Review: A friendly project management package
Project-management software is often crammed with so many incomprehensible
or minor features that users may end up not using the software at all. By
keeping things simple, Project Office from Pacific Edge Software Inc. ensures
that your agency staff actually uses it.
Like most project-management packages, Project Office 3.0 lets you enter
scheduling data, including tasks, budgets and resources. But Project Office
hides this complexity behind a friendly interface, especially when compared
with client/server solutions from Artemis Management Systems or Primavera
Systems Inc. Moreover, because project information resides in a central
Microsoft Corp. SQL Server 7.0 database, you can quickly view the status
of all agency projects or see how a change in one project affects other
jobs. With other solutions, generating this sort of summary information
usually requires a lot of time and involves intricate import and export
To accomplish all of the above, Project Office 3.0 does require setup
help from Pacific Edge or your IT staff. Systems administrators likely will
need a few days of training and then will spend about two days configuring
the software and loading the database.
The upfront work needed to customize Project Office ultimately delivers
a user experience that would be hard to duplicate with other solutions.
I was, for example, easily able to add custom tabs, fields and drop-down
lists to Project Office views. I also set up a folder hierarchy that grouped
projects by departments within an agency. Lastly, I customized reports and
added them to the Project Office Reports menu.
To test how this upfront work played from a user's standpoint, I created
ten 50-task projects. Based on a log-in name, each person received a personalized
listing of projects. For instance, the administrator saw all projects, with
their durations and costs summarized. Conversely, I hid the budget view
from certain managers. An unusual function let me locate resources by, for
example a particular skill. I could then display that person's workload
across all projects. In this way I knew immediately if a resource was already
Experienced project managers will correctly point out that most of this
is pretty basic stuff. To answer more sophisticated needs, Project Office
3.0 works hand-in-glove with Microsoft Project 98 and 2000. I opened a schedule
in Project 2000, modified a resource's workload in a non-uniform way (which
can't be done in Project Office) and saved the file to the SQL Server 7.0
database. The change was then immediately available to all Project Office
users. Just as important, this database design helps overcome performance
problems inherent in Microsoft Project's native file format.
Pacific Edge says the system will scale to handle 10,000 users, and
one federal government agency — the Department of Housing and Urban Development — is already using Project Office at that capacity. To further evaluate
plans, Project Office ships with a run-time version of Seagate Software
Inc.'s Crystal Reports 8.0, and these pre-defined reports should cover most
needs. However, agencies wanting customized reports must purchase the full
Crystal Reports 8.0 Professional software.
Although we've discussed a lot of this product's project-management
functions, it's also intended for workers who don't even need basic scheduling
functions. For example, a manager may simply want to know is how much time
each person is spending on their tasks and the completion date. The lower-cost
Project Office eXpress Web client let casual users update plans in both
Microsoft Project and Project Office.
Project Alerts, the last piece of this solution, notifies users (via
e-mail) when something out of the ordinary occurs within a project. We used
this application's rules wizard to monitor a schedule and then send reminders
when a budget was exceeded and a time sheet was not submitted.
Overall, Project Office 3.02 overcomes usability problems of many project-management
packages with its simple interface and views customized to different types
of users. In addition, the system's SQL Server 7.0 offers very good performance.
If your agency or department has already invested in Microsoft Project schedules
and training, you can leverage that investment with Project Office.
—Heck is an InfoWorld contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions
at Unisys Corp. in Blue Bell, Pa.