Project management on the fly

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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

solutions.

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

or skills.

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

5.0.

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

price.

—Fielden is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center. Send him e-mail

at tim_fielden@infoworld.com.

REPORT CARD

TeamCenter 3.0.6

Score: B+

Inovie Software Inc.

(877) 446-6843

www.teamcenter.com

Price and availability: The TeamCenter Workgroup Edition can support 25 to 50 users and starts at $11,995. Enterprise Edition pricing starts at $42,000, and it can be configured for hundreds of users.

Remarks: TeamCenter 3.0.6 is a powerful project management and collaboration tool. With support for a variety of client/server platforms, and the ability to integrate with any JDBC- compliant database, installation into your environment was never simpler.

REPORT CARD

Microsoft Project 2000

Score: B

Microsoft Corp.

(800) 426-9400

www.microsoft.com

Price and availability: $499 per seat, upgrades available at $199 per seat.

Remarks: Collaborating with users on project-related information via the Web was never easier, thanks in part to Microsoft Project 2000's Project Central. It can only be used with the Microsoft platform, but its new features and functionality make it an appealing offering.

REPORT CARD

TeamPlay 1.6.6

Score: B-

Primavera Systems Inc.

(877) 408-4655

www.primavera.com

Price and availability: $40,000 per server and $600 per client based on 1,000 users.

Remarks: Higher-priced than its competitors, TeamPlay also offers a high degree of control. Its flexible server and database support make it easy to integrate.

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