Situation: You're a serious Mac user with serious project work to do.
Macs are gaining traction in many business environments, yet there aren't that many choices when it comes to project management software. Many of the SaaS options work whether you run Windows or OS X - but what if you need more horsepower? I've also wondered if there is a fundamental difference when developing for a Mac user or a Windows user in the PM space. Are there differences in they way "Macs" and "PCs" manage projects?
We recently had the opportunity to interview
Q. Thinking about what your software does - Do you feel that the projects that Mac users generally work on are different (or require different functionality) than PC users? A recent Macworld review offered the following Pros and Cons for your product (see below). Are these driven by the needs you see as specific to Mac users? Can you tell us a bit about your approach to development?
A: We here at AEC Software have been developing project-focused software for Mac since 1986 and for Windows since 1993. Because of the close contact that we maintain with our users, we know that Mac users generally work on the same types of projects as Windows users. Sure, there is a bit more emphasis on media and graphics by Mac users, and we definitely have some Mac-specific features. The core features provided by FastTrack Schedule 10 are cross-platform, Mac and Windows. However, we take advantage of the strengths of each platform and provide some features that are unique to each system.
For example: FastTrack Schedule 10 has a different User Interface on Windows than it has on our Mac version. On Windows, we provide the user with a choice of 2 interfaces, the new Ribbon interface and a traditional Menu-based interface. The user can select the interface that they are comfortable with. Interesting side note, FastTrack Schedule 10 was the first PM scheduling application to adopt the Ribbon interface (released a few weeks ahead of MS Project 2010). On Mac, FastTrack Schedule 10 provides a Mac UI complete with a context-sensitive Format Bar and parity with the UI look and feel of Apple’s iWork Suite.
Every project encounters delays that affect the schedule. The ability to easily make adjustments is important on any project. Both Mac and Windows users would like to have expert-level controls over their projects, together with the means to easily make adjustments. The new features and enhancements in FastTrack Schedule 10 provide a better workflow experience for our users as they track and manage their projects. The software is easy to use for both experienced project managers as well as the PM newcomer.
We did a lot of research on the needs of users and incorporated their feedback into the way default layouts are built into files, and we developed an extensive set of project templates to help them get started quickly on their projects. For example, the default file has 40 built in Layouts. For ease of use only 15 of the 40 are displayed in the menu. We simplify the interface, but provide our users with accessible pre-set functionality should they want to utilize more powerful features of the program. After all, if we can provide our users with a great template for their project we can make them more productive.
Communication of the project details and team involvement are paramount in successful project management. As such, we also build-in great visual reporting features such as summary graphs, image fields, and enable graphics, logos, and pictures to be placed into project plans which adds a lot of life to a schedule. Too often project schedules are presented as drab spreadsheets – where key project messages and data are lost as they blend into the schedule background. With FastTrack Schedule 10, communication is clear and vibrant. Graphs, images, and graphics foster a sense of involvement and accountability. Schedules are organic: living, breathing, and changing. Users can create fun, visually appealing schedules that bring out the creativity in all of us (and when was the last time the words ‘fun’ and ‘creativity’ was used to describe a project management tool or technique). Our Resource information form provides a Resource Image for a picture of the resource. Resources are not just names or employee numbers they are people. They are team members, and they are accountable for their performance. If everyone on the project buys into the project schedule, if everyone is involved with the schedule creation and schedule updates, then there is more transparency and accountability by all team members. That leads to successful projects.
With our Project Consolidation feature, team meetings and stakeholder updates are a snap. It allows for the easy merging of various sub-projects into a single master schedule and provides a comprehensive view of overall project health, insight into potential bottlenecks, and promotes proactive decision-making. The power of this feature is that the users of the sub-project files never need to stop working and close their file. The consolidation occurs with live files. This provides an excellent tool for a manager to accurately monitor all project activities, costs, and resources. It is really powerful, but at the same time easy to use.
Improving and streamlining workflow is one of our primary objectives when developing new versions of FastTrack Schedule. One such feature we’ve had great response to in FastTrack Schedule 10 is our Automated MS Project save option. With this feature, your project schedules are automatically saved as both a FastTrack Schedule file and MS Project file. This is a great time-saver when it’s implemented as part of a company’s standard template.
Another innovative feature is our drawing layer in Print Preview. With the drawing layer in Print Preview users can place company logos, legends, or schedule titles that enhance the presentation-quality of their project plans—thus, leaving their primary workspaces (the Gantt, Resource, and Calendar views) uncluttered.
Q: Who is the ideal user of your software? Is there a project-size, industry, or other attribute that it's particularly good for? Who is it not good for?
A: FastTrack Schedule is uniquely positioned as an easy to use project management solution—one that’s ideal for both the PM newcomer as well as the experienced PM who are frustrated with complex, enterprise-level PPM tools. For both these types of project managers, FastTrack Schedule is simple to learn and use, provides more flexibility for customization, and offers superior presentation and reporting capabilities.
FastTrack Schedule users range from the largest of companies with deployments in the thousands, to single person companies. Projects range from multi-year space exploration plans to advertizing campaigns; residential and commercial construction to entertainment/feature film special effects productions; manufacturing to pharmaceutical clinical trials, governmental planning to defense industries, IT to higher education as well as sustainability initiatives. Well…you get the picture! FastTrack Schedule is used by all types of industries on all types of projects.
That’s the great thing about the project management space – everyone can use our software, because everyone is touched by a project, some way, some how. No matter if you are a distant or hands-on stakeholder; accidental project manager or experienced PMP, everyone can make use and be productive with an easy to use and flexible project management tool.
It is not appropriate if someone needs project management software that is fully integrated with customer billing or has portfolio management requirements.
Q. How does your software compare to other PM players in the Mac market, such as Merlin or MindManager?
A: FastTrack Schedule 10 is a tenth generation product that was originally developed on the Mac first (before our Windows version a few years after). As it stands, FastTrack Schedule is the longest running project management application on the Mac platform.
Unlike other Mac only project management tools, FastTrack Schedule offers a compatible Windows version. After all, project team members can be Mac-based or Windows-based and there should be no barriers to collaboration and achieving project objectives.
We have put careful consideration into the design of this version, balancing an easy to use interface with enormous flexibility and powerful tracking tools. With each release of FastTrack Schedule, we have always included features that are firsts for any project management tool on the Mac. With features such as Image Columns, an iMedia Browser, Resource Contouring and the Format Bar (to name a few) this version is no different than its 9 previous versions in its offering of innovative features.
There is the unsurpassed flexibility and style of creating a project schedule that communicates all of your project/task details – which not only makes your schedule stand out, but also provides a unique sense of ownership in the schedule. The clearest example that I can think of, is the creation and modification of your bar styles. In FastTrack Schedule, not only are you provided with an unlimited number of milestones, bars and bar points to choose from, but you can create your own! If you want to use a company logo as a project delivery milestone, then import the picture in and watch it become part of your selection of customized bar styles.
Many of our customers work with mind mapping programs to brainstorm during the project planning phase. FastTrack Schedule integrates with the leading mind-mapping program, MindManager, providing an ideal “Concept to Completion” process model. FastTrack Schedule 10 provides full integration with both the Mac and Windows versions of MindManager enabling users to open MindManager files and automatically converts the maps into a traditional Gantt chart. Once in FastTrack Schedule, project plans can be adjusted as needed and rounded out with dependencies, resources, and costing details and then effectively tracked during the execution phase. And FastTrack Schedule will also export a schedule as a MindManager file.
Q: Why would a PM use your software versus a SAAS offering? Wouldn't that be a better choice in a mixed PC/Mac environment?
A: No SaaS software offers the speed, sophistication, flexibility, security or unparalleled presentation-quality of FastTrack Schedule 10. Many SaaS solutions are rigid and do not allow for much customization. When you purchase licenses for FastTrack Schedule 10, you pay one price. There are no recurring monthly fees. FastTrack Schedule 10 provides the UI appropriate for each platform. Users are not dependent on having an Internet connection to manage or update their projects – which is a large downside for project managers on the go. We have desktop speed; users are not at the mercy of their Internet connection and their confidential schedules are stored on local computers or secure corporate servers.
Q: How do you see your software evolving over the next year?
A: We have some interesting concepts in the pipeline. As with most software companies, we are not at liberty to discuss specifics about future products. We’re excited by the opportunity that amazing mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone and Android phones offer for project collaboration. Stay tuned.