltd

CA Super Project

Computer Associates

Client

CSSP

Controller (for Oracle)

Monitor Management & Controls

Controller (for Artemis)

Monitor Management & Controls

CS Project Life

Leach Management Systems

CS Project Professional

Leach Management Systems

4C for Windows

Intersoftware UK

Hornet XK

Claremont Controls Ltd

Hornet 5000

Claremont Controls Ltd

Hornet Windmill

Claremont Controls Ltd

Interface Toolkit

Chaucer Group Ltd

i Pro Net

WS Atkins

Jobmaster

Jobmaster plc

LAMP

Bensasson & Chalmers

Micro Planner Expert

Micro Planner International

Micro Planner Manager

Micro Planner International

Micro Planner V6

Micro Planner International

Micro Planner Professional

Micro Planner International

Micro Planner P 1000

Micro Planner International

Micro Planner V4

Micro Planner International

MS Project

Microsoft

Open Plan

Welcom Software Technology

PACS

Herkemij & Partners

Panorama

Panorama Software

Pertmaster for Windows

People in Technology

Plantrac

Computerline

Plantrac Outlook

Computerline

Power Project

Asta Development Corporation

Primavera Project Planner (3P)

Primavera Systems Inc.

Project Gateway

Deepak Sareen Associates

Project Scheduler

Tekware Ltd

Project Workbench (PMW)

ABT International

7000 Plus

PMP Services

Plan on the net

radha software inc.

Profess

Pillar Software

Project Center

Briscnet

Table 21.2 Continued

System

Marketing company

Project.net

ProjectPoint

Project Talk

4 Projects the-project

Pz.net

QEI Exec

Schedule Publisher Sure Trak Project Planner Trackstar

Project.net Buzzaw.com

Meridian Project Systems Leighton Ltd. Sarcophagus

Concerto Support Services PCF Ltd PCF Ltd

Advanced Management Solutions Primavera Systems Inc. Complete Project Management

Outputs

The output (or printout formats) available from modern PCs are becoming more varied and sophisticated as development and enhancement of programs continue. However, the basic outputs produced by the early mainframe machines are still the core of the output reports available. These are:

• Total float (including the critical path for which the total float is obviously 0)

• Preceding event (or preceding activity)

• Activity number

• Earliest start

• Earliest finish

Of the above, the first four are the most useful. The total float shows the order of criticality, starting with the critical activities. As the float increases, the criticality reduces.

The preceding event report enables a particular activity to be found rapidly, since activities are listed in ascending order of preceding event numbers. When a grid system is used, the order is by ascending number of each horizontal band. For AON methods, preceding activity numbers are given.

The activity number report is useful when the critical path program is related to a cost analysis system, such as EVA. The time and cost position can therefore be found for any particular activity in which one may be interested. The earliest start report is used primarily to find all the activities which should be started (as early as possible) by a required date. The chronological listing of earliest starts enables this to be found very rapidly.

The actual format of the reports is slightly different for every software company, and in most cases can be produced in bar chart format as well as being grouped by report code, i.e. a separate report for each discipline, department, sub-contractor, etc. These report codes can, of course, be edited to contain only such information as is required (or considered to be necessary) by the individual departments.

It is recommended that the decision to produce any but the most basic printouts, as well as any printouts in report code, be delayed until the usefulness of a report has been studied and discussed with department managers. There is always a danger with computer outputs that recipients request more reports than they can digest, merely because they know they are available at the press of a button. Too much paper becomes self-defeating, since the very bulk frightens the reader to the extent of it not being read at all.

With the proliferation of the personal computer (PC) and the expansion of IT, especially the Internet, many of the projects management techniques can now be carried out on-line. The use of e-mail and intranets allows information to be distributed to the many stakeholders of a project almost instantaneously. Where time is important - and it nearly always is - such a fast distribution of data or instructions can be of enormous benefit to the project manager. It does, however, require all information to be carefully checked before dissemination precisely because so many people receive it at the same time. It is an unfortunate fact that computer errors are more serious for just this reason as well as the naive belief that computers are infallible.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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.

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