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

steps.

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

overbooked.

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.

REPORT CARD

Project Office 3.02

Score: B+

Pacific Edge Software Inc.

(425) 897-8800

www.pacificedge.com

Price and Availability: Project Office server starts at $15,000, with clientlicenses priced from $375 to $795 each. The Web-based Project Office eXpresscomponent is $5,000 with individual licenses costing $150 to $300. ProjectOffice Alerts is 15 percent of the total license fee. You must have at leastone Microsoft Project license. The system is available directly from PacificEdge Software.

Remarks: Project Office simplifies project management by letting userscreate basic schedules, tasks and budgets with about five minutes of training.The software maintains information in a central database to give administratorsa global view of all agency projects and enables them to manage resourcesacross multiple projects. For more detailed planning, Project Office integrateswith Microsoft Project. Project Office eXpress, a Web application, enablesusers to see their assignments, report time and name themselves to additionaltasks.

BY Mike Heck
August 02, 2000

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