Google-integrated Gantt Charts?
Situation: You need a simple PM app that integrates with Google Calendar
I thought this one was a little different. Most software is moving into the cloud, but the outer edge of that software spectrum contains the free email accounts that most of us have on Google.
Ganttic is a simple PM and resource management app that integrates with Google apps. It probably isn't appropriate for a large scale technology project, but for the many smaller efforts that most of us deal with, it could be great. At ProjectManagement.com, we run Goo
gle Mail (the business version) for work. Then each person has a personal GMail account. It's great to integrate the two calendars to get a high level view of what's going on in your life as a whole. Ganttic would bring small projects into that mix, giving you an even clearer view of the fact that you have way too much to do.
In any case, for Google Power users, it's worth a look -
Can Simple SaaS Tools Help You Focus?
Situation: It's a New Year and you're looking to get things done.
A big selling point of simple, inexpensive SaaS tools is that they give you the functionality you need & nothing else. Tool vendors combine that with an interface that's easier to use and we assume that most of the ease of use is coming from the fact that there isn't much to do inside of the app. There is no complexity to simplify.
In our actual work lives, there is plenty of complexity built right in - which why we need tools in the first place. There is so much complexity, that even with tools we have trouble focusing our efforts.
So the trend I've noticed recently is that tools are helping you focus on tasks or chunks of information one at a time. They effectively bring your attention to what matters now and obscure the rest. That last bit is where I see a difference in these new tools versus older ones - they completely clear away non-essential information. Yet that task or bit of information you are working on is kept in context in subtle ways - ensuring you still grasp the big picture.
For example, Workflowy is a neat little tool you could use to organize anything from a To-Do list to your life. There are lots of tools that help you create hierarchies, some of them very cool (I've always loved MindManager). The issue with these is that they do not force focus and clear away detail effectively enough. You can still get lost in a dense hierarchy of information. Workflowy limits what you see to one focus area. With Workflowy, higher levels of the structure are rolled up into breadcrumbs at the top, giving you context without detail. So you really only see what you should be working on now.
Prezi has been all the rage lately as a new, flexible way of presenting dense information. The idea is that people can absorb detail, but only in appropriate chunks. With Prezi, you essentially replace your PowerPoint Deck with a huge virtual sheet of paper that puts everything in to context like an infographic does. Then you zoom in on very specific parts of the presentation in a way that helps you tell a story. Again, dealing with complex information by breaking it into chunks - providing just enough context to have it all make sense.
What are you doing these days to help you focus? Are the any particular software tools that help? Please share -
Have You Outgrown Basecamp?
Situation: You need a few more features in your PM software.
We recently spoke with Cynthia West, VP at ProjectInsight about one of the most common migration patterns we're seeing at the moment - a move from super-simple "to-do list" software to more capable packages. If you're a Basecamp user, there's a pretty big chance you'll eventually find your needs outgrowing the software bit by bit. If you are in that situation now, read on and see if your experience matches up with what's typical in the industry.
Q. Basecamp is a terrific, inexpensive starting point for many. However, at some point most organizations grow out of it. Can you talk a bit about the triggers that prompt users to start looking at more capable products?
Yes. We think of the market for portfolio and project management solutions as having three basic tiers: the low end tools, mid-market solutions and high end systems. Basecamp is a great low end tool that offers collaboration and task management in a web-based application. High end systems are those designed for very mature project teams. They are more involved in terms of implementation timeline, more expensive and, in general, designed for more ‘top-down’ organizational cultures. Microsoft Project Server is a good example of such a system. Mid-market project solutions are more robust than the low end, but not as overwhelming as the high end systems. Project Insight is one example of project software that is robust enough for experienced project managers, yet easy for team members to adopt.
We talk to a lot of people that have started to manage tasks and collaborate in Basecamp. They like the alerts and the ability to see the tasks they are to work on. However, as you say, many project teams outgrow this tool. The initial trigger points that prompt teams to look at mid-market portfolio and project management solutions include the need for:
What do I mean by intelligent scheduling? This is the need for something more than a simple task manager. As teams hire more professional project managers, they find they need the ability to link tasks together using dependencies. While some low end tools have the notion, not even all mid-market solutions have the MSP-like dependencies and constraints that more experienced project managers are familiar with.
In many cases, the more experienced project manager has utilized MS Project desktop and wants task dependencies, constraints and splits. At the same time, the organizations we help talk about having project managers of mixed experience levels, so they also want the newer project managers to be able to create projects from templates.
Gantt charts, of course, provide a visual view of one’s project and task flow. As projects get more complex, there’s nothing like being able to see the tasks on the critical path. Basecamp and other low end tools do not concern themselves with something as esoteric as a critical path or a baseline.
Q. There are always the problems you see and opportunities that you don't. Can you talk a bit about capabilities that most of these organizations could use that they are not looking for right away? What sort of quantifiable impact could these functions have?
Sure. When teams finally get their hands on a product that performs intelligent scheduling and they have set up some project templates, they often feel that sense of relief. So, what’s next? At this point, they can benefit from resource allocation views and portfolio reports. If you are only looking at a bunch of tasks that are unrelated, it makes it impossible to shift schedules easily. It also makes it challenging to truly understand what people are working on and when.
Demand management, capacity planning, resource allocation…no matter what you call it, as project teams become more successful, they need a way to see what everyone is working on and when. Because growing organizations are successful, they often have the business challenge of not knowing if and when they can deliver a project on time. Proper resource views in mid-market resource management solutions are needed when organizations hit these levels of success.
As for the quantifiable measurements of the benefits of resource balancing and proper allocation, that is probably the ‘holy grail’ most PPM vendors are looking for. If it were easy to find an ROI measurement that every organization could utilize, then our lives would be much, much simpler. As far as I know, no vendor can offer up a simple ROI calculator that is applicable to most organizations.
That said, I can offer you some anecdotes from customers that lead us toward impacts. For example, one organization had a team of high powered software developers that he was losing. They were leaving for ‘greener pastures’ because the organization was constantly working late on their client deliverables. They would have a 600 pound gorilla customer call in and then everyone would work a fire drill. All of this due to not being able to see the planned work and allocate it properly.
Once they implemented Project Insight, they began to plan every team members’ work two weeks ahead. Once that was mastered, they began looking out a quarter and forecasting. The customer found that his attrition rate of his specialized resources was lower. Why? Because people could plan their lives. They went from working 80 hours per week to 40-50 hours per week. The employees were happier and remained with the company.
Last, but certainly not least, executives want a simple way to oversee all the projects in their portfolio. Low end tools do not always concern themselves with the needs of project managers or executives. Basecamp and others are more focused on team member needs, sacrificing other levels of the team.
Now this functional set is probably easier to quantify. We often hear of project managers spending a certain number of hours aggregating information for executive reports, and then someone else spend another set of hours formatting these reports. That is more easily quantified and can often, in itself, bring in the ROI for a mid-market solution.
Q. Are there staffing considerations when making this sort of (upgrade from Basecamp) move? Should you not take it on unless you have a specific set of skills and competencies in house?
Yes, that’s probably true. If an organization does not have anyone that understands task dependencies, or is willing to learn about the power of intelligent scheduling, then it is probably not wise to upgrade as of yet. It seems that Basecamp appeals to organizations that are small and work with a lot of sub-contractors or freelancers, for example, tiny ad agencies that extend their workforce with subs. In these cases, it is probably overkill for them to worry about anything in the mid-market.
Q. At the other end of the spectrum from Basecamp, there are very high-end complex tools to manage project portfolios. These are often six figure investments. At what point do you need to start looking at these?
There are many organizations that are ready for a high end system. They have certain characteristics to be sure. For example, I attended a PMI chapter even with a Microsoft Project Server consultant as the guest speaker. He was firm and clear when he said, “Don’t even try to implement this unless your organization has a CMM ranking of 3.5 or better.” I would say that is probably good advice for any organization. Do not embark upon a high end system until you are mature enough to benefit from that system.
In May, at the Gartner conference, it was said that a solution like Clarity takes at least six months to configure, so you need to be at the stage where your team can dedicate the resources to analyze the business processes and spend that time configuring the system.
A couple of good examples of companies that use high end systems are Proctor & Gamble and Boeing. P&G has literally 1000s of products and tens of thousands of opportunities for improving these products, or launching new products. They have an entire department that analyzes the risk of each potential program and project. These opportunities are mapped onto a bubble chart and the like. The team has the resources to review the project/idea intake process, and analyze, and quantify well in advance. Many of our customers do not have the luxury of an entire risk management department.
Thank goodness Boeing and other airline manufacturers have mature processes, as our lives depend on it. The type of business requires stringent adherence to standards and processes in order to develop and manufacture their products.
Q. Project Insight has an established migration path from Basecamp. Can you talk a bit about the data that is migrated over, how it's used, and where the gaps are?
Yes, as we upgrade lots of teams from Basecamp, we’ve developed a data migration for these customers so they can have their historical information available to them. We map the following fields:
The gaps are the features that Basecamp does not offer like dependencies. So, if the project is in progress, and migrated into Project Insight, then the project manager needs to relate those tasks or just adjust each task manually. We did not migrate files, but one may simply use multiple file upload to pull the files into Project Insight. Everything else is good to go.
Preconfigured SaaS MS Project PPM
Situation: You're in a MS shop, looking at PPM SaaS options.
Many organizations ask "Should we go with MS Project Server or a SaaS solution?" The folks at SharkPro Software are in the business of giving you both. Recently we spent some time with Greg Bailey, SharkPro Software's CEO who clued us in on where he sees the industry going. Whether you are pro or anti Microsoft, I think you'll find his answers interesting.
Q. Is the future of PM and PPM software in house or in the cloud? Obviously everything has been moving in the cloud for a while now. Is that where it all ends up? If so, when?
Most of PPM will end up in the cloud, and relatively soon. Even large businesses with well-established IT departments while leveraging their existing infrastructure for some on premise applications will opt to tie into the cloud and get the benefit of both. Organizations handling financial, medical, or intelligence information may opt for a “private cloud”. We’ve found the more agile small and mid-sized companies are moving towards SaaS solutions at a faster rate as evidenced by the success of the early PPM SaaS vendors.
Where does sit end up? With more vendors looking ahead to more open and cross platform technology standards like HTML 5, companies will be able to “turn on and off” and only pay for the features they need on demand. So whether on the PC, the Web or a Mobile device they will only pay for the capability they need throughout the lifecycle of a project. Project ramp up may require more of the initial feature set but as a project goes live they will just need more of the update and collaboration capability. Users will also have a choice to select best of breed features from multiple vendors all seamless to the end user. As businesses realize the security, accessibility, as well as the ability to rapidly get access to the latest features and capabilities only as they need them, the benefit of cloud solutions and the economics are irresistible.
Q. Fast implementation times are a key selling point for SaaS PM and PPM offerings competing against Project Server. The idea is that they give you "just enough" of what you need, without extensive customization. Generally speaking, what is the functionality or type/level of customization that you can't get with Project Server in the cloud (whether it's with your company or another) and why?
I agree that fast implementation has been one of the SaaS vendor’s value proposition’s when positioning against Microsoft. Microsoft Project and Project Server are tremendously successful with over 20 million Project Users and 10,000 larger companies using Project Server. It still is one of Microsoft Top 10 products so the investment in new development is huge.
Although Project Server has been available in a hosted environment for years, there has not been a “pre-packaged or ready-to-go” version that did not require at least some initial configuration.
When developing SharkPro Projects we decided to leverage the power and popularity of Project and Project Server 2010 as a platform but provide a completely new way to deploy and experience Project Server. Available via SaaS in minutes or installed on premise in a few hours It is pre-provisioned and has a fresh web interface so users are ready to go, just like the early SaaS products. The difference is SharkPro Projects still has all of the new Microsoft Project 2010 and Server capability available as needed. A company can grow into the more advanced features without having to migrate to another tool later.
The limitations we have seen so far have to do more with architecture deployment decisions rather than features. For example, a large employment agency was looking at SaaS initially but also wanted the option to bring on premise to leverage existing infrastructure when ready. Typically not an out-of-the-box solution with SaaS only vendors and requires more thought and planning to deploy. For global companies there are more laws and regulations related to where the actual data resides. Some have compliance requirements that require that servers and data are physically located in the host country.
Q. Do you see many IT shops strictly using MS Project Desktop at this point? Are there specific industries or company sizes that are more likely to be using stand-alone software?
We still see a tremendous amount of MS Project Desktop. Many still use Project Desktop even when they have selected other SaaS or higher end tools. Desktop is still great for just learning project management or if you are a project manager managing a large capital construction project and there is not a need to share that information on the web. We also see Project terrific for off-line work when you may not always be connected to the cloud and are on a plane or very remote region in the world such as an offshore platform.
Q. At what point do you see an enterprise needing an EPM solution? Is there a particular set of attributes or pain points that you typically see in companies at that stage of maturity? Is there a particular situation in which a Microsoft-based solution is best?
Individual project managers are usually successful running their projects using a tool Like Microsoft Project. Companies often realize they have a problem when they start trying to optimize resources across multiple projects or need to understand and optimize the “demand” of all the requests coming in. Companies also need to be able to support multiple workflows and work streams and need to better communicate and collaborate across teams. I have always felt that the tools did not take into account the likely user scenario or “workflow “and how people interact on a project. Most tools do fine as a big repository of all the project data but forget to take into account the likely “use case” scenarios of how the information needs to flow within a team or organization. That’s a good time to use Microsoft Project Server either from scratch or to start with SharkPro Projects.
Q. Without saying "all of them", what company sizes and industries is your software MOST useful in? Why is that?
SharkPro Projects is ideal for the upper mid market. Companies, government agencies or departments within each that have between 250-1500 employees. They typically would like a “ready to go” solution they can start with due to budget constraints and in house expertise but would like to make sure they have the flexibility to grow with the tool and be able to still do some configuration to their specific needs.
We have seen 3 types of early customers. Those that started with the early SaaS or SharePoint tools but have started to outgrow them, companies that want to upgrade from earlier versions of MS Project but would like a “ready to go” Project Server to get them started and lastly companies that started with a higher end tool that may be too complex for a specific department to tie into.