How do I track and display team projects like airports track flights?
September 4, 2007 11:39 AM   Subscribe

You know the arrivals/departures screens that hang out in airports? I want one of those for my team, to help track the status of projects. What software do I need?

I'm thinking it would be cool to have a tangible way to keep all team members informed about the status of our projects. My fictitious set-up is this: A monitor in a central location displays ten or so projects. On the screen, we have the following information for each project:
Project # | Project name | Date started | Date due | Status

It will display similarly to the airport monitors: different colours for different statuses, urgent projects on top.

My imagination suggests that with the right software running on a spare computer, hooked up to spare monitor, this should be easy. My question is, what software do I need? Is there any free airport tracking software that can be customized? Is there specific project tracking software that would do this?

We already have all of the data on each project in an Excel file. It includes extra fields that wouldn't be necessary for the display: person in charge, initiating department, project notes, project category, etc. If the software could read from this Excel file, beautiful; if not, manual data entry will work.

Does anybody have any useful contributions? I'm all ears.
posted by Milkman Dan to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The easiest way to do it is with a web page, and then have a browser running in Kiosk mode that refreshes it occasionally. That way you can easily update it from anywhere, and HTML should give you the flexibility to format it as you wish.
posted by smackfu at 11:45 AM on September 4, 2007

This seems like a perfect application for a simple Flash applet. Flash can get info from a database or text file and update it at a regular interval, as well. That way, if someone wanted, they could run it locally, too.
posted by fake at 11:47 AM on September 4, 2007

You may want to rethink doing this.

How professional are your employees? They should ideally already know the status of their projects. Additionally, these sorts of displays are very, very common in call centers and other menial high-density jobs and I know I would be insulted if my boss put one in my cube farm.

As an alternative, I used to keep Gantt charts of all of my active projects on the walls of my cube, back when I was a programmer. We kept them updated as part of the project management process, and some people even scribbled notes on them. It conveyed everything you want to convey at a glance without the You're A Drone connotation.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:49 AM on September 4, 2007

What would MD need to make sure that the screen that displays the most important projects has a warped picture and a broken vertical hold just like the real one with your flight displayed on it at the airport.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:51 AM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yeah, most A-D screens are just running a terminal version of Windows, as the public BSOD photos show.

You could implement it in Flash to get authentic-looking fonts, or even code something native with Visual Studio .NET to get it to play nice with Excel.
posted by holgate at 11:52 AM on September 4, 2007

I think the web page option is the best, easy to update, etc.

I disagree with TheNewWazoos view. I am not insulted when my employer is taking the time to think about effective means of communication and I very much appreciate the ability to quickly see the status of a projects that may not be within my workflow but effect my own tasks.
posted by crewshell at 12:14 PM on September 4, 2007

If these are longterm projects I don't see the need for it. A weekly 'update' email would be preferable for me. What I would find nice is a listing of employees, what project they were working on, and if they're in or not. Having to call 5 different people asking "who do you know that would know ___," and then realizing they're not even in, just sucks.

If you're set on this idea though, C# & Visual Studio .NET would make this a part-of-a-day job. Excel integration shouldn't be a problem - at worst, reading a csv file is trivial.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:54 PM on September 4, 2007

Well, first you need the screens, which costs money. Then you need a web site or somesuch to keep things updated, because projects are generally more complex than arrival/departure times and need more work to be communicated effectively.

So why not start simple? Skip the screens and build the thing on a web page. Then send out a note about it to your team, and ask them to set their browser home page to it. Include a tracking tag.

In about a week, look at how many visits you've gotten, realize that nobody's looking at the page, feel sad about that but glad you didn't spend the money, and move on.

I offer this advice both from the perspective that all you really need to do this IS the screens and a web server, as your communications need to be highly customized to be effective, and to help you realize (even though you didn't ask) that professionals are like salespeople.

Huh? Well, by that I mean you'll find a lot of managers saying "what incentive plan can I use to motivate my sales team?" and the only right answer is "money" -- everything else is noise that the manager can feel good about but does no real good. Similarly, professionals can be motivated with food, freedom and respect. Listen to what they have to say, give them the freedom to solve problems with the tools they find most effective, and kick 'em some free food once and a while. Everything else is noise.

Don't believe me? Ask your team which they'd rather have: those screens of yours, or a catered lunch once a week for a month, or the ability to choose Mac or PC by their own discretion, or an opportunity to influence an upcoming decision.
posted by davejay at 7:03 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

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