Review: Project Management SoftwareReview: Project Management Software
A close look at four project management applications reveals they offer an abundance of features and capabilities.
March 10, 2006
Arena's reporting focuses on supporting product life-cycle management rather than traditional time management features. We got detailed reporting on items, costs, open issues, and change requests across products, in a manner applicable to the processes we were managing.
If you're looking for a product that's client-platform-independent, database-independent and server-independent, check out AtTask. This is the first truly platform-independent project management product that we've seen, supporting Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. Setup of the local client was clearly documented and very straightforward. On the server side, important items, such as port services and system passwords, were clearly noted. The Web-based version was even easier--just skip the setup.
AtTask's initial data load is very detailed; we spent some time configuring our small group and resources in this program. On the plus side, information reuse is high using project templates. Security is granular, consisting of groups, roles, and access levels, and it carries forward across the project base. We found the calendar features extensive, allowing individuals to have multiple calendars, and then providing for integration of the information on the calendars. We also liked that security granularity can be set on calendars as well. Groups support security inheritance, making the interface familiar to those with Windows admin experience.
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Our project handoff from FastTrack 9 went smoothly. We chose to use the Microsoft Project MPX file format for this exchange because AtTask supports bidirectional data exchange with MPX, but other file formats supported include Microsoft Excel/CSV and ASCII.
To test AtTask's functionality, we expanded the scope of our test project, allowing a help desk to log problems and forming a developer support group to work through programming issues. AtTask did a good job capturing information from these two areas and allowing manageable feedback-report creation. We generated and tested several "what if" issues for the help desk, with possible fixes supplied by the design group. For example, one of the problems that could have occurred was a routing failure that prevented information from being sent to the co-location site. By entering this possibility into the knowledge base of the AtTask software, along with expected symptoms and keywords, help desk personnel receiving incoming calls would be able to quickly identify the issue using the software and then know whom on the transition team to notify for troubleshooting and resolution.
AtTask provides a solid reporting set. All the standard reports for project management and accounting are present, such as quarterly management reports, milestone reports, and critical path projections, with extensive customization capabilities. Although AtTask's reports didn't integrate as easily into PowerPoint presentations as did FastTrack's, AtTask more than makes up for this with its extensive selection and customization capabilities. Information delivery is via portal pages, but the product includes much more, such as instant messaging and the ability to post notes to almost every item in the Web portal. In addition, the ability to capture those notes and even associated documents to provide change management capability and versioning control was an unexpected surprise.
The database administrator in us got excited watching Primavera's data mart fire up and rebuild during the server startup process, and the program lived up to our expectations. We can't imagine a project too complex or convoluted for this software. If you need the ability to manage across multiple dimensions (even multiple business segments), your search stops here.
Primavera approaches project management differently from the other vendors in this roundup. For example, an engineer will come on site to collect detailed information about how your organization does business. This engineer will facilitate staff training and software setup. Primavera implements sophisticated technology well. Integrating itself into your existing software environment, including custom integration components to whatever software you're using, is the first half of the approach--wherever the information is, company reps say they will integrate it. A whole lot of program, potentially a whole lot of cash, and a whole lot of learning to use and maintain. But if you're looking for a comprehensive system from a mature company that has been around the block (and the world) a couple of times, this is it.
We added our test project from FastTrack 9 into Primavera's database using Microsoft Project MPX file format with no problem. After assigning resources, reporting supported a breakdown by department, skill sets available, and the pricing of those skill sets and hundreds of other items, we got a really good view of our project, neatly rolled up and separated into executive and implementation views. If a specific report wasn't available, we could create it. For example, traveling technicians like to see their mileage report updated as they report it, easily configured to retrieve on demand. The data mart kept everything snappy, allowing for quick retrieval of costs, status, pricing quotes, and the like.
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