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IT Project Management Tools: MS Project and Its Alternatives (Part 1)

Written By: Alex Hankewicz
Published On: February 13 2008

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the Project Manager’s role and some of the constraints that affect the daily life of a PM, namely: scope, time, and cost. This post will focus on some of the tools a PM uses on a day-to-day basis (and why), and some of the limiting factors that these tools present. In order to understand the use of PM tools it is essential to have an understanding of the PM’s role in the area of software deployment strategy, and the techniques used to realize the PM’s objectives.
The Project Manager’s Key Functions
The PM leads the planning and development of the project schedule, including defining the scope of all deliverables,
negotiating budgets and schedules, and managing resources to manage and complete a technical project. In order to
accomplish these tasks the PM is dealing with:

• Staffing the project team according to skill set required
• Providing the project blueprint and design changes
• Introducing business process changes
• Monitoring and communicating project progress
• Providing quality assurance and project documentation
• Serving as primary subject matter expert
• Providing post-project support and auditing

The diverse nature of these tasks requires a tool which can support the need to monitor progress and document the
evolution through each stage of the project.Inasmuch as project management has evolved, so have the tools to support these functions.
History of Project Management Tools
Project management as a discipline evolved from different fields of application, including construction, engineering
and defense, and manufacturing (and then subsequently, IT). The early tools used on an adhoc basis and still in use
today are:
• Gantt Charts
A popular type of bar chart that illustrates a product schedule featuring the start and end dates of a series of
top-level tasks and the subsequent related lower-level tasks in terms of a hierarchy which comprises the WBS (work
breakdown structure) of a project and the dependency between subsequent project tasks and phases.

• PERT(Program Evaluation & Review Technique)
A method to analyze the tasks in completing a project and the interval time to complete each project task by
calculating the optimal time to project completion. Its use is primarily in R&D projects where time rather then cost
is a mitigating factor in project completion.
• CPM (Critical Path Method)
Developed in the mid 1950s by US-based DuPont and Rand Corporation on the Polaris defense contract. Its primary
feature is the calculation of all time for all activities from the beginning to an end of a project. The process
determines the date by when an activity can start and end without making the overall project completion date
delayed.

The methodologies described above were refined and modified for use in MS Project. This product was developed in
1987 for Microsoft by a firm which was contracted to assist in managing software development production timelines.
Subsequently, Microsoft purchased this firm, and in 1990 released the product as part of MS Windows V3.
Uses and Limitations of MS Project
Speaking from personal experience, in almost every IT department I have worked over the past 15 years, in my various
roles as a business systems analyst, to project manager for both SMBs and large corporations, the MS suite of
products was used as the primary tool for documenting project management.

MS Project was used to manage project scope and milestones, track deliverables, and manage resources. MS Visio was
used to document and flowchart process models. MS PowerPoint was used for end-user training, as a tool to make
presentations to obtain project funding, and (once the project was under way) to communicate progress and highlight
constraints with senior management. In addition, MS Word was used to write user training guides and document project
changes and methodologies. Furthermore MS Excel was used in a variety of tasks planning, reporting and importing
information to update the project plan. The constraints that I experienced are no doubt limiting factors which
others have experienced in the utilization of MS Project:

• Not Scalable
In a large project rollout (i.e. greater than 400 deliverables) it is difficult to manage large-scale enterprise
projects using only MS Project.
• Resource Management Allocations
MS Project makes an assumption that there are no limitations on your available resources. This makes illustrating a
gap difficult.
• Importing MS Project

In terms of developing a project plan and planning resources, projects are dynamic events which require constant
fine tuning and which are subject to a variety of external events. Therefore constant monitoring and importing data
from MS Excel is required.

In next week's installment of “From The Project Managers Desk” I will discuss Alternatives to MS Project in detail
There are a number of PPM tools available with a variety of features and functionality. Please refer to our PPM Evaluation Center for a complete listing of what is new within PPM software, along with white papers that can further your understanding of the complexities of PPM.
 
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