Review: Project Management Software - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
10:10 AM

Review: Project Management Software

A close look at four project management applications reveals they offer an abundance of features and capabilities.

We tested the software's ability to capture the scope of this project, maintain a history of revisions, and export information into an office suite so that management could be briefed. To keep it interesting, we represented several viewpoints--the organization affected by the move, help desk support, the IT group responsible for the transition, and two outside vendors responsible for Web services. We tried to capture everything from inception through post-shift service impact and make the software pass the information around.

FastTrack Schedule 9

FastTrack Schedule 9

(click image for larger view)

Product: FastTrack Schedule 9
Company: AEC Software
Price: Full
version: $349; upgrade: $149

FastTrack's just-the-facts, ma'am, presentation got our attention.
FastTrack Schedule 9 lives up to its name if what you need is a get-to-the-point, just-the-facts, ma'am, scheduler, report writer, and resource-tracking tool. This product is designed to quickly capture a project's dimensions and then present that picture cleanly, either with the built-in reporting tools or by integrating into Microsoft PowerPoint.

We'll be honest--when we first saw FastTrack 9, we were skeptical. We thought it might be a product designed for the working professional, not the project manager. Ten minutes later, the software was loaded, and in came our boss, wanting to know project status on an upcoming ISP move so he could brief the management team in half an hour. This was our first use of FastTrack 9, and the software made us eat our skepticism.

The project layout tools are intuitive, as are the resource allocation tools and reporting features. This made entering information easy and straightforward. Reporting has been a major focus of FastTrack since its inception, and it shows. Twenty minutes later, we had a moderately sized project entered, with resources assigned and a Gant chart printed, ready to brief. After the briefing with the boss, a follow-on presentation was needed to brief the management team; FastTrack 9's ability to integrate with Microsoft PowerPoint made preparing this briefing easy. We were converts.

Arena Solutions' PLM

Historically, project management has been about managing the process of production. The new kid on the block is the process of managing the product and its components--the micro view, if you will, of the project management world. The quality requirements for products and companies in today's environment are tough, and businesses are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get quality certified and even more to stay that way. This is where product life-cycle management fits in, allowing the paper trail for component-level quality control to be captured and made reportable for recertification inspections.

Product: Arena PLM

(click image for larger view)

Product: Arena PLM
Company: Arena Solutions
Price: Workgroup free for the first year; other versions start at $80 per month per user

Change management is where Arena PLM rocks.
Arena PLM delivers product life-cycle management in a hosted environment, allowing you to create and maintain your product drawings, and share drawings or selected parts of drawings, with suppliers. The program lets drawings be imported and revised, and relevant revision information captured and updated. Security is such that we could let our "supplier" see the whole drawing or restrict it down to individual components that are the supplier's responsibility. PLM maintains the working version of the product and allows capture of product revisions and history of component manufacture to document compliance for ISO 9001, ISO 13485, and related industry and government requirements.

We've worked in jobs where the quality-control pedigree of the part determines its acceptability for use. Maintaining and producing the history of the product in question always has been difficult, and this software product tackles that head on. Arena captured both a drawing and a parts list during initial setup. It supports several CAD standards and standard Comma Separated Value and text formats for import, so drawings can be imported to save time and effort. Arena also allows these drawings to be represented as lists of materials if a drawing isn't available. The program is flexible enough to allow component parts to be joined into assemblies and then to use these assemblies to build larger, more complex parts.

Change management is where Arena PLM really rocks. Want to make a hundred revisions to a part in a day; capture all the conversation around the revisions among the internal design team, the suppliers, and even the delivery vendors; and then be able to produce that lineage should ISO audit? No problem.

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