Project Management Software For Frequently Changing Variables
January 8, 2008 1:07 PM   Subscribe

It's time for yet another round of "What is the best project management software!" Come meet the final contestants. Particularly if you have used Microsoft Project or Open Workbench.

I'm trying to figure out the best project management software. Microsoft Project, OpenWorkbench, and dotproject are the ones that have been recommended to me. Or something else? (Basecamp is out. We need Gantt charts.)

We have multiple projects with short- and long-term deadlines, all drawing on the same pool of staff members (and possibly additional staff).

The projects have lots of variables. Most tasks could be done to 98% perfection or 30% perfection, most tasks could be done faster if we threw money at them, and most projects have some "black box" phases where we don't know what we'll do or how long it will take (we can't even figure that out until X or Y happens).

Our best guesses about these variables change all the time, so I find myself repeatedly mapping out short- and long-term milestones, what tasks are involved, how long they will take, who could do them, and what the weekly schedule would then end up being to meet (or miss) the various deadlines.

I'd love to have a robust system that could automate calculations and let me play around with scenarios. What will happen if I do Task A the 2-week way or the 3-month way? How much extra help would I need to meet X deadline vs. Y deadline? How much sooner would we finish if we added entry-level staff, or more experienced staff (with the default being that I do everything myself)?

If you've used this software and have an opinion about which is best, I'd love to hear it. Microsoft Project looks like it'll do what we want. (I haven't yet figured out how to get Project to assign a task to "Person A if available, or if not, then Person B.") Or is there something with the same features as Project but with better algorithms for figuring out who is going to do the work as the number of staff assigned to the project shifts around? OpenWorkbench claims it has superior "resource leveling" and "auto-scheduling" -- do you think this is true? And is the learning curve much steeper?

Details: I'm running Windows XP. Something that allowed multiple people (all on our network) to work on the project planning files would be nice, but this is not a requirement. (An additional issue is that one or two of those potential people are on Macs, but my first priority is just getting something that works well.)
posted by salvia to Work & Money (2 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
One of my former classmates is a PM in the IT dept at a big hospital system. They use @task. He says it's more powerful than Project.
posted by exhilaration at 7:46 PM on January 8, 2008

Go with MSProject. It has all the capabilities you describe and you can find someone to teach it to your entire staff...until everyone knows the terms used by the software to describe things like 'float', 'milestones', etc, any software you use will be useless.

Project has gone through so many iterations in the last 20 years to match the capabilities of any competing software, it has become the standard. In managing a $500 million construction/drilling budget over the past 3 years, our engineering group has used and abused MSProject. Keep in mind that you will have to keep updating the files constantly with both projections of the work to be done and the actual dates work was completed. Our biggest problem was defining when work was actually completed. If you don't define these terms and agree with the team on their meaning up front, the software will ABUSE you with missed deadlines...and the corrolary is true as well.
posted by GAS_Wyo at 8:41 PM on January 8, 2008

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