Project management on the fly
- By Tim Fielden
- Sep 04, 2000
Anyone who's had the pleasure of managing a project, be it small or large,
knows how difficult the process can be. In addition to personnel problems,
today's project managers also need to contend with a slew of other issues,
including rapid implementation schedules and dealing with internal and external
consultants. And with the growing acceptance of telecommuting, communicating
with distant branch offices and even "connected" business partners is challenging.
Fortunately, vendors of project management applications have been putting
an increased focus on developing and implementing effective collaboration
tools. And because many of the solutions are Web-based applications, access
is quick and easy for remote users.
A project management solution should integrate with existing systems,
facilitate use through simple interfaces and, most important, be cost-effective.
Federal Computer Week polled readers with a list of top project management
solutions that work not only on the local-area network but also on the World
Wide Web. The three that FCW readers most wanted to see tested were Inovie
Software Inc.'s TeamCenter, Primavera Systems Inc.'s TeamPlay and Microsoft
Corp.'s Project 2000.
Each product offers similar Web-based project management functionality.
But they differ significantly in ease of installation and configuration,
ease of access, collaboration capabilities and price.
Inovie TeamCenter emerged as a narrow winner in this comparison. Each
product delivers very strong performance, but TeamCenter offers the user
much more by way of integration and collaboration capabilities, and it does
so at a better price than the competition.
TeamCenter: Setting the Standard
Inovie's TeamCenter raises the bar for Web-based project management
The winner in our comparison, TeamCenter 3.0.6, proved to be an excellent
choice for managing proj-ects of any size across the enterprise. We found
it not only reasonably priced at $11,995 per 50 users, but also easy to
implement, administer and use.
In contrast to the Microsoft solution, which relied heavily on its own
namesake products, Inovie's Team-Center offers the user a choice in operating
systems, Web servers and even databases for deployment.
From a deployment perspective, TeamCenter easily beats the Microsoft
solution. Its 100 percent pure Java implementation enabled it to run on
not only Windows NT, as Project did, but also on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s
Solaris and Red Hat Inc.'s Linux.
Although TeamCenter 3.0.6 is largely considered a maintenance release — offering few updates over the previous version aside from a newly bundled
Web server and a few enhanced installation programs — many of its existing
features warrant mention.
At the head of the list of such features are the TeamCenter's real-time
Group Discussions and free-form Collaborative Notebooks. Group Discussions
is an enhanced threaded discussion group. Collaborative Notebook allows
users to share and organize documents and notes. The documents can be accessed
and organized according to teams or projects.
Those familiar with versions of TeamCenter prior to Version 3.0 will
also appreciate the program's new portal-type interface, which makes it
easy to select projects, documents, reports and time sheets after entering
a valid user ID and password.
Unlike the Microsoft solution, which required installation of an additional
program, TeamCenter installation proved extremely straightforward and fully
automated, leaving little opportunity for error. In fact, the installation
program even configured the pre-bundled Cloudscape database and the Resin
Web server with virtually no added input, offering a fully functional product
right out of the box.
And users concerned about database support will be pleased to know that
the solution also works with any SQL database capable of supporting the
Java Database Connectivity standard, such as Oracle8i or Microsoft SQL Server.
And yet TeamCenter requires much less SQL experience than Primavera's Team-
Play, which also supported numerous databases.
With the software installed, I quickly fired up a browser and began
testing by logging in to the server as an administrator. The TeamCenter
QuickView, a Java applet that runs in its own browser window, is home base
and offers a Windows-like interface.
Once I created a new project, I was ushered onto another ProjectView
window. From here, I was able to add tasks, assign dependencies, look at
cost summaries and access TeamCenter's powerful collaboration features.
It took no effort at all to start a threaded discussion and create a new
document notebook. Throughout testing, the only negative feature I found
worth mentioning was TeamCenter's inability to perform resource leveling,
a feature offered by both of its rivals.
When I turned to creating a report, TeamCenter offered me a list of
pre-built templates, including budgets, baselines and cross-project tasking.
For those who need a bit more control with their reports, Inovie also provides
a visual report designer that enables customers to either modify the supplied
report templates or create new ones altogether.
I found the Visual Report Designer to be both powerful and surprisingly
easy to use.
Although falling slightly short of Primavera in terms of project management
and reporting tools, TeamCenter's combination of features with its strong
collaborative nature gives teams a better chance of completing projects
on time and within budget.
Project: A Solid Performer
Although it finished second out of the three products in our comparison,
I found Microsoft's Project 2000 to be a solid performer that may be the
product of choice for those departments and agencies employing other Microsoft
applications. Microsoft's pricing of Project at $499 per seat, with upgrades
available at $199, is also a major plus.
This release of Project offers a plethora of new and enhanced features.
A few of the more notable items include the ability to filter Network Diagrams
(formerly known as PERT charts) using the same task filtering criteria found
elsewhere in the product.
Additionally, I found the ability to group tasks or resources into ad
hoc logical groupings very helpful. And Microsoft has changed the resource
leveling feature to allow users to set priorities at a project level vs.
solely at the task level.
The most welcome enhancement, however, is the introduction of Microsoft
Project Central, which gives Project collaborative capabilities.
Project installed without incident, but we found installation and configuration
of the Project Central component a bit confusing. Users should thoroughly
read all of the installation information.
Unfortunately, Project Central runs only on Microsoft's Internet Information
Server, in contrast with TeamCenter and TeamPlay, both of which offer several
options in Web servers.
Apart from this limitation, however, I found Project a delight to use.
The Web-based client interface, for example, is very intuitive. The
main panel, which was broken into two panes with toolbar drop-down lists
running across the top, was easy to navigate and offered many choices for
not only entering data, but also for maintaining the server. Because I had
signed on with administrator privileges, I could also perform all necessary
server maintenance functions from within that single Web site.
Had it not been for the complicated installation of the Project Central
component and a total reliance on its own line of support products, a higher
score would have been warranted.
And bear in mind that Project 2000 offers one other hidden virtue: a
very broad base of existing users. Chances are good that employees will
have worked with Project previously, thus lessening upfront training time.
TeamPlay: Good but Pricey
Although finishing last in our comparison, Primavera Systems TeamPlay
1.6.6 is definitely not short on features and functionality. The primary
factor that held back TeamPlay's score was its relatively high price — $40,000
per server and $600 per client. Large shops or those with many project users
may want to give a bit of consideration before investing heavily.
Cost aside, however, TeamPlay offers a truly integrated solution with
flexible deployment to the LAN and the Web. Furthermore, we were happy to
find that each of the deployed clients provided us with the same choice
of role-specific tools geared to satisfy any team member's needs, responsibilities
The tools — which consist of the TeamPlay Project Manager, the TeamPlayer
and the TeamPlay Portfolio Analyst — offer the user a highly granular approach
to proj-ect management. The Project Manager component offers the ability
to not only create and update project information, but also to define project
risks, track expenses and perform reporting.
The TeamPlayer component, geared toward the team member, provides the
user with an interface for viewing, updating and reporting on assignments.
And, because even bosses have bosses, the TeamPlay Portfolio Analyst provides
executives with cross-project summaries, reports and an interface to access
information and documents from the project Web site.
One feature I found of particular interest was the Project Architect
wizard, which walks users through importing proj-ect structures — the roles
and steps in a project workflow — from the TeamPlay Methodology Manager.
I found installation of TeamPlay to be relatively straightforward and,
like TeamCenter, TeamPlay offers flexible support for databases, including
Oracle 7.3.4 and above, Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 and the bundled InterBase
Had I wanted to work with or use one of the other supported databases,
I could have launched a database configuration wizard using a simple selection
from the Project Manager sign-on panel. Choosing to make use of another
database may require assistance from either a resident database administer
or even Primavera because numerous SQL scripts must run prior to deployment.
Creating a new project fired up a wizard that walked me through all
the salient details, including project start and end dates, default price
per unit for cost accounting, and the scope and objectives of the project.
With my project ready for data, I quickly added resources, as well as known
issues and risks, thanks to the intuitive main menu. A quick trip through
the tool menu allowed me to publish our project to the Web as well as define
a few pre-built reports with little effort.
The end user's Web interface is also attractively designed and easy
to work with, though I found little support for collaboration. Although
I could easily publish project information to the Web, I would have liked
to see some sort of threaded discussion or document- sharing capabilities.
TeamPlay offers a more robust project-management, reporting, and meth-odology
management tool than either TeamCenter or Project 2000. As such, TeamPlay
may be the product of choice if you have large projects to manage and especially
if you don't need collaboration tools. TeamPlay's score in this comparison
was held down by its lack of collaboration tools and its relatively high
—Fielden is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center. Send him e-mail