Project Planning Software
Last updated: 2022-03-20
There are many project planning software packages available. In this
sub-section, we describe basic features and functionality any package
should have, from a practical point of view. Project planning tools in
their wider sense is what we are presenting in section Project Planning; in its narrower sense, it is about planning software, or software supporting the project planning process.
I think the best way to explain what features or functionality software
for project planning must or should have is to show how we would apply
such a software package when following the planning process as outlined
in the section Project Planning.
Project Planning Process
Software to build the PBS and WBS
The project we want to plan shall have a well-defined result, the
product. For that, we need to set up the product breakdown structure
(PBS). In your organization, you will have a certain software
application available you need to apply. If not yet available you could
consider a mind mapping software package.
The PBS of a project "Our New Home" could look like the following
draft - for a family of four, one daughter and one son: a mind map
showing tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 of the PBS.
Example PBS: Mind Map
In the next step of planning, we create the work breakdown structure (WBS) in order to complete planning the project scope.
We just continue and expand the PBS mind map into a WBS mind map. For
our example, we indicate that expansion by drafting work packages for
the mind map branch "Kitchen".
Example WBS: Mind Map
Now you see work packages, each one consisting of a verb and an object.
Step 3 of our project planning process requires the estimation of the effort and duration of each one of the work packages. If possible we combine this step with a risk analysis.
If we want to use project planning software for that we would
highly appreciate it to be able to read the mind map and transform it into a structured list of work packages or tasks.
If you cannot rely on the combination of mind mapping and project
planning software, key PBS and WBS directly into your project planner.
Example WBS with Duration
With this structured list of work packages, we carry out effort and duration estimation, as well as risk analysis, and fill in the results manually (we guess that comfortable manual input is a standard feature of any project planning software). The following picture of our example shows the values of duration; values of effort and others that would appear in additional columns.
Software for Scheduling
The next steps are setting up milestone plan, network diagram (the
logical sequence of work packages), and Gantt chart (the project time
schedule) summarized in planning the project schedule. Now it becomes clear that we need a software solution which offers the features of editing milestones, network diagram, and Gantt chart integrated into one package.
In this context, "integrated" means that milestones can be entered as
such and visualized in a special way, as well as network diagram and
Gantt chart are equivalent representations of the same data, i.e. "one
mouse click apart". Graphical editing of network diagram and Gantt chart is a nice extra that, if available, should follow the principle of what-you-see-is what-you-get (wysiwyg).
Remark: Project planning software packages that offer only
input and display of the project schedule or Gantt chart we call
"project scheduling software" or "Gantt chart software". Some of these
packages are available at cost $0 (zero); however, their added value for
project planning is much too limited to consider them seriously for
planning of real life projects.
For our example we would obtain results like this:
Example Network Diagram with Critical Path
Example Gantt Chart
The network diagram shows the critical path, while the Gantt chart
displays duration, start and end dates, predecessors (logical
dependency), and a bar relative to the time line of each work package.
We set the milestone "start kitchen" to August 03, and the software calculates the date for milestone "kitchen complete" to August 26.
In case some of the calculated dates do not match our
requirements we need to be able to edit and optimize network diagram and
Gantt chart. This indicates important applications of project planning
software in general: First, we use it to simulate the duration and cost
of the project or a certain sub-project by varying the logical sequence
and other parameters like resources, workloads of resources, etc.
Second, we use it to analyze and optimize the critical path and / or
project cost. Therefore, our favorite planning software package lets us also key in resources, their workload or utilization levels, their costs as well as fixed costs for material so that we can play around with these parameters for simulating and optimizing project duration and costs.
It is convenient to key in resources, i.e. assign resources on a task-by-task basis, and then use a table-like format for the input of workload levels, hourly rates, etc. which prepares planning the project costs. The following pictures show the results of our example.
Example Gantt Chart with Critical Path and Resources
Example Table of Resources
(Note: Workload levels of 100% are not realistic unless travel times
and times for setting up the work place, etc. are included in effort
After having done all this input, the software of our choice should be able to calculate and display essential results for further analysis and optimization:
- Milestone plan
- Network diagram
- Gantt chart
- Critical path
- Critical work packages
- Start and end dates of each work package and of each summary of work packages
- Cost of each work package
- Accumulated project cost
project "Our New Home", sub-project "Kitchen", we show just a small
selection of evaluations: accumulated work and accumulated cost,
combined in one table, calculated on a weekly basis:
Example Table of Results: Accumulated Work and Cost of Work
Finally, with some extra copy / paste activity, we obtain the
accumulated cost chart for our new kitchen (material cost of kitchen
appliances not included).
Example Chart: Accumulated Cost of Work
From the above, we summarize features or functionalities of project planning software which are mandatory, nice to have or just possible.
- Comfortable manual input
- Features of editing milestones, network diagram, and Gantt chart integrated into one package
- Lets us also key in resources, their workload or utilization levels, their costs as well as fixed costs for material
- We can play around with these parameters
- Calculate and display essential results such as:
- milestone plan,
- network diagram,
- Gantt chart,
- critical path,
- critical work packages,
- start and end dates of each work package and of each summary of work packages,
- cost of each work package,
- accumulated project cost.
- Can read a mind map and transform it into a structured list of work packages / tasks
- Full compatibility with mind mapping software package in both directions
- Graphical editing of network diagram and Gantt chart on basis: what-you-see-is what-you-get)
Some packages come with single or multi user licenses, including the features of multi project or program management on an enterprise level; others are web based software packages that allow for project planning and controlling without installing the planning software on your computer. These packages seem to be quite viable; however, you need to consult with your organization's IT and security experts before installing and / or using them.
Some project planning software packages offer functionality for project tracking and status reporting. This is quite convenient and supports project controlling activities in implementation phase. Usually, most of the provided tracking and reporting formats are not in line with the formats stipulated by our organization. Thus, we need the raw data of tracking and reporting and transfer them into our organizations' formats.
(The examples in this sub-section were set up with Microsoft Project 2003 and Microsoft Excel 2003; for their presentation here, we used edited screenshots.)
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